FAA Administrator Marion Blakey today officially unveiled the long-awaited Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft rule that could draw a whole new generation of pilots into general aviation, thanks to its lower costs, and will allow many lapsed pilots to return to the sky.
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."
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.
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 had sought are included in the final rule. Beginning September 1, 2004, 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 have let their medical certification lapse 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 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 Pilots whose medical has been revoked, suspended, or denied will need further review by the FAA and could be required to obtain a special issuance.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.
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 as the FAA moves toward implementing the new rule and then gains real-world experience with it.
"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 promise of the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule is that it could swell the ranks of current active GA pilots," Boyer continued, "bringing lapsed pilots back into the fold and drawing new pilots into the aviation community."
AOPA has a number of resources available to help understand the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule. A Web page explains both the rule itself and AOPA's position. In addition, AOPA medical certification and aviation technical services staff are studying the final rule (which is hundreds of pages long) and will be able to address pilots' questions. To draw on AOPA's expertise, contact the AOPA Media Relations office at 301/659-2162.
July 20, 2004