By Arlynn McMahon
Sport pilot training is catching on. Yet despite the burgeoning number of schools adding sport pilot training to their offerings, there are few resources where flight school managers can learn about the practical aspects of training sport pilots. What follows are lessons we have learned from practical experience.
A sport pilot candidate is not required to possess an FAA medical certificate, but may use a valid U.S. driver's license as proof of medical fitness. Any restriction on the driver's license becomes a medical restriction for exercising sport pilot privileges. Our school asks the candidate to disclose medications and conditions in a medical affidavit, which gives us the ability to talk openly about medical fitness from the start.
A student pilot certificate is required, however, and can be issued by any designated pilot or sport pilot examiner for about $25. Candidates complete FAA Form 8710-11, which differs from the traditional 8710-1 in that it includes an area to record driver's license information.
FAR Part 61, Subpart C, pertaining to student pilots, also applies to sport pilot candidates, who must meet each of those requirements before solo and before solo cross-country. It's worth noting that the current FAR 61.93(e)(12) requires instruction in flight by reference to instruments. This is said to be an oversight and should be corrected in the next revision. However, until it is corrected, diligent instructors are continuing to include some hood time for sport pilot candidates.
A sport pilot candidate must receive and log training to fly into Class D, C, or B airspace or to land at airports within this airspace. We permit candidates to earn authorization for the different airspaces of their choice. Whereas in private pilot training a cross-country must be at least 50 nautical miles, a sport pilot cross-country must be at least 25 nautical miles.
At our flight school, sport pilot candidates are primarily one of three types: the ultralight pilot wishing to become certificated, the returning private pilot who feels that sport pilot will be more economical, and the prospective pilot who has never flown before. While our average private pilot candidate is 47 years old, the average age of our sport pilot candidates is 61. The older students are more independent, idealistic, and anti-authority. Be prepared to answer "why" questions and put extra emphasis on the important concepts. Most are retired or nearing retirement and are training for self-actualization. They have time to train but still expect us to be efficient with their time. Most look for value-added, all-inclusive package pricing. Many plan to continue with additional training, specifically sport instructor as a means of working part-time, for fun, during retirement.
Because sport training isn't available at every airport, these people are willing to travel for an organized training plan. A good training plan can be accomplished in two weeks of full-time training. However, that doesn't mean that it's easy. We budget 25 hours of flight, 30 hours of ground training, plus 40 hours of directed self-study—even if the knowledge exam has been passed.
We wrote our own curriculum, since we were unable to find a good commercially prepared program. In the beginning, ground school was a problem for us. We were not happy with any of the commercially available ground training courses, considering most are incomplete or simply "test preps." We wrote our ground training as a series of PowerPoint presentations.
At our school, some local pilots who initially enrolled in sport pilot training have decided they love flying and transferred to the private pilot course. Those who transfer require a medical certificate before solo, of course. Even though they may also continue flying in the light sport aircraft (LSA), the applicable regulations, limitations, and privileges change, and so we administer a private presolo knowledge exam. We credit all their flight hours toward the private pilot. Those who have already taken the sport pilot knowledge exam are required to pass the private pilot knowledge exam. We've also seen students who elect to transfer from private pilot to sport, usually in hopes of saving hours and money.
Because our airport is in Class C airspace, the student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate must have the airspace and airport endorsements before soloing. Another endorsement is required before solo if the LSA has a V H (maximum cruise speed in level flight) of more than 87 KCAS. A separate presolo knowledge exam is required if the LSA is a different make and model from the airplane in which the student previously soloed, and those students who have already passed the private pilot knowledge test must pass the sport pilot knowledge exam.
Student pilots seeking a sport pilot certificate aren't the only ones required to have airspace/airport endorsements. Even a certificated sport pilot must receive flight and ground training and an endorsement before flight into Class B, C, or D airspace or at airports within that airspace. Note, however, that student sport pilots need a separate endorsement for each airspace/airport, whereas for certificated sport pilots, one endorsement will cover all airspace types. Additionally, Part 91, Appendix D, Section 4 provides the list of Class B primary airports in which sport pilots are not permitted.
A sport pilot does not receive a category and class rating on his or her certificate. He receives a pilot certificate with a sport pilot rating. Category and class privileges are accomplished by endorsements in the pilot's logbook. Even a certificated sport pilot is required to carry his logbook or other evidence of endorsements.
Additional category and class privileges are added by passing proficiency checks. The proficiency check resembles an FAA checkride in that the check instructor is required to verify the applicant's eligibility and conduct the proficiency check within the guidelines of the practical test standards. The instructor conducting the check is required to complete the "Proficiency Check—Instructors Record" on the back of the 8710-11 form and submit it to the FAA within 10 days, just as an examiner would; the pilot's logbook also must be endorsed.
Traditionally, flight school managers contact their local FSDO for answers pertaining to training situations. However, the FAA Light Sport Branch, located in Oklahoma City, oversees all aspects of sport pilot training/examining and light sport aircraft. We found the Light Sport Branch to be the best source for answers, as FSDO personnel are not always up to date with the finer points of sport pilot issues.
The FAA's Light Sport Branch talks about the notion that the holder of a private pilot certificate or greater automatically holds sport pilot privileges. That means, as an example, a certificated commercial pilot who chooses not to renew his medical certificate may operate an LSA with a valid driver's license so long as he complies with the limitations of his sport pilot privilege. A current flight review is required, as well.
Flight school managers considering sport pilot training should review FAR Part 61 subpart J, covering sport pilots. Subpart J is written in a new question-and-answer format. Unfortunately, the new format does not provide sufficient guidance for daily operations. Some questions for which we had to call the FAA for answers include:
Sport pilot training keeps our two LSAs in the air 85 hours per month on average. It has also doubled the use of our Cessna 152 and keeps two instructors busy. It adds about $1,000 every month to pilot supply sales plus $2,000 per month in ground school enrollments and knowledge exam testing fees.
Sport pilot training has also added new customers to our flight school. We see graduates—grandfathers—bringing in a whole new generation of pilots by introducing their grandchildren to flying. Sport pilot training has been successful for us as a new "entry level" pilot certificate.
Arlynn McMahon is the chief flight instructor for Lexington, Kentucky-based flight school Aero-Tech.
(December 18, 2008)
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