Frequently Asked Questions About Sport Pilot

Frequently Asked Questions About Sport Pilot

Sport Pilot for Student Pilots

What is the first step I need to take to become a sport pilot?

You should first consider getting either an FAA medical certificate or plan on using your current and valid U.S. driver's license. Additionally, you will need to get a student pilot certificate. Please see the information below for more details on the option you can choose:

FAA medical and the student pilot certificate:

  • Medical certificates, or "medicals" for short, are required for anyone other than a sport pilot who is acting as pilot in command. There are three kinds of medicals: first, second, and third class, each with its own requirements, duration, and privileges.
  • Usually the medical certificate and student pilot certificate are combined on one form, FAA Form 8420-2, and are issued by a doctor, called an aviation medical examiner (AME), who has been approved by the FAA to administer the medical exam.
  • The combination medical/student pilot certificate is easy to carry in your logbook, wallet, or purse and required to be in your possession when you fly solo. The difference between the regular medical certificate and the combination medical and student pilot certificate is that, on the back of the medical/student pilot certificate, there is space for the flight instructor's endorsements that are required for your solo flights.
  • A medical is not required for operations in a glider or balloon.
  • For more information, read AOPA's subject report, Pilot's Guide to Medical Certification.

Driver's license and the student pilot certificate:

  • The Sport Pilot rule allows a pilot to fly light-sport aircraft without the need for an FAA medical certificate. However, a sport pilot must hold at least a current and valid U.S. driver's license in order to exercise this privilege. The only exceptions are for operations in a glider or balloon, which does not require a driver's license.
  • A person using a current and valid U.S. driver's license must comply with each restriction and limitation imposed by that person's U.S. driver's license and any judicial or administrative order applying to the operation of a motor vehicle. That person must also meet the requirements of 14 CFR 61.23(c)(2), which states the following:
    • Have been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third class airman medical certificate at the time of his or her most recent application (if the person has applied for a medical certificate);
    • Not have had his or her most recently issued medical certificate (if the person has held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent Authorization for a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate withdrawn; and
    • Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner.
  • A student pilot certificate, FAA Form 8710-2, can be obtained from your local flight standards district office (FSDO) or designated pilot examiner (DPE).

What are the sport pilot eligibility requirements?

  • For the sport pilot certificate, you must:
    • Be at least 17 years old (or 16 years old if you are applying to operate a glider or balloon).
    • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English.
    • Hold at least a third class medical, or hold a current and valid U.S. driver's license for operations in light-sport aircraft other than a glider or balloon.

What are the training requirements for becoming a sport pilot?

  • Training requirements for a sport pilot certificate with airplane category —
    • A minimum of 20 hours flight time including:
      • 15 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor.
      • 5 hours solo flight.
    • Flight training must include at least:
      • 2 hours cross-country flight training.
      • 10 takeoffs and landings to a full stop.
      • One solo cross-country flight of at least 75 nautical miles total distance with a full-stop landing at a minimum of two points and one segment of the flight consisting of a straight-line distance of at least 25 nautical miles between takeoff and landing locations.
      • 3 hours flight training in preparation for the practical test.
      • Ground training from an instructor or home-study course.
    • FAA knowledge test on applicable aeronautical knowledge areas.
    • FAA practical test for the applicable light-sport aircraft privilege.
    • Sport pilot certificates will be issued without category/class designation — logbook endorsement will be provided for category and class per FAR 61.317.

    What are the sport pilot privileges and limitations?

    A sport pilot may:

    • Share the operating expenses of a flight with a passenger, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenses, or aircraft rental fees. A sport pilot must pay at least half the operating expenses of the flight.
    • A sport may not act as pilot in command of a light-sport aircraft:
      • That is carrying a passenger or property for compensation or hire.
      • For compensation or hire.
      • In furtherance of a business.
      • While carrying more than one passenger.
      • At night.
      • In Class A airspace.
      • In Class B, C, or D airspace, at an airport located in Class B, C, or D airspace, and to, from, through, or at an airport having an operational control tower unless you have met the requirements specified in §61.325.
      • Outside the United States, unless you have prior authorization from the country in which you seek to operate. A sport pilot certificate carries the limitation "Holder does not meet ICAO requirements."
      • In a passenger-carrying airlift sponsored by a charitable organization.
      • At an altitude of more than 10,000 feet MSL or 2,000 feet AFL.
      • When the flight or surface visibility is less than 3 statute miles.
      • Without visual reference to the surface.
      • If the aircraft has a maximum forward speed in level flight that exceeds 87 knots CAS, unless having met the requirements of §61.327.
      • If the aircraft has a maximum forward speed less than or equal to 87 knots CAS, unless you have met the requirements of §61.327(a) or have logged flight time as pilot in command of an airplane with a maximum forward speed less than or equal to 87 knots CAS before April 2, 2010.
      • Contrary to any limitation or endorsement on your pilot certificate, airman medical certificate, U.S. driver's license, or any other limitation or logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor.
      • Contrary to any restriction or limitation on the sport pilot's U.S. driver's license or any restriction or limitation imposed by judicial or administrative order when using a driver's license to satisfy the requirements of Part 61.
      • While towing any object.
      • As a pilot flight crewmember on any aircraft for which more than one pilot is required by the type certificate of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is conducted.

    What types of airplanes can I fly?

    There are many type certified airplanes in the standard airworthiness category from manufacturers that qualify as light-sport aircraft. Standard category airplanes you can fly include, but are not limited to:

    • Piper J-2 and J-3
    • Aeronca Champ
    • Luscombe 8, 8A, 8B, and 8C
    • Taylorcraft BC, BCS, and BC-65
    • Ercoupe 415C and 415 CD
    • Click here to see more standard category aircraft that qualify.

    Additionally, you may click here for a list of light-sport aircraft manufacturers.

    What is a light-sport aircraft?

    A light-sport aircraft is defined as:

    • 1,320 pounds maximum takeoff weight for aircraft not intended for operation on water; or
    • 1,430 pounds maximum takeoff weight for aircraft intended for operation on water.
    • A maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum continuous power (V H) of not more than 120 knots CAS under standard atmospheric conditions at sea level.
    • A maximum seating capacity of no more than two persons, including the pilot.
    • A single, reciprocating engine.
    • A fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if a powered aircraft other than a powered glider.
    • A nonpressurized cabin, if equipped with a cabin.
    • Maximum airspeed of 120 knots.
    • Fixed landing gear, except for an aircraft intended for operation on water or a glider.
    • Fixed or repositionable landing gear, or a hull, for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
    • A maximum stalling speed or minimum steady flight speed without the use of lift-enhancing devices (V S1) of not more than 45 knots CAS at the aircraft's maximum certificated takeoff weight and most critical center of gravity.

    Sport Pilot for Certificated Pilots

    I'm a certificated pilot without a medical. Can I fly as a sport pilot?

    Yes. If you already hold at least a recreational pilot certificate and have allowed your medical to expire, you might be able to fly without an FAA medical certificate, even if your most recent medical was a special issuance. Here's what you need to qualify:

    • You must hold at least a recreational pilot certificate.
    • You must have a current, valid state-issued driver's license.
    • Your application for your last FAA medical certificate cannot have been denied.
    • Your most recent issued medical must not have been suspended or revoked.
    • If you held a Special Issuance Medical, it must not have been withdrawn.
    • You can't have a medical condition that makes you an unsafe pilot.
    • You must be able to self-assess that you are medically fit to fly.

    For additional medical FAQs, click here.

    What type of certification, recurrent training, and/or proficiency do I need?

    As a certified pilot who qualifies to fly with a driver's license, you will need to have:

    • Category and class ratings for the aircraft being flown.
    • A current flight review in accordance with 14 CFR 61.56.
    • Recent flight experience if carrying a passenger.

    Do I need to perform the flight review in a light-sport aircraft?

    No. According to 14 CFR 61.56, a flight review must be performed in an aircraft for which the pilot is rated. Rated is interpreted as category and class.

    I've already started my flight training toward the private pilot requirements. Can I transfer that flight training time over to the sport pilot certificate requirements?

    Yes, you may do this. The FAA has clearly expressed that a student pilot certificate is a student pilot certificate, regardless of which certificate you are pursuing. Keep in mind, however, that a student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate may not solo in an aircraft or perform the checkride in an aircraft other than a light-sport aircraft.

    Do I need to perform a checkride to get an additional category and/or class rating?

    No, a checkride is not required. Rather, you will need to follow the provisions of 14 CFR 61.321, which requires the following:

    • Receive a logbook endorsement for meeting aeronautical knowledge and flight proficiency requirements.
    • Complete a proficiency check from an authorized instructor other than the instructor who trained you on the aeronautical knowledge and areas of operation specified.
    • Complete an FAA Form 8710-11, Airmen Certificate and/or Rating Application, and present it to the instructor who conducted the proficiency check.
    • Receive a logbook endorsement from the instructor who conducted the proficiency check certifying that you are proficient in the applicable knowledge and areas of operation and that you are authorized for the additional category and class of light-sport aircraft.

    What kind of flying am I limited to as a certificated pilot flying under the sport pilot privilege?

    A pilot who is exercising sport pilot privileges may share the operating expenses of a flight with a passenger, provided the expenses involve only fuel, oil, airport expenses, or aircraft rental fees. A sport pilot must pay at least half the operating expenses of the flight. Additionally, the privileges and limitations for the sport pilot certificate, spelled out in FAR 61.315, apply for pilots with higher levels of certificates when exercising solely sport pilot privileges.  

    What regulations cover the requirements for sport pilots?

    14 CFR Part 61, Subpart J is entirely dedicated to sport pilot airman certification, privileges, and limitations.

    What else can I do to prepare to fly as a sport pilot?

    Take advantage of all the resources AOPA has to offer.

    • Visit AOPA Online. We've gathered all the information you need in one place.
    • If it has been a while since you've last flown, review AOPA's Guide to Getting Back Into Flying to find out what's changed.
    • Get insured. The AOPA Insurance Agency, the world's largest aviation insurance agency, is ready today to get you properly insured. Call 800/622-2672 or apply and purchase online.
    • Take an AOPA Air Safety Institute online course. They provide refresher training on everything from runway signs to preflight briefings.
    • Read AOPA Pilot. You'll get technique, safety, and proficiency articles each month.
    • Protect yourself. The AOPA Pilot Protection Services provides unlimited consultation on many aviation matters covered by the plan. For more information, call 800/USA-AOPA.

    If you still have questions, AOPA has the answers. Call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA (872-2672) to talk for free with one of AOPA's technical experts on staff.


    Light-sport Aircraft

    Can I fly a special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) in IFR conditions or at night?

    Only day/VFR conditions are specifically addressed in the ASTM consensus standards that govern the design, safety, and production of S-LSA. Being that sport pilots and those exercising sport pilot privileges are limited to flying only in day/VFR conditions, this seems appropriate.

    On the other hand, if an appropriately rated pilot (example: private pilot with an instrument rating) wants to fly S-LSA under IFR or at night, the aircraft's operating limitations must allow it, and the aircraft must be equipped per 91.205 for VFR flight at night and/or IFR flight. Additionally, 91.327(d) requires all S-LSA to be operated in accordance with the aircraft's operating instructions. Operating instructions differ from operating limitations in that the engine, airframe, and accessory manufacturers issue them; the FAA issues operating limitations.

    An example of operating instructions is a S-LSA equipped with a Rotax engine. Rotax's operating instructions prohibit the use of a Rotax engine at night or in IFR conditions unless it is the FAA type certificated engine (14 CFR part 33). Other engine, airframe, and accessory manufacturers might impose similar restrictions.

    If you are appropriately rated and would like to operate a special light-sport aircraft at night or under IFR, contact the manufacturer to determine if any provisions can be made.

    Do I need to obtain an STC (supplemental type certificate) if I want to install a different prop or add a new radio to my S-LSA?

    No. An STC is not required because S-LSA do not have type certificate data sheets (TSDS). Any maintenance that leads to a modification of the original airplane equipment or avionics requires approval by the airplane manufacturer.

    What is the difference between an experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) and a special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA)?

    • E-LSA — An aircraft that does not meet the definition of Part 103; has been assembled from an aircraft kit produced by a light-sport aircraft manufacturer. Kits assembled under this category are not required to meet the 51 percent homebuilt regulation.
    • S-LSA — These are aircraft manufactured in accordance with industry consensus standards (ASTM) as a light-sport aircraft in the United States or in a foreign country in accordance with 14 CFR 21.190 and sold as ready-to-fly aircraft.

    Does a light-sport aircraft have a type certificate?

    No. S-LSA and E-LSA are not type certificated. Rather, they are issued a statement of compliance with industry standards.

    Why did the FAA choose to use ASTM standards instead of type certification?

    ASTM standards are much easier to augment or amend as opposed to the FAA's rulemaking process and provide a high level of quality control and safety into light-sport aircraft manufacturing. A light-sport aircraft committee, namely F37, was set up to address issues related to design, performance, quality acceptance tests, and safety monitoring for light-sport aircraft (LSA). For more information on the F37 light-sport Aircraft Committee, please visit the ASTM Web site.

    Will airworthiness directives (ADs) be issued for light-sport aircraft?

    ADs will not be issued for LSA. However, mandatory service bulletins (SBs) will be issued for light-sport aircraft. For S-LSA, compliance with these bulletins is required. For E-LSA, compliance is only recommended.

    Can I use an experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) for flight training and rental?

    You may receive and/or conduct flight training in an E-LSA that you own. If you're an instructor, you can only provide an E-LSA for flight training up until January 31, 2010, after which you must provide at least an S-LSA. Rental of the aircraft is not allowed.

    Can I use a special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) for flight training and rental?

    According to 14 CFR 91.327, you may, for compensation or hire, operate an S-LSA to conduct flight training. You may also rent an S-LSA.

    Who may perform maintenance on special light-sport aircraft?

    • The holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating within the class of light-sport aircraft for which he or she is rated.
    • An appropriately rated mechanic.
    • An appropriately rated repair station.
    • Sport pilots may perform preventive maintenance and return to service a Special light-sport Aircraft that he or she owns.

    Who may perform inspections on special light-sport aircraft?

    • The holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating within the class of light-sport aircraft for which he or she is rated.
    • An appropriately rated mechanic.
    • A certificated repair station (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating.

    Who may perform maintenance on experimental light-sport aircraft?

    According to 14 CFR 65.107, the holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating may perform maintenance, preventive maintenance, and an alteration on a light-sport aircraft that is in the same class of light-sport aircraft for which the holder has completed the training required by 61.107(a)(3)(ii).

    Who may perform the annual condition inspection on experimental light-sport aircraft?

    • The holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with an inspection rating may perform this inspection only on the aircraft he or she owns.
    • The holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating within the class of light-sport aircraft for which he or she is rated.

    Who may perform the 100-hour inspection on E-LSA if the aircraft is being used to conduct flight training for compensation or hire or for towing a glider that is an LSA or unpowered ultralight vehicle?

    • The holder of a repairman certificate (light-sport aircraft) with a maintenance rating within the class of light-sport aircraft for which he or she is rated.
    • An appropriately rated mechanic.
    • An appropriately rated repair station.

    What regulations cover the privileges and limitations for repairman certificate holders for light-sport aircraft?

    You may find this information in 14 CFR Part 65.

    Experimental Amateur-Builts

    Can I fly an experimental amateur-built (homebuilt) aircraft as a sport pilot?

    Yes, as long as the aircraft meets the performance definition of a light-sport aircraft as defined in 14 CFR 1.1.

    I have built or plan on building an experimental amateur-built aircraft that meets the definition of light-sport aircraft (LSA). How does the sport pilot rule affect me?

    • The aircraft remains an experimental amateur-built aircraft. You cannot change the aircraft airworthiness certificate to S-LSA or E-LSA.
    • You can modify your aircraft (if you're the manufacturer) to meet the definition of LSA.
    • You may operate as pilot in command of the aircraft as a light-sport aircraft if you hold a sport pilot certificate or are exercising sport pilot privileges.

    I built the aircraft that I'm currently flying. Can I certificate it as experimental amateur-built or does it have to be an experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA)?

    If you built 51 percent of your aircraft, the aircraft meets the requirements to apply for certification as an experimental amateur-built aircraft. Keep in mind, however, that once the aircraft is certificated as an experimental amateur built it cannot be certificated later as an experimental (E-LSA) or special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA). The aircraft remains an experimental amateur-built aircraft. Additionally, in order for an aircraft to be registered as a light-sport aircraft, it must meet the LSA criteria (i.e., two seats, one engine, 1,320 pounds maximum gross weight, etc.). An experimental amateur-built is not subject to these limitations.

    Does the 51-percent homebuilt rule apply to me if I buy an E-LSA kit?

    There are two situations to discuss here:

    1. If you plan on registering your aircraft as an experimental amateur built aircraft, then the 51-percent homebuilt rule still applies.
    2. If you bought an E-LSA kit and plan on registering your aircraft as an experimental light-sport aircraft, then the 51-percent homebuilt rule does not apply. Manufacturers of E-LSA kits may build as little as 1 percent and as much as 99 percent of the kit before you purchase it. However, in order for you to perform the annual condition inspection, you must have a light-sport aircraft repairman certificate with an inspection or maintenance rating.

    I'm building an aircraft (experimental amateur-built) that is just outside the definition of an LSA. Can I, as the builder, modify the aircraft so that it meets the performance definition of an LSA and fly it as a sport pilot?

    Yes. For a homebuilt aircraft, you may modify the aircraft so that it meets the definition of an LSA from initial certification on and fly it as a sport pilot. Exercise caution against making any modifications to the structure of the aircraft without the approval of the designer.

    Can I change the weight of an experimental amateur-built that I have built so it meets the 1,320-pound limit for light-sport aircraft?

    As the builder of a home-built airplane that has yet to receive its experimental airworthiness certificate, you may decrease or increase the weight as necessary to have the airplane meet the definition of light-sport aircraft, which is defined as having a maximum gross weight of 1,320 pounds. However, once a weight limit has been set as part of the airplane's experimental amateur-built certification process, the original builder, future owners, and repairmen are prohibited from making any modifications to the weight for the purpose of meeting the definition of light-sport aircraft.

    Updated November 7, 2014