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Sport Pilot Revisions

A little more than five years ago, on September 1, 2004, the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft (SP/LSA) rule officially went into effect. It introduced the first completely new aircraft category in a half-century and changed the aviation landscape. EAA supported the rule and worked for more than a decade to make it a reality. Private pilot training had become more complex in the last 50 years, leading to the need for a simplified yet safe way to get more people involved in aviation.

After five-plus years, what has been accomplished?

  • Several thousand light-sport aircraft (LSA) are in the general aviation fleet. Those include vintage aircraft such as the Piper Cub, two-place ultralight trainers, and—best of all—a whole new industry of factory-built aircraft. What it means for airplane buyers is more aircraft, more choices, and a variety of price points from which to choose.

  • Piper Aircraft has now embraced the LSA movement, unveiling its PiperSport. Piper joins Cessna as two of the United States’ best-known aircraft manufacturers committing to the future of LSA.

  • Light-sport aircraft have become the breeding ground for electric-powered aircraft, a movement picking up considerable momentum. EAA made the original petition to the FAA to allow electric powerplants in LSA.

  • Meanwhile, the sport pilot rule recently had its first major adjustments since 2004, with rule changes that will go into effect April 2, 2010. With these modifications, sport pilots will be allowed to fly higher and safer in mountainous regions and will find it easier to gain towered airport experience in a powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft. Additionally, special light-sport aircraft (S-LSA) may now be used at Part 141 flight schools, which will likely reduce training costs for all student pilots. A key change to the aircraft maintenance rules will allow experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) owners whose aircraft were originally certified as S-LSA to perform their own maintenance.

    However, EAA remains concerned about the requirement that sport pilots receive training and an endorsement to operate an aircraft with a VH (maximum speed in level flight at maximum continuous power) less than or equal to 87 knots. Although the number of S-LSA has grown substantially, virtually all of them have a VH greater than 87 knots, while all of the powered parachutes, weight-shift-control aircraft, and gyroplanes have a VH less than 87 knots. The powered parachutes and weight-shift-control categories currently have few S-LSA available. And, gyroplanes, although petitioning for inclusion, cannot be certificated as S-LSA; therefore, no trainers are available.

    The lack of S-LSA and the failure of the FAA to issue guidance to allow letters of deviation authority (LODA) for E-LSA instructors means that qualified equipment and experienced instructors will be severely limited. This adversely affects the growth and safety of this segment of recreational aviation safety. EAA continues to encourage the FAA to issue LODA for primary training in E-LSA.

    EAA also continues to fight for additional freedoms, especially regarding ultralight aeronautical experience.

    EAA staff members play lead roles in the SP/LSA movement, particularly in such important areas as aircraft standards through ASTM International and in safety enhancement.

    Now that LSA registrations have increased and incident/accident data is becoming available, the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are beginning to measure safety for these aircraft and those who fly them. This is where those who fly an LSA play an important role. We all want to see barriers to flight brought down. The best way to do that is to fly safely. Consistent, safe flying will bring down barriers faster than any amount of letters or comments to federal agencies. Together, we can ensure that LSA will grow and welcome more people into the world of flight. That is a good thing for manufacturers, flight instructors, local airports, and all of us.

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