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Canadian vs. U.S.
Ultralight Licencing and Operations (including Sport Pilot)

By Kathy Lubitz, EAA 640605, for Bits and Pieces

In the previous article, I discussed the differences between the U.S. ultralight vehicle and the Canadian ultralight aeroplane. I also included information on the U.S. light-sport aircraft (LSA) because of the similarities with the Canadian advanced ultralight aeroplane (AULA).

We saw that the Canadian ultralight aeroplane category sits between the U.S. unregulated, unlicenced ultralight vehicle and the U.S. LSA with its many more requirements.

The same holds true for the licencing and operation of these aircraft. The Canadian licencing and operational rules fit between those of the U.S. ultralight vehicle and the U.S. sport pilot certificate which is the minimum U.S. pilot certificate for U.S. LSA.   

U.S. Ultralight Vehicle Pilot Requirements
U.S. ultralight vehicle pilots do not need to obtain any FAA pilot certificate. Period.

Even though there is no regulatory requirement, it’s imperative that a pilot get some training before attempting flight in any of these ultralight vehicles. The introduction of the third dimension (up and down) complicates operation of these vehicles when compared to operating ground-based vehicles.

U.S. Ultralight Vehicle Operating Limits
U.S. ultralight vehicles can only be operated for sport or recreational activities. There is no commercial use. The FAA has imposed operational limits that it determined were necessary for the safety of other persons and property.

Pilots must:

  • not create a hazard (including dropping anything) which could create a hazard to other persons or propertyoperate only during the dayoperate with visual reference to the ground (VFR operations)
  • yield the right-of-way to all other aircraft
  • not fly over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open-air assembly of personsaccess airports only after obtaining prior authorization from the ATC facility having jurisdiction over that airspace.

There is the fundamental requirement to maintain the weight and performance limits of the ultralight vehicle. Modifications that make an ultralight vehicle too heavy or otherwise exceed the limits of FAR 103 make the vehicle an aircraft requiring certification, including for the pilot.

Canadian Ultralight Pilot Permit
There is a Canadian ultralight pilot permit for pilots who want to fly only ultralight aeroplanes. The ultralight pilot permit allows the pilot to operate any aeroplane that is registered as an Advanced or Basic ultralight or any aeroplane which meets the definition of a basic ultralight—an aeroplane with a gross of 1,200 pounds or less with a stall speed of 45 mph or less in the landing configuration. See the chart for the requirements.

An ultralight pilot can’t carry a passenger unless he undergoes further training and adds the passenger carrying rating to his ultralight pilot permit. This rating allows him or her to carry a passenger in ultralight aeroplanes which can legally have passengers carried in them.

Any Canadian pilot who is authorized to fly an aeroplane can operate any Canadian ultralight as a privilege of that licence. However, putting legal requirements aside, self-preservation imposes a requirement to get a checkout before attempting solo flight in one of these lightweight, little aeroplanes.

Since ultralights are aeroplanes, operating an ultralight with a recreation pilot permit, or a private or commercial pilot licence, will fulfill the 5-year recency requirement in CAR 401.05(1)(a).

Passenger Carrying
There are two parts to passenger carrying, the aeroplane and the pilot licence. The plane must be allowed to have a passenger carried and the pilot must be allowed to carry a passenger.

The plane. Basic ultralights can never have a passenger carried in them regardless of the pilot licence or permit. Advanced ultralights or planes registered in other categories can have a passenger carried in them.

The pilot. Ultralight pilots can never carry a passenger even if the plane they fly allows them to put a passenger in it. They can obtain a passenger carrying rating which will allow them to carry a passenger in a plane that is allowed to have a passenger carried in it.

For a basic ultralight. No passengers—ever. However, there is a “let”. Both seats in a two-place basic ultralight can be occupied in flight only if both occupants are pilots or if one is an instructor and the other is a student.

For an advanced ultralight. A passenger can be carried if the pilot has a recreational pilot permit or other aeroplane licence, or if the holder of a pilot permit – ultralight aeroplane also has the passenger carrying rating.

If the holder of a pilot permit – ultralight aeroplane doesn’t have the optional passenger carrying rating, he can still fly an advanced ultralight solo or with another pilot. If the pilot has an instructor rating but not the passenger carrying rating, the second seat can be occupied by a student who is undergoing flight training.

The rules for the advanced ultralight also apply to any amateur-built or certified aeroplane that meets the basic ultralight definition.

It should be noted that there is no such thing as an advanced ultralight pilot permit even when training is done on an advanced ultralight aeroplane.

Canadian Ultralight Operations
Each occupant in a basic ultralight is required to wear a helmet. This isn’t required in an advanced ultralight, although helmets provide head protection in any aeroplane.

Like the U.S. ultralight vehicle, Canadian ultralight operations are restricted to daytime in VFR conditions only.

Like any other aircraft in Canada, seat belts attached to the structure of the aeroplane are required for each occupant in an ultralight aeroplane.

Unless specifically exempted, ultralight pilots must follow the General Operating and Flight Rules in Part IV of the Canadian Aviation Regulation(CARs) including, but not limited to:

  • the prohibition from creating a hazard (including dropping anything) to any persons or property
  • normal rights of way
  • normal restrictions for flight over built-up areas or assemblies of persons
  • access to airspace for which the ultralight aeroplane has the appropriate equipment
  • establishing radio contact before entering Class C or D Control Zones; radio announcements before entering mandatory frequency areas.

The regulations affecting Canadian ultralight operations can be found in the Ultralight Information Manual from the Ultralight Pilots Association of Canada. See www.UPAC.ca.

Canadian ultralight pilot permit holders can legally operate any Canadian ultralight as a privilege of the permit. If you learn on a fixed wing aeroplane, you can jump into a weight-shift trike and go. The same applies for powered parachutes.

Because there are very real differences in the control systems among the types of Canadian ultralights, it’s definitely a good idea to get some training to become familiar with those differences.

Canadian ultralight pilots are also not restricted to a class of aeroplane. They can fly any land or sea ultralight aeroplane without required training. Common sense and self-preservation require some training when switching from land to floatplane operations and vice versa.

U.S. Sport Pilot Certificate
The minimum licence for aircraft operation in the United States is the sport pilot certificate. This certificate was created as the minimum pilot certificate for operating LSA.

There are at least six categories of LSA in the United States: airplane, powered parachute, and weight-shift-control (trike), glider, gyroplane, and lighter-than-air (airship or balloon). Logbook endorsements are required when pilots transition to each different category.

There are two classes: land and sea. Logbook endorsements are required when switching from one to the other.

Logbook endorsements are also required to operate planes whose top speed is greater than 100 mph (87 knots).

For comparison purposes, I have included this chart of the licence requirements. I used the sport pilot certificate aeroplane and weight-shift (trikes) requirements. For other categories of LSA, check with the FAA.

U.S. Sport Pilot and LSA Operations
Sport pilots can carry a passenger in any LSA or any plane that fits the category. Sport pilot activities can be only for recreation (no commercial use); in daytime, VFR conditions; and in Class G and E airspace. Sport pilot privileges can be expanded with extra training and logbook endorsements.

For example, logbook endorsements are required to operate LSA with top speeds over 87 knots (as long as the top speed is 120 knots [138 mph]) and to go into Class D, C, or B Control Zones or other airspace.

In many ways, the sport pilot certificate is the equivalent of the Canadian ultralight permit with the passenger carrying rating. However, it’s also more complicated since the pilot has to find instructors for the extra training to get the logbook endorsements for additional privileges.

Can Canadian Ultralights Operate in the United States?
Yes, both basic and advanced Canadian ultralights can operate in the United States if the pilot carries an FAA Special Flight Authorization on board the aircraft and complies with its requirements. One requirement is that the pilot hold, as a minimum, the pilot permit – ultralight aeroplane with a flight instructor rating.

The Special Fight Authorization can be downloaded from the FAA website at www.FAA.gov/aircraft/gen_av/ultralights/sfa/media/ultra.pdf.

Can U.S. Ultralights and LSA Operate in Canada?
The CARs require that all aircraft in Canada have a federal registration and that the operators have a federally issued pilot permit or licence.
The sport pilot certificate uses a driver’s licence instead of an aviation medical. Transport Canada requires aviation medicals for all pilots operating in Canada, and since the sport pilot certificate doesn’t require an aviation medical, Transport Canada doesn’t allow sport pilots to operate U.S. aircraft in Canada.

Since a U.S. ultralight vehicle has no federal registration or federal pilot licence, Transport Canada doesn’t allow the U.S. ultralight vehicles to operate in Canada.

Transport Canada recognizes that LSA have a federal registration and allows U.S. LSA to operate in Canada as long as the U.S. pilot has a private pilot or higher certificate.

Note: Both the FAA and Transport Canada require that pilots flying aircraft registered in their respective countries be licenced in that same country. A U.S. plane can be flown in Canada by a U.S. pilot, not a Canadian pilot. Similarly, a Canadian plane can be flown in the United States only by a Canadian pilot.

There are both positives and negatives in the rules for the planes and the pilots who operate them. The lack of certification and pilot licencing requirements for the U.S. ultralight vehicle means more individual and personal responsibility for the safe operation of these planes.

The rules for the sport pilot to operate an LSA with required logbook endorsements for class, category, and extra privileges appear to be more complicated than the Canadian ultralight permit.

The Canadian pilot permit – ultralight aeroplane seems to have the right balance of government regulation and nonregulated, personal responsibility. The Canadian ultralight safety record for the past 25 years proves that the Canadian regulations are working well for ultralights here in Canada.


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