FAA Taking Comments on Proposal to Fix Sport Pilot Rule Flaw

August 26, 2011

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has posted to the federal docket a petition originally submitted by four aviation associations in January 2011. The petition, signed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), seeks to fix a flaw in the original sport pilot rule pointed out in a letter of interpretation from the FAA’s Office of Chief Counsel that prevents student sport pilots who received their training from Sport Pilot Instructors from counting their training flight hours toward a higher rating, should they seek to pursue one.

In their petition, the associations say the clear intent of the new certificate was to make it easier – not harder – to enter aviation.

"The FAA published in 2004, a final rule establishing the Sport Pilot Certificate and Flight Instructor Certificate with a Sport Pilot Rating (CFI-S)," the associations wrote. "The purpose of this rule as published in the original FAA NPRM on February 5, 2002 was in part to:

- "Provide the public safe access to general aviation without creating a significant financial barrier; and
- "Create more eligible pilots to meet the needs of future airline and military demand.

"It is obvious from these statements that the sport pilot certificate was intended to be able to serve as a stepping-stone towards private pilot and other higher certificates and ratings," the associations concluded.

The problem affects sport pilots who received their training from flight instructors only authorized to teach toward a Sport Pilot certificate. According to the letter of interpretation, since a sport pilot-only flight instructor is not authorized to give instruction toward a higher rating, none of the time spent training with that instructor counts for a recreational or private pilot certificate.

In the petition, the associations argue that not only is air safety not compromised by allowing sport pilots to count the flight hours, it is enhanced because pilots will be encouraged to seek higher certificates and ratings, and both conventional wisdom and accident statistics hold that safety is enhanced as a pilot receives additional training and pursues higher certificates and ratings.

The petition seeks to change language in the sport pilot regulations to allow pilots to count training hours but preserve language to ensure student pilots meet flight proficiency and aeronautical knowledge requirements.

Pilots can see the petition itself and file comments by visiting Regulations.gov (docket number FAA-2011-0138-0001).