Some flight school owners, weary of getting beaten up by the cyclic hiring of the airlines, are gaining staff stability by adding an instructor with a sport pilot certificate, more commonly referred to as a sport instructor. What follows are lessons learned at our school, which has successfully trained sport instructors and put them to work in a traditional flight school setting.
Sport instructors who do not have a conventional commercial or higher pilot certificate are limited to flying for hire in a LSA, so flight schools interested in working with a sport instructor will require an aircraft that meets the definition of a LSA.
Local pilots holding a sport, recreational, or private pilot certificate are eligible to earn a sport instructor certificate, allowing them to earn money as a sport instructor without possessing an instrument rating or a commercial pilot certificate. To help us find eager new sport instructors, we held a seminar, recruiting pilots who had a private pilot certificate, a passion for flying, and a talent for teaching. During this seminar, we reviewed Part 61, Subpart K of the federal aviation regulations and showed these potential new sport instructors what life might be like, working in our industry.
Sport instructors are required to be at least 18 and have logged at least 150 total flight hours. However, that should not give the impression that obtaining a sport instructor certificate is easy. In fact, it's a lot of work. Not only do new sport instructors have to learn to teach and fly from the right seat, they must also learn discipline. We found that traditionally trained pilots gain professional attitudes and behaviors during the acquisition of an instrument rating and a commercial certificate. The average pilot with 150 hours has not had the time to develop these mature flying attitudes and behaviors.
Potential sport instructors must pass the FAA's fundamentals of instruction (FOI) and sport instructor knowledge tests. Flight school owners training new sport instructors may use a good ground-school syllabus, but must plan to fill the inexperience gap by emphasizing instructor professionalism, responsibility, and the concept that the sport instructors will be keepers of the industry. Our flight school trains sport instructors side by side with our CFIs so that everyone learns that the sport instructor certificate is a real FAA certificate with the same high standards.
Flight training for sport instructors emphasizes positive and precise aircraft control. The average private pilot flies for fun--and we don't squash the fun--but effective instructing requires a business mindset. Sport instructor training might also include additional endorsements. When adding a sport instructor designation to a sport pilot certificate, the instructor may need endorsements to fly in D, C, or B airspace or airports. Additionally, FAR Part 91, Appendix D, Section 4 provides the list of Class B primary airports where sport pilots are not permitted to fly. Another endorsement may be required for the sport instructor if the LSA has a VH (maximum cruise speed in level flight) of more than 87 KCAS. If the instructor is adding a sport instructor certificate to an existing private pilot certificate, he or she may not need all of the above-mentioned endorsements.
We've found that pilots who have passed the required knowledge exams can complete an organized sport instructor flight syllabus, including the 15 required hours in a LSA, within two full weeks (weather permitting) if they dedicate themselves to flying and studying. The Sport Pilot Practical Test Standards includes the standards for sport instructors. Once the pilot is ready for the checkride, he or she completes FAA Form 8710-11 and is ready for the FAA checkride with either a designated pilot examiner or a sport pilot examiner.
But what training can this new sport instructor perform at your traditional flight school? Sport instructors are authorized to provide training and logbook endorsements for "a student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate," but that doesn't mean there can't be benefit for your conventional-aircraft students, too.
Traditionally, the Flight Standards District Office is the primary contact for questions pertaining to training situations. However, the FAA Light Sport Branch, located in Oklahoma City, oversees all aspects of sport pilot and instructor training/examining. We found the Light Sport Branch to be the best resource for answers involving the finer points of sport instructor specific privileges and limitations as they pertain to daily flight school operations.
And, there will be questions. Subpart K is written in the new Question-and-Answer format. At first glance, we thought that the new Q&A format was great. However, we soon found that the new format does not provide sufficient guidance for daily operations, since the question in mind may not be the specific question presented by the regulation. When that happens, then the flight school owner must interpret, assume, and deduce an answer to the specific question. And that's an uncomfortable position to be in.
With flight schools hurting for good instructors, hiring a sport instructor can do much to ease the pain. Flight school owners will find that better-than-average training, close supervision, and an understanding of the sport instructor limitations may prove beneficial to keeping customers happy, students in training, and airplanes flying.
Arlynn McMahon is the chief flight instructor for Lexington, Kentucky-based flight school Aero-Tech.