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Analysis: Sport Pilot At Three Years

EAA Looks At Where We Are And What's Ahead

EAA AVIATION CENTER, OSHKOSH, Wis. - (August 31, 2007) — The sport pilot/light-sport aircraft community took perhaps its biggest strides forward over the past 12 months, as it marks the third anniversary of the introduction of the new aircraft and pilot categories.

After more than a decade of direct involvement and leadership in making the rule a reality, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) has spent the past three years helping create the necessary infrastructure and marketplace essential for the success of what's commonly known as the "sport pilot rule." This burgeoning recreational aircraft community is showing increased growth and a major access point for those who wish to participate in recreational aviation.

"The past 12 months gave us a glimpse of the growth and innovation possible within the light-sport aircraft category," said Earl Lawrence, EAA's vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, who also chairs the ASTM International committee that created the consensus standards for light-sport aircraft.

EAA's annual review regarding sport pilot/light-sport aircraft comes as interest in this new area of flying is reaching new levels. This growth validates EAA's vision for sport pilot and light-sport aircraft. This new flying segment is more than a way to keep current pilots flying; it is the cornerstone of expanding the pilot community and bringing new people into aviation.

"The recent announcements by Cessna and Cirrus of their intent to enter the light-sport aircraft market, along with outstanding products already available from other companies, provides further momentum to this segment of aviation," Lawrence said. "There is no doubt that drawing new people into aviation is essential. Sport pilot is the most practical entry way to aviation as a safe, affordable, fun and fulfilling pursuit."

Among the milestones reached in the third year of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule:

  • More than 50 new, affordable, ready-to-fly aircraft are now available for purchase by sport pilots, for one-quarter to one-half of the cost of traditional new, factory-built airplanes;
  • More than 2,100 Sport Pilot certificates have been issued as of June 1, 2007 (up from 400 in August 2006);
  • More than 230 Sport Pilot instructors are now certificated (up from 100 in 2006);
  • More than 4,000 light-sport aircraft are on the FAA register (not counting type-certificated and amateur-built aircraft that are also eligible to be flown by sport pilots) - up from 500 in 2006;
  • More than 240 designated pilot examiners authorized to give sport pilot flight tests (checkrides) - growth of 20 percent in the past year;
  • Nearly 3,700 successful applicants in the sport pilot airman knowledge (written) test (an increase of 2,300 in the last 10 months);
  • Approximately 6,200 EAA ultralight transition kits distributed in three years; FAA approval that allows the use of retractable landing gear in amphibious aircraft that meet the light-sport aircraft standards.
  • Much of the growth seen over the past year easily outpaces the cumulative totals from the first two years of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule. In addition, a growing number of flight schools are adding light-sport aircraft to their training fleet as the sport pilot community becomes more widely accepted as a key entry component to personal flight.

Along with this substantial progress, some challenges remain to the creation of a full, vibrant sport-pilot community can take shape. Some of those issues are similar to those from a year ago, including:

  • Maintenance: Continued efforts to develop maintenance courses and make them more widely available.
  • Education: There remains some confusion regarding insurance, airport access and potential transition deadlines. EAA's efforts in this area will intensify, especially as the January 31, 2008 transition deadline for currently exempted two-place ultralights approaches.
  • Outreach: EAA Sport Pilot Tour reached thousands of aviation enthusiasts in major metropolitan markets during 2006, with as many as half of those attending currently not involved in aviation. Light-sport aircraft manufacturers are also becoming more visible at local and regional aviation events. These combined outreach efforts, whether led by EAA, FAA or the industry, are essential to connect with potential sport pilots who are now outside of aviation.

EAA, The Leader in Recreational Aviation, is an international association with 170,000 members and 1,000 local Chapters. To join EAA or for more information on EAA and its programs, call 1-800-JOIN-EAA (1-800-564-6322) or go to www.eaa.org.

SPORT PILOT/LIGHT-SPORT AIRCRAFT ANALYSIS BY TOPIC

New production aircraft (S-LSA)

Analysis/outlook: The best year yet. From the start of the sport pilot rulemaking process, EAA pushed to reduce the barriers to the manufacture of a "ready to fly" aircraft. This effort has resulted in more than 50 models of "ready-to-fly" production light-sport aircraft available for purchase. In addition, there are also production models for powered parachutes, weight-shift control aircraft and gliders. The announcements during EAA AirVenture 2007 that Cessna has committed to production of its new "Skycatcher" LSA and Cirrus is developing the "SRS" model shows that the world's major piston-powered aircraft manufacturers see the category has an important, growing component to the aviation training community. As with any new marketplace, there are some areas of uneven customer service and support networks. As the market matures, there will be a natural evolution towards models that offer high levels of value and customer service.

New kit aircraft (E-LSA)

Analysis/outlook: Improving. The final ASTM standard for kit assembly instructions has been accepted by the FAA. Those companies that offer fully-built aircraft now have the option of introducing kit versions as well. Market recognition and acceptance of this concept is still lagging, however.

Transition of two-place ultralight training aircraft to E-LSA

Analysis/outlook: A looming deadline brings activity, but still some difficulties. Steps have been taken to overcome an initial shortage of designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) in this category, but there is still a major shortage of DARs in some areas. Some FAA flight standards and manufacturing inspection district offices have been slow to recognize the affect of the transitioning E-LSA, which could cause a bottleneck to develop as the January 31, 2008 deadline for transition approaches. EAA has assisted by developing and distributing more than 6,100 ultralight transition kits. Many people have filed their transition paperwork in a timely fashion, but those who start now will run the risk of not having their transition completed in time. Contrary to some industry viewpoints, there also has been no indication that the FAA will consider extending the deadline for those who have not completed the process by January 31, 2008.

Pilot certification

Analysis/outlook: Outstanding. While some believed that the primary source of sport pilots would be those who are downgrading their pilot certificates, perhaps due to an inability to maintain a medical certificate, the bulk of recent sport pilot students and applicants are coming from the ranking of those new to flying. The past year has seen the addition of more than 1,700 sport pilot certificates. In addition, written test material is completed and available from FAA and private companies. More than 4,000 sport pilot student certificates have been issued. Designated Pilot Examiner totals are growing as well, giving potential sport pilots the opportunities to complete their training and earn their certificates.

Availability of instructors/aircraft

Analysis/outlook: Good and bad, similar to 2006. Existing CFIs may instruct sport pilots, and FAA has authorized many new Sport Pilot Instructors (SPIs) in the past year. That number now stands at nearly 700 instructors, and will continue to increase significantly. Finding training aircraft at flight schools is still difficult in some locations, however, and is a bottleneck in the process. Some instructors have also been slow to adopt the new certificate.

Repairman-Inspection (LS-I)

Analysis/outlook: On a solid footing. FAA's guidance and involvement has already led to more than a dozen providers that have scheduled courses for this rating. The resources are available for those who wish to obtain this rating.

Repairman-Maintenance (LS-M)

Analysis/outlook: Lagging. At this point, only one school is approved to offer the necessary training. EAA has made repeated efforts to draw current airframe and powerplant (A & P) maintenance schools and training centers to provide this training, but has received no further commitments.

Insurance

Analysis/outlook: Improving. Liability and hull coverage is available for light-sport airplanes, but not for powered parachutes and weight-shift control aircraft. Insurance difficulties for LSAs often revolve around compatibility issues in other areas, such as tailwheel instruction or unmet standards for flight schools. Sport pilots and light-sport aircraft owners can also encounter individual aviation insurers unfamiliar with the details of sport pilot and light-sport aircraft. The picture promises to improve dramatically, however, as established companies such as Cessna and Cirrus enter the market.

Other areas

Analysis/outlook: Some expected growing pains. One area of concern is sport pilot interaction with air traffic control personnel. There is some confusion on the part of Flight Service Stations and air traffic controllers regarding the new airplane. Some controllers have confused light-sport aircraft with Experimental or homebuilt aircraft. A particular point of emphasis for sport pilots is the filing of proper flight plans when necessary. Expense of new aircraft is a concern in some areas, especially until a pre-owned market in light-sport aircraft emerges.

Overall

Analysis/outlook: Very good, with a marketplace evolving to meet the needs. In just three years, sport pilot/light-sport aircraft has become a part of the recreational aviation community. As the segment expands, new challenges will always emerge. While a few areas are behind the rapid progress seen in areas such as new aircraft development and pilot interest, the marketplace is beginning to find the areas of need and address them. The feared complexities of an entirely new rule and marketplace have been greatly eased in the past year. This new entry point for aviation must help carry the momentum for increased pilot starts. The sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule, however, has created new aircraft, new pilots and an increased interest in aviation as safe, affordable and fun outdoor recreation that offers satisfaction like no other pursuit. The continued success of this rule is dependent on advancement as a total package in all areas. EAA will continue its work to build on the dramatic successes made in just three years.

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