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New Sport Pilot rule announced; AOPA is ready to answer your questionsNew Sport Pilot rule announced; AOPA is ready to answer your questions

New Sport Pilot rule announced; AOPA is ready to answer your questions

For 83-year-old Duncan Miller, Sport Pilot will keep him flying low and slow
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Out in the center of the California farmland between Sacramento and San Francisco sits Vacaville (that's Spanish for cow town). And at Vacaville's Nut Tree Airport (VCB), there's a man who loves aviation so much he has five hangars full of aircraft ranging from a J-3 Cub to a BT-13 Valiant to a Cessna 182 and C-47 being restored for a museum. Eighty-three-year-old Duncan Miller started flying during World War II, and he still loves to fly. Sport Pilot is going to keep him flying.

About nine years ago, Miller needed a pacemaker. And that meant he also needed a special issuance medical certificate. That special issuance is only good for six months, and it takes the FAA four months to process each renewal. But the FAA will only allow Miller to apply for a renewal three months in advance. So for the past nine years, one month out of every six he's been unable to fly while he waits for the FAA to process his paperwork. "I'd run home every day to check my mailbox," Miller said.

But Sport Pilot will allow Miller to fly his beloved J-3 Cub. Under the rules, if his special issuance medical certificate lapses, he can still fly exercising the privileges of a Sport Pilot certificate with a driver's license, providing that he self-certifies that he is medically fit to fly.

And for Duncan Miller, every afternoon around 5 o'clock there's nothing more that he loves to do than fly his J-3 low and slow around the Vacaville farmland - except for Sunday after church when he opens his hangars for everyone, especially children, to come and see his aircraft.

In photo: 83-year-old Duncan Miller learned to fly during World War II. Today Sport Pilot will allow him to fly his beloved J-3 Cub even though he sports a pacemaker.

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This J-3 Cub meets the criteria of the new Light Sport Aircraft. Beginning Sept. 1, certificated pilots will be able to fly aircraft like this one with a "driver's license medical" (see story for full details).
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FAA Administrator Marion Blakey in the cockpit of a Kitfox, one of the new aircraft that meet the Light-Sport Aircraft criteria.
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This Kitfox experimental homebuilt was on display at FAA headquarters as an example of a typical Light Sport Aircraft.
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FAA Administrator Blakey checks out a powered parachute, one of the new class of Light Sport Aircraft.

FAA Administrator Marion Blakey today officially unveiled the long-awaited Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rule [requires Adobe Reader] that will allow many pilots to fly with a valid driver's license in lieu of a medical certificate and create new, less-expensive ways to become a pilot.

From the beginning of this nine-year process, AOPA pushed hard for a driver's license medical standard that would allow already-certificated pilots to fly light sport aircraft immediately - and many of the provisions that AOPA sought have been included in the final rule [see the FAA's sport pilot medical Q&A]. Beginning September 1, pilots who qualify will be able to act as light sport pilots using a driver's license.

"It was important to AOPA that our members who love and support general aviation, but no longer have a current medical, be able to fly again," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That's why we asked the FAA to make the rule effective quickly, and they responded."

Pilots who hold a recreational certificate or better, but whose standard or special issuance medical certificate has lapsed, will be able to fly under sport pilot rules with a driver's license and with a self-certification that they are medically fit to fly. Pilots whose medical has been revoked, suspended, or denied will need further review by the FAA and could be required to obtain a special issuance.

Certificated pilots who hold a valid driver's license and whose medical has not been suspended or revoked will be able to fly many familiar certificated airplanes, including Piper J-2 and J-3 Cubs and models from Luscombe, Taylorcraft, and Ercoupe, when the rule becomes effective September 1.

The rule also creates a new class of light sport aircraft that will include both kit airplanes and yet-to-be-certified models. The FAA estimates that light sport aircraft will be available for "about the price of a new car," but because the class includes powered parachutes and two-place ultralights, that figure may not realistically represent the cost of a more traditional airplane. Even so, new aircraft should be less expensive than many models now available, and with that lower cost will come lower operating and maintenance expenses.

And the rule creates a more affordable avenue for learning to fly, requiring a minimum of 20 hours of flight time to earn a sport pilot certificate. While experience suggests that the certificate may take closer to 30 or 35 hours to earn, the standard still represents a significant cost savings over the average time of nearly 70 hours to earn a private pilot certificate.

Although the new rule defines pilot and aircraft certification requirements, it also raises a host of new questions that will require interpretation. "AOPA's staff of full-time medical and technical experts will remain in continuous contact with the FAA to ensure that our members get accurate answers to all their questions as they take advantage of this new rule," Boyer said.

The rule has been, literally, years in the making, and only the dedicated efforts of organizations like the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), which has made sport pilot regulation its sole focus, have made it possible.

"Organizations like EAA and AOPA recognize that anything that makes general aviation accessible to more people is good for all pilots," Boyer said. "This rule invites old friends to get back into the air while creating opportunities for more people to pursue their dreams of flight for the first time."

For more details on the new rule and AOPA resources that can help you take full advantage of it, visit the sport pilot page of AOPA Online or call AOPA's Pilot Information Center at 800/USA-AOPA.

July 20, 2004

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