Plane & Pilot
Sunday, April 1, 2007

Getting That Sport-Pilot Ticket

Sport-pilot certificates are an invitation to fly

Getting That Sport-Pilot TicketIt’s been official since September 1, 2004, and it’s working: the sport-pilot rule is a reality; light-sport aircraft (LSA) and flight training are available; and maintenance facilities are catching on. So, how does one get that sport-pilot certificate? What does it take, and how much does it cost?


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What Does It Take?
We know that it’s easier to get a sport-pilot ticket than to get a private-pilot certificate, but aviation is serious business; the training isn’t merely a formality. Flight instructors and the FAA are focused on the idea of safe flight, and safe flight requires knowledge and attention.

There are two tests for a new pilot: the knowledge, or written test, and the flight test. Learn the material to pass the FAA’s knowledge test—rules, regulations and basic airmanship—and score at least 70%. This isn’t too hard, as there are many ground schools you can attend (if you can’t find a specific sport-pilot course nearby, a private-pilot ground school will tell you more than you need to know). ASA, Gleim and King Schools, among others, have good courses available.

It’s probably best to find a school that specializes in LSA training; there are more opening every month, and they’re not hard to find. Organizations (EAA, LAMA, AOPA) have online directories, but the best source for up-to-the-minute information often comes from the LSA manufacturers or importers themselves. Because they know their customers, and they know their own delivery schedules, they’ll know where you can fly their aircraft.

You must be conversant in English, and have a valid state-issued driver’s license. Anyone can study for the LSA certificate, but a pilot needs to be at least 16 (or 14 to fly an LSA glider or balloon).

What Are The Restrictions?
A sport pilot may not operate under sport-pilot rules at night; officially, that’s between one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise. A sport pilot may not fly more than 10,000 feet above mean sea level (MSL). A sport pilot may not fly near big airports (Classes B, C and D) unless he or she is signed off after special training and the aircraft is equipped to enter that kind of airspace. Check with the manufacturer for the equipment list.

These flight restrictions on sport pilots usually don’t cause problems, unless you want to clear some big mountains. The aircraft isn’t restricted, except by the manufacturer, so when you get your private certificate, the aircraft may already be able to keep up with your expanded ability.

In the meantime, if you plan to cross high passes in a capable LSA, bring your private-pilot friend along, and have the friend fly the mountain pass. Build time in the LSA and upgrade your license to private when you have enough time. If you have a night-equipped LSA, you’ll also be able to get a night-flying sign-off with a private ticket.

Since familiarity with any given aircraft makes a better pilot, a sport pilot must be trained to fly each different type, make and model of aircraft he or she wants to fly. (Otherwise, one might reach for a light switch and turn off the engine!) A SportCruiser pilot, for instance, can’t fly a SportStar until he or she has a checkout flight and sign-off by an instructor. The sign-off is good for life, though, so don’t fret too much about what particular model the local school uses. (When you get your private ticket, this restriction virtually disappears.)

Occasionally, a manufacturer will offer full-ticket training if you buy a new factory-assembled LSA. That could be a great deal, especially if you’re thinking of buying an LSA anyway. Nearly all will be happy to give you your checkout, if you buy their aircraft.

Labels: Sport Pilots


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