Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

The sport pilot certificate

A new opportunity

Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft (SP/LSA) is a fact, now, and part of the law of the land. So, what does it mean to you, the CFI?

Surely you know by now that we have, in effect, created a new group of aircraft and a new group of pilots to fly them. The big news is that most pilots can fly these aircraft without a medical, but not without training and a pilot certificate. The aircraft are limited in takeoff weight and maximum speed, of course, but they include what I call "real" aircraft. Certain Piper Cub, Aeronca Champ, Luscombe, and Taylorcraft models qualify, and I have flown all of those aircraft many cross-country miles. I used to fly a Luscombe for business, calling on crop dusters (or aerial applicators, if you want to be politically correct), and it was a real aircraft indeed. It would get in and out of any ag strip in the Mississippi Delta, and we used it as a true business aircraft.

Perhaps the bigger news is that new Light Sport Aircraft will rush -- are rushing -- to the market to meet the hoped-for demand. Many of these will be imports. The Europeans have been doing this for years, and some companies are negotiating importation contracts even as I write this. Some of those aircraft created quite a stir at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Still more will be at a big show in Sebring, Florida, this fall, and some of them -- along with new U.S.-built production aircraft -- are said to be truly beautiful aircraft with exceptional workmanship.

How big will this new market become? The aviation world seems to be divided into three groups on this. Group one thinks that SP/LSA will be the greatest thing since spring steel landing gear and it will change the world. Group two snorts that SP/LSA will be limited to a few kooks, and group three says, "SP/LSA? What the heck is that?"

I suspect that the truth is somewhere between one and two. I know for a fact that SP/LSA will attract interest from many people. The biggest fan I know is an airline pilot who flies seriously heavy iron worldwide. Furthermore, insurance carriers have ramped up, and real business people are investing money. That's usually a good sign that something is about to happen. That old expression, "follow the money," does apply to aviation.

The truth is I don't know how big SP/LSA will be, and I don't think anyone else knows for sure. I am one of those who think, hope, and dream that this will become a big, important part of general aviation. I have long believed that recreational aviation has been pushed to the back burner in our country, and I hope SP/LSA will be the beginning of its resurgence. I expect that it will grow and thrive primarily at small, nontowered airports, but is that a limitation? We are talking about recreational flying here, not transportation. Smaller airports can provide a social setting that is important to recreational flying.

So, again, what does this mean to you, the CFI? Should you turn down the airlines, quit your current job, and devote the rest of your life to instructing in LSA? I doubt it. Should you ignore LSA? I doubt that, too.

Perhaps you should look upon SP/LSA as a potential market for your services-a new opportunity. Read up on it, watch it, and be ready to participate when the opportunity arises. Consider it another certificate and another class of airplane. After all, you already instruct students for a variety of certificates (private, commercial, multiengine, instrument) in a variety of aircraft (single, multiengine, basic, complex). And realize SP/LSA may become important to you.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for more than 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating. Visit his Web site.

By Ralph Hood

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