Increased benefits come with some costs and responsibility
Are you excited by the proposed sport pilot/lightsport aircraft (SP/LSA) rule? Many experts say the long-awaited rule will offer aviation its best growth opportunity since the 1940s. Do you wonder if any new regulation can be that helpful?
Some pilots remain apprehensive about SP/LSA. Naturally, those who will use the regulation to begin or expand their recreational flying welcome it. Some who don’t feel the need for government involvement are less sure.
Like most privileges, the new rule comes with some cost and additional requirements. Pilots of all stripes will grapple with those requirements, but it is important not to lose sight of what makes this a great piece of regulation. On this rare occasion, I find myself anticipating, even welcoming, a new federal rule.
The proposed SP/LSA rule will reduce operating costs for many pilots, but ultralight pilots will experience some initial transition costs. For example, whereas EAA offers free pilot and vehicle registration, ultralighters whose machines do not meet the parameters of FAR Part 103 will need to transition themselves and their aircraft to SP/LSA status. There’ll be one-time costs to take the FAA written and practical sport pilot tests and to have one’s aircraft inspected and N-numbered. Once vehicles are registered, states will become aware that you own an aircraft and may assess sales or property tax levies. New maintenance requirements may necessitate that transitioning ultralighters participate in a maintenance seminar to do annual condition inspections on their aircraft.
EAA stands ready to help its members make the transition as easily and inexpensively as possible. Volunteer designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) will be available to inspect aircraft, and EAA will incorporate maintenance courses into its EAA SportAir Workshops offered around the country, thereby making it easier to obtain the needed maintenance rating.
Adding up all the good things balances the added costs and requirements. Here are some of the benefits the SP/LSA rule will offer ultralight pilots and others who may choose to exercise the privileges of a sport pilot certificate or fly a light-sport aircraft. As an individual pilot, you may discover additional personal benefits in the final rule.
Legitimacy – Many pilots who do not fly ultralights look at these lightweight aircraft with a prejudiced eye. Without knowing their flight characteristics, performance qualities, or safety record, some traditionally trained pilots do not welcome or accept ultralights. Some airport managers bar ultralights, effectively shutting off fuel sales and opportunities to market their other services while blocking ultralight pilots from access to under-used airports.
With SP/LSA, both the aircraft and the pilots flying them will carry FAA certification. Special LSA will be required to meet FAA-mandated consensus standards for design and construction. Sport pilots will be required to demonstrate knowledge of airspace regulations and flight proficiency within the FAA system.
Those vehicles once loosely known as “two-place ultralights” will undergo inspection and transition to experimental light-sport aircraft status. With N-numbers, these aircraft will be accepted at many more airports. Those airport operators who still resist may have to answer to the FAA.
Simply put, a sport pilot certificate and a certificated aircraft are the right credentials to gain respect.
Reduced Medical Costs – While ultralight pilots have never faced medical requirements, other pilots have had to undergo expensive testing to maintain their medical status. With the advent of the “driver’s license medical” in SP/LSA, the cost savings to those pilots will be considerable.
Concurrently, the new medical regulation makes the purchase of an LSA or other sport-pilot eligible aircraft a safer investment when you can be certain you’ll be able to continue flying without added expense to prove your medical fitness.
Flying Passengers – Ultralight pilots operating under a training exemption avoid words like “passenger” or “ride.” All two-place ultralight operations take a “student” up for a “lesson,” with few exceptions. Now sport pilots will be permitted to carry passengers in their N-numbered aircraft. That will be a great source of relief to many who don’t care to act as an instructor on every flight.
Ready-to-Fly Aircraft – You’ve been able to buy a ready-to-fly ultralight for 22 years, if it was a singleplace Part 103 ultralight vehicle or an ultralight used as a trainer under an exemption. But many two-place ultralights are actually kit-built two-seaters into which the owner invested hours of construction. Many pilots enjoy the task of building their own plane, but others only built because they lacked an alternative. With SP/LSA we will have it both ways. New, ready-to-fly aircraft will be available as Special LSAs. A new sub-category of aircraft called experimental LSA/Kit Built will allow manufacturers to create aircraft kits that are more than 51-percent complete. Many experimental amateur- built aircraft will be sport pilot eligible as well.
Greater Variety of Aircraft – Single-place ultralights are limited to 254 pounds empty, while two-placers are limited to 496 pounds empty. Light-sport aircraft can weigh up to 1,232 pounds gross, or possibly more, thereby increasing greatly the number and types of aircraft we will be able to buy. The range of possibilities will stretch from powered parachutes and trikes to all imaginable forms of fixed wing airplanes, gliders, gyros, and even airships. Not all designs need to weigh more-trikes and powered parachutes being examples-but by allowing more weight the number of eligible aircraft grows sharply.
Enlarged Performance Range – Ultralight vehicles are limited in speed to 63 mph (55 knots) for single-seat Part 103 vehicles and 86 mph (75 knots) for two-seat trainers. Lightsport aircraft will have a top speed of 132 mph (115 knots). Again not all LSAs need to fly at the highest operating speeds available, but with increased speed comes increased range, opening up new opportunities for using LSAs.
Optimized Mission – In truth, two-seater ultralights that transition to experimental light-sport aircraft status will be flown solo a lot of the time. Surveys show four- and six-seat general aviation (GA) aircraft average 1.6 occupants per flight, meaning a sole occupant is common. In the past, twoseat trainers could only be flown solo under limited conditions. The SP/LSA rule allows solo or two-place flying in the same aircraft without restriction.
Reduced Flight Restrictions – Under Part 103 you cannot fly over a “congested area” at any altitude. With SP/LSA you will operate under Part 61 that allows flights over areas that were forbidden under Part 103. Many privileges enjoyed by GA aircraft will be extended to LSAs.
You also can’t have more than 5 gallons of fuel on board your singleseat 103 vehicle or 10 gallons for your trainer. Under SP/LSA, there are no fuel limitations. As long as the fuel load doesn’t cause you to exceed the maximum gross weight, you’re good to go.
Insurance – Obtaining insurance for ultralights has been difficult, if not impossible. The lack of registration and verifiable accident statistics has made it impossible for insurance companies to predict their losses. Consequently, most reliable insurance underwriters have refused to offer policies.
With SP/LSA, those problems will be resolved. EAA’s insurance agency, Falcon Insurance, has already announced a program for LSA. Other companies may follow suit.
Financing – Without insurance, financing is impossible to obtain. Lenders want to know they can recoup their investment in the event of an accident. In addition, financing depends on knowing the whereabouts of the asset. With FAA registration, a company can keeps tabs on their investment. When a lender can establish a proper lien on an LSA, they’ll be far more likely to offer financing proposals. Monthly payments can bring aircraft ownership within reach of many more aviators. Fortunately for those who don’t want to finance, plenty of low-cost choices will also be available under SP/LSA.
Rental Aircraft – With insurance and financing comes rental aircraft. While it is legal to rent Part 103 vehicles, it’s not a common practice because insurance and financing aren’t available. Under SP/LSA, rental of special LSA is acceptable; now a business may be successful in such a venture. Perhaps you won’t need to buy an LSA; you may simply rent one.
Log Time Toward Other Pilot Certificates – Time logged in any LSA will count toward other certificates or ratings. This is not true of ultralight time. If you fly a trike, powered parachute, fixed-wing aircraft, or a glider, gyro, or airship, you can log the time, if the aircraft qualifies under the new regulation. It’s another form of acceptance within aviation.
Properly Certificated – When operating under the training exemption to Part 103, you have to announce to your student that the aircraft you are about to fly is uncertificated and that your pilot credential is not an FAA certificate. While safety has been remarkably good for such operations, the mandatory statements and placards make some students nervous. As a sport pilot instructor, you’ll hold a recognized FAA certificate, eliminating those negatives.
Healthier Businesses – With more students for sport pilot instructors and other certificated flight instructors, more rental aircraft, more sales of all types of aircraft, and an increased need for maintenance services, lightsport aviation businesses should become stronger and enjoy increased revenues. In turn, that should translate into more services available for pilots and owners.
Is That All?
Others will discover additional ways SP/LSA will benefit them. The ideas above are only some of the good news. Yes, we’ll all be faced with some fees and expenses we don’t have under Part 103 and its exemption. But we gain more than enough to justify these costs.
Let the fun begin!
When the sport pilot/lightsport aircraft rule is final, you will be able to:
Earn a sport pilot certificate in as few as 20 hours
Earn a sport pilot certificate based on your prior ultralight experience
Log time toward other pilot certificates
Fly a passenger without having to become an instructor
Fly a sport-pilot eligible aircraft with your driver’s license as medical certification
Fly with reduced flight restrictions
Purchase new, ready-to-fly aircraft or more complete kits
Fly faster, better-equipped aircraft
Obtain insurance and financing easier
Rent light-sport aircraft
Conduct flight instruction in a special light-sport aircraft
Operate a light-sport aircraft as a club or in a partnership
Carry a passenger in your registered and converted trainer
Maintain and/or inspect your light-sport aircraft by obtaining a repairman certificate through 16- or 80- hour courses.
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