AOPA told the FAA May 6 that the agency's sport pilot and light sport aircraft proposed rule is a needed step forward to provide a lower cost alternative to the current private pilot certificate. In formal comments on the rule, AOPA said that the FAA should accelerate the final rule on the airman portion of the proposal. That would permit sport pilots—using a driver's license for a medical certificate—to immediately fly seven existing certificated aircraft (like a Piper Cub) that would meet the light sport aircraft definition.
"AOPA believes this rule could help many lapsed pilots return to flying," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Many have quit aviation due to aircraft rental and ownership costs and due to the expense and difficulty of maintaining a current medical certificate. The rule could also have a positive effect on the cost of learning to fly, bringing new people into general aviation."
AOPA said the agency should go even farther and extend sport pilot privileges to recreational pilots. That would mean recreational pilots could use a current driver's license to meet the medical requirements. They could also fly in Class B, C, and D airspace with the proper flight instructor endorsement. AOPA's proposal would effectively extend the benefits proposed in the sport pilot certificate to a much larger group of aircraft such as a Cessna 172 or a Piper Warrior.
The sport pilot rule would establish a new class of aircraft and airman. The proposed light sport aircraft would have two seats; a gross weight no greater than 1,232 pounds; a single, non-turbine engine; a stall speed of 39 knots; fixed gear; and a maximum airspeed of 115 knots. Light sport aircraft categories would be: airplane, weight-shift-control, powered parachute, gyroplane, glider, balloon, and airship.
To earn a sport pilot certificate, a student would need a minimum of 20 hours training. An airman flying as a sport pilot would not need a current medical certificate; a state-issued driver's license would suffice.
"The driver's license medical is a reasonable and safe standard for both sport and recreational flying," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "Only one-fifth of one percent of GA accidents were caused by medical issues, and glider pilots have been flying for years without medical certificates or problems."
AOPA suggested that once the FAA has gained experience with sport and recreational pilots flying on a driver's license, the agency should, within three years, work toward using a driver's license instead of a third class medical certificate for private pilots. This a proposal AOPA has advocated for years.
The association told the FAA that there should be a separate category for reporting accidents and accident statistics for light sport aircraft. "The general aviation community, in partnership with the FAA, has worked diligently to reduce accident rates," AOPA said. "Because the new light sport category is administered under a different standard, it is appropriate to clearly define the category as separate from the general aviation category."
AOPA did not offer specific comments on the proposed certification requirements for light sport aircraft. That's because those standards are to be developed by industry consensus.
"Without a complete understanding of the full scope and nature of light sport aircraft consensus design, certification, and continued airworthiness standards, a reasonable and thorough evaluation of the light sport aircraft initiative is not possible," AOPA said. "That is why we are recommending accelerated implementation of the pilot portion while implementation of the aircraft certification standards are developed. Objective comments regarding the utility and impact of the light sport aircraft portion of this proposal depends on a complete evaluation of final industry consensus design, certification, and continued airworthiness standards."
So that passengers would clearly understand that they were flying in an aircraft that didn't meet conventional FAA certification standards, AOPA said that the final rule should include a requirement that sport aircraft be marked on the outside with the words "Light Sport Aircraft" (similar to the markings for experimental aircraft) along with a placard in the aircraft directly in full view of the passenger.
"AOPA believes that the sport pilot rule and our suggested revisions to the recreational pilot certificate better meet the needs of the sport and recreational flying community and provide a safe and attractive entry-level certification for pilots who may ultimately choose to pursue advanced ratings," said Boyer.
AOPA's complete comments on "Docket No. FAA-2001-11133; Notice No. 02-03 Certification of Aircraft and Airmen for the Operation of Light Sport Aircraft; Proposed Rule" and additional information are available online.
The 380,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some two thirds of the nation's pilots are AOPA members.