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Easing the PainEasing the Pain

What a sport instructor can do for your traditional flight school

This is the final in a three-part series reporting on the experiences of Lexington, Kentucky-based AeroTech, one of the first flight schools to add light sport aircraft (LSAs) to its fleet of conventional training aircraft. This report examines the experiences of the school's CFIs as they adapted to the new aircraft.

With regional airlines in their current hiring frenzy, many flight instructors have left their posts, plunging the industry into flight instructor famine. At our flight school, we have trained, hired, and lost an average of four instructors every month for a year. In May 2007 we lost our entire CFI staff in one week. We sometimes feel that we spend more time and energy training staff instructors than customers.

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.

  • Tailwheel endorsements. A sport instructor may, for instance, conduct an initial checkout in a tailwheel LSA, such as a Piper J-3 Cub or any of the Luscombe 8 series. However, the pilot who receives the tailwheel endorsement is not limited to a tailwheel LSA. The endorsement crosses over to include tailwheel aircraft that are not LSAs.
  • Ground briefings. Many flight schools conduct ground briefings and training sessions that are not required for certification. Our sport instructors routinely conduct ground training in GPS navigation and Garmin G1000 operations. We organized our normal briefings on "how to talk on the radio" and "how to obtain a good weather briefing" into ground lessons that our sport instructors teach. Just be careful--sport instructors may not endorse pilots beyond the sport pilot level for the presolo written test or FAA knowledge test. As an example, a sport instructor may not administer a presolo written exam for a private pilot candidate.
  • Flight review. Sport instructors are authorized to provide a flight review and logbook endorsements for a sport pilot. However, this is not a limitation and does not mean that the sport instructor cannot provide a flight review for other pilots in the LSA. Sport instructors may also conduct training in the FAA Pilot Proficiency Program (WINGS). Generally, it's agreed that the sport instructor can conduct most any instruction within the limits of his/her certificate so long as it is done in an LSA.
  • Aircraft checkouts. Our flight school routinely conducts aircraft checkouts that aren't required by the FARs. Provided the pilot receiving the checkout is legal to act as pilot in command, our sport instructors are authorized to conduct school-policy aircraft checkouts and area/airspace familiarization flights. But be careful: the flight school insurance policy may be worded in such a way as to require an instructor with a valid medical certificate and who is checked out to fly the aircraft.
  • Initial instructors. While Subpart H instructors are prohibited from training initial instructors until they have the required experience, sport instructors are immediately authorized to train initial sport instructors. A sport instructor is authorized to conduct ground training and endorsement for the FOI test, which can be beneficial to any instructor-candidate. Teaching flight instructor ground school makes the sport instructor that much better in his job. At our flight school, the flight instructor ground school is filled with both Subpart H and Subpart K candidates. But be careful: a sport instructor is not authorized to endorse an instructor wishing to take the flight instructor airplane knowledge test.
  • Renewal and reinstatement of instructors. We found many former Subpart H instructors who are without a medical and who had given up on flying. Assuming that the medical was not denied, withdrawn, or revoked, these instructors might renew or reinstate their flight instructor certificate without a medical and operate within the privileges and limitations of a sport instructor. A sport instructor may conduct training in the LSA to help these instructors regain proficiency, in understanding sport pilot regulations, and in preparing them for a reinstatement checkride, and generally get them back into the air.

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.

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