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Looking for answers

Can you answer the sport pilot call?

Training trends You answer the phone and the voice on the other end of the line says, "Hello, I'd like some information about a pilot license." Wonderful, you think, I could use a new student, and you reply, "You've called the right place, what can I do for you?" The voice continues, "I want to be a sport pilot; what do I need to do?"

Oops, that's a call for which you were not ready. You have heard about the sport pilot certificate and know some of the details, but doesn't this require one of these new sport pilot instructors or some sort of certificate change on your part? Let's put this caller on hold for a few minutes and take a look at some of the things you must think about before you continue the conversation.

Can you provide the training? Yes. Any certificated flight instructor with appropriate category and class ratings can train a sport pilot with no special certification changes required on your part. However, there are numerous circumstances and situations that can apply to sport pilot training. The sport pilot rules offer many choices and options. The choices for sport pilot training depend on the trainee's background, and the training program can be adjusted to include some things and leave others to be added later, even after certification. It is the flexibility and choices in sport pilot training that can seem complex.

Let's review some of the training choices that sport pilot applicants have. This will help to prepare you for the questions you may have to ask "the voice on the phone" before you can answer the caller's questions.

The basics

All sport pilot certification rules are found in FAR 61, subparts C, J, and K. Sport pilots can log dual instruction in any aircraft, but may only act as pilot in command in an aircraft that is sport pilot eligible. Sport pilots may use a valid driver's license or FAA medical as evidence of FAA medical compliance, unless an FAA medical has been denied or revoked. Numerous logbook endorsements have been created for sport pilots, and these can be found online.

Our phone interview can only progress productively if you have some background information. Is the caller a zero-time pilot who is just starting out, or does he have a pilot certificate and wants to use it to exercise sport pilot privileges? The caller could be an ultralight pilot who wants to convert to sport pilot certification. Perhaps this is a sport pilot, or higher certificated pilot, who wants to add a category or class privilege for sport pilot purposes. All of these variations could lead to different answers to the question, "I want to be a sport pilot; what do I need to do?" Let's look at each one.

The new pilot

For zero-time students, sport pilot training is quite similar to private pilot training. The student pilot regulations in FAR 61, subpart C, apply to student sport pilots, just as they do to student private pilots. The eligibility and solo requirements are the same as for any student pilot, except that a student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate may only solo a sport pilot-eligible airplane.

Sport pilot-eligible airplanes are becoming more widely available, but they are still not plentiful. Having a sport pilot student start with a medical is a good way to move into training and solo flying while the airplane availability issue is being resolved (see "Training Notes & News," October 2005 AOPA Flight Training). After becoming certificated, the sport pilot may simply let the medical expire.

Subpart J of FAR 61 covers the sport pilot eligibility and training requirements. Subpart J is written in a new "Frequently Asked Questions" format that takes getting used to, but once you understand how to use it, you'll like it. The initial training methods and techniques for sport pilots are actually quite similar to those that we use for private pilots. Stick-and-rudder skills are the same. A sport pilot must pass a knowledge and practical test just like any pilot certificate applicant. The Sport Pilot Practical Test Standards (which should now be part of your training library) set forth testing standards just like all the other certificates and ratings.

New sport pilots must comply with the TSA Citizenship Validation Rule.

"Retread pilots"

When I use the term retread pilot, I am talking about a certificated pilot who wants to exercise sport pilot privileges. A typical example is a private pilot (or higher) who wants to fly without a FAA medical certificate or, perhaps, just someone who wants to keep it simple. This one is easy. All the pilot has to do is meet the provisions of FARs 61.53, 61.56, and 61.57, and adhere to the sport pilot privileges listed in FAR 61.315. As the instructor, your end of this deal may be nothing more than providing a flight review. Remember, the flight review can be performed in any category and class aircraft listed on the pilot's certificate. Of course, the ground portion of the flight review will need to cover sport pilot privileges and limitations.

Ultralight pilots

The sport pilot rules allow certain ultralight flying experience to be applied to sport pilot certification. This is a first in pilot certification rules. The regulations are found in FAR 61.52, 61.329, and 61.431.

Ultralight pilots operating under FAR 103 can choose to be registered (they are not required to register) with one of three ultralight organizations: the United States Ultralight Association (USUA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), or Aero Sports Connection (ASC). Registration involves going through an FAA-recognized industry training program. Ultralight pilots who were registered prior to September 1, 2004, are deemed to meet the sport pilot training requirements and need only pass the knowledge test and practical test for certification as sport pilots. All they are required to do is obtain a certified copy of their ultralight records and a letter verifying their registration status from the registering organization, and take the tests. It is very likely that they will need some training to pass the test. The amount of training you provide such an applicant is between you and the applicant and should be based on the PTS.

Ultralight pilots registered after September 1, 2004, also receive a special consideration, but it is different. They must meet the same training and endorsement requirements as a zero-time pilot, but their ultralight flying time may be applied toward the sport training requirements, provided that it is logged appropriately. Ultralight pilots who are not registered with one of the three organizations cannot apply their flying time toward sport pilot certification.

Category and class changes

Sport pilot certificates are issued without category and class ratings. These ratings (called privileges) are issued through logbook endorsements. For example, if a sport pilot passes the practical test in a land airplane, the endorsement in the pilot's logbook establishes the category as airplane and the class as land (sport pilots are always single engine). In order to change category or class, the sport pilot (or any rated pilot exercising sport pilot privileges) must receive a training endorsement in the new category or class of aircraft and then take a proficiency check (PC). This is covered in FAR 61.321.

Any appropriately rated instructor can provide the training or perform the PC and issue the new category or class endorsement, but the same instructor cannot do both for the same trainee. You could be asked to be the training instructor or the PC instructor. The PC is administered like a test and is covered in the sport pilot PTS. The PC instructor even has to submit paperwork to the FAA, just like a designated flight examiner. The PC paperwork procedures are covered on the FAA Web page mentioned earlier.

Let's get back to our phone call. When someone asks you about sport pilot training, you may have to ask questions to find out more about the type of training he needs. A standard pitch for sport pilot training may not work.

The sport pilot concept is simple. It allows us to train pilots for a simple mission in a simple airplane. The challenges we currently face are a lack of qualified aircraft, knowledgeable instructors, and designated pilot examiners. You can fix the instructor part of this challenge by learning about sport pilot. Visit AOPA Online for more information. New airplanes are entering the market and will help to fix the aircraft challenges. Sport pilot schools are now starting to show up, and training opportunities are growing. It is exciting to be involved in sport pilot.

Now you're ready to take your prospective sport pilot student "off hold" and start talking. Go for it!

Earl C. Downs, CFI, has been teaching ground and flight instruction for 42 years and has logged 8,000 hours dual. He is a designated sport pilot examiner, an FAA safety counselor and lecturer, and editor/publisher of The Oklahoma Aviator.

By Earl C. Downs

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