Sport pilot changes take effect April 2

February 4, 2010

The FAA has finalized revisions to the sport pilot regulations that will expand the operating window for sport pilots in mountainous terrain and allow Part 141 training programs to use light sport aircraft, among other changes.

The agency proposed 22 regulatory changes in 2008 in an effort to align the requirements for sport pilots and instructors with those for other certificates. AOPA supported some of the changes, disputed others, and suggested further modifications. The FAA considered comments from AOPA, the Experimental Aircraft Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Aero Sports Connection, and many pilots and has published a final rule that will go into effect April 2.

According to the final rule, sport pilots will be able to fly above 10,000 feet msl as long as they are at or below 2,000 feet agl. Pilots operating in mountainous areas had expressed concern that the original 10,000 feet msl limit did not provide enough altitude to operate safely; the new rule should reduce the risks associated with flying in mountainous areas.

The final rule also provides for the use of special light sport aircraft (S-LSAs) in Part 141 training courses; removes the requirement for all flight instructors to log at least five hours of flight time in a make and model of LSA within the same set of aircraft before providing training in it; and requires aircraft owners or operators to retain a record of the current status of applicable safety directives for S-LSAs.

The sport pilot category was created in 2004 to allow pilots to fly light sport aircraft with a valid driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate and to create a less-expensive way to become a pilot. A regulatory change of that scope will inevitably require some amendment after pilots and the FAA have gained practical experience. The FAA solicited comments on its 2008 proposal, and of the 22 proposed changes, six were withdrawn and three were modified.

Other changes include a modification of experience requirements in preparation for the practical test for gliders, powered-parachute, and lighter-than-air aircraft. See the rule for details.