Become a Sport Pilot

Why Sport vs. Private Pilot?

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just recently approved something known as the Sport Pilot rule which allows you to now obtain a sport pilot license in lieu of a private pilot license. What's so good about this rule and why might you consider pursuing the former? Let's find out.

The Upside
First, a sport pilot license doesn't require that you have an FAA issued third-class medical certificate. It only requires that you have a valid U.S.drivers license without having an official denial or revocation of an FAA medical certificate on file with the FAA. This means if you have a drivers license then the FAA considers you medically qualified to fly as a sport pilot in a sport airplane.

Second, the sport pilot license requires only 20 hours of flight time in preparation for your license compared to 40 hours minimum preparation for a private pilot certificate. This means you'll meet the sport pilot license requirement with as little as 15 hours of dual instruction from a certified flight instructor and five hours solo flight time (realistically, you should plan on 30-35 hours of training time).

While a written (knowledge) test and a practical flight test are still required for the sport license, there's no doubt that you'll dramatically reduce the cost of learning to fly, perhaps as much as 60% as compared to that for private pilot licensing. Here's a rough estimate of the total costs based on 25 hours of airplane rental and an estimated cost of $125/hr. for rental of a sport airplane.

35 hours of airplane rental @ $125/hr. = $4,375
40 hours of dual instruction @ $40/hr. = $1,600
Written exam fee = $100
Designated Examiner fee for checkride = $300 (as high as $600 in some cases)

Rod Machado's Pilot eHandbook = $49.95
Additional supplies = $200
Total Cost = $6,619.95

 So what's the downside to obtaining a sport pilot license?

The Downside (if you want to call it that)
As a sport pilot you're limited to flying a single- or two-place light sport aircraft during daylight hours and you can't ever carry more than one passenger. There are other limitations but these are the most relevant ones. Now, this isn't necessarily a big downside. As a general rule, most folks only fly with one person at a time anyway. And while flying at night is an aesthetic experience, you'd be surprised how little night flying most pilots really do. Nevertheless, these are limitations to be considered.

So what are the light sport aircraft available to a sport pilot?

The following are six categories of light sport aircraft (LSA): airplane, glider, rotocraft lighter-than-air (balloon or airship), powered parachute and weight shift control.

In the airplane category of light sport aircraft (the one I'm assuming that you're interested in flying), the airplane must weigh less than 1,320 pounds and have a top speed of no more than 120 knots (138 mph). It can have no more than two seats and fixed landing gear (meaning that the gear isn't broken, but that it can't be retracted in flight for less drag, which means more speed). There are other requirements but these are the important ones. There are many manufacturers making light sport aircraft and you can check them out by visiting the EAA's Sport Pilot web site.

For instance, take a look at the Flight Design CT airplane which is a light sport airplane. This airplane sells for approximately $100,000 and it's a fine airplane to fly and a fine airplane in which to train.

There are many more LSAs from which to choose. Take a look at this EAA site and click on some of the other manufacturer URLs.

On the other hand, there are several airplanes with standard airworthiness certificates that fall into the LSA category. This means if you have a sport pilot license then you can fly any of these airplanes (the ones that would normally require a regular private pilot license to fly). I'm speaking of a handful of airplanes like: Aeronca Chiefs and Champs, Piper Cubs, Luscombes and Taylorcrafts. On the whole, flying an LSA as a sport pilot might better accommodate your aviation desires as compared to training for a private pilots license. If, however, you desire greater utility with the airplane you fly, then you should consider private pilot training. This allows you to fly bigger and faster airplanes and also allows you to earn an instrument rating, which makes weather delays less of a factor.

There is, however, another strategy you might consider. There's absolutely nothing wrong with obtaining your sport pilot license as an intermediate step in preparation for the private pilot license. This strategy is a good one if you want to fly as a private pilot but don't have the $7,000-$9,000 you need for the training. After all, LSA are sure to be less expensive than renting standard, non-LSA machines.

There's not a lot of information I can give you right now on LSA rental costs since the FAA sport pilot rules are so new. It's reasonable to assume that obtaining your sport pilot license in a sport airplane would allow you to fly with passengers sooner and have more fun quicker. That means having someone with which to share the operating expenses of the flight. That means that flying is overall less expensive, even if you don't wear overalls when you fly (sorry, I really love line).