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Why The Sport Pilot Certificate Eclipsed The Recreational Pilot Certificate

by John White |  | 2 comments

For quite some time now the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has been pushed by the general aviation community to find ways to make flying small, general aviation aircraft easier and more affordable. The General Aircraft Manufacturers Organization (GAMA), along with organizations like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) have noted with some alarm the decline in student pilot starts. One of the ways the FAA has to encourage you to become a pilot is through their licensing requirements. At first the FAA first came out with the Recreational Pilot Certificate which required you to get a minimum of 30 hours of flight time in place of the 40 hours of flight time required for the Private Pilot Certificate. However, the restrictions on the number of passengers you could carry, the aircraft you can fly and the limitations on when and where you can fly has  resulted in few acquiring this pilot certificate.

Enter The Sport Pilot Certificate

Sport Pilot Certificate at All Things Aviation After much debate the FAA came up with the Sport Pilot Certificate which has, for all practical purposes, replaced the Recreational Pilot Certificate. The basic 5 requirements for a Sport Pilot Certificate are as follows:
  1. The applicant must be at least 17 years old
  2. The applicant must hold a U.S. Drivers license or an FAA Medical Certificate
  3. The applicant must pass the FAA Sport Pilot Knowledge Test
  4. The applicant must accumulate at least:
    • 15 hours of dual instruction including 2 hours of cross country training;
    • 5 hours of solo flight time;
    • Complete 1 solo cross country flight of at least 75 nautical miles with full stop landings at 2 different airports, one of which must be at least 25 nautical miles from the starting point.
  5. The applicant must pass the FAA Sport Pilot Practical Flight Test
The best way to learn more and prepare for the Sport Pilot FAA Written Knowledge Test is to get a copy of Gleim's Sport Pilot FAA Knowledge Test Guide for $ 19.95 + S&H. Once you receiveyour Sport Pilot Certificate category and class privileges will be endorsed in your log book instead of being printed on your Sport Pilot Certificate issued by the FAA.

What Aircraft Can A Sport Pilot Certificate Holder Fly?

As a sport pilot you can fly what the FAA calls Light Sport Aircraft, or LSAs. These aircraft are typically 2 place aircraft weighing less than 1,320 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight (for land aircraft) or 1,430 pounds maximum gross takeoff weight (for water aircraft). The aircraft must have a maximum airspeed at maximum power of no more than 120 knots calibrated air speed (CAS) and a stall speed no higher than 45 knots CAS at maximum gross weight powered by one reciprocating engine and a fixed landing gear system.

Has The Sport Pilot Certificate Helped?

At first there was a great deal of enthusiasm for this pilot certificate, and a number of aircraft manufacturers decided to build light sport aircraft that met the criteria for Sport Pilot Certificate holders. Many of these manufacturers had already been producing these aircraft in Europe and as kits for home built enthusiasts, and there have been a flood of different models introduced, including from major U.S. airframe manufacturers like the Cessna Aircraft Company. You can learn more here: Download the FAA Sport Pilot Brochure.

The FAA Forecast For Student Pilot Starts

On March 15th 2010 an article by AOPA made the following observations:
It is estimated that slightly more than 72,000 student pilots were registered with the FAA in 2009, down from almost 81,000 a year before. According to the forecast, the number won’t again reach 2009 levels until 2013; next year is expected to be the worst with the forecast bottoming out at roughly 69,000 student certificates. The flight training industry has been struggling since Sept. 11, 2001. In fact, student certificates aren’t expected to reach the year 2000’s historical high of more than 93,000 for the entire forecast period. The one bright spot in the forecast is light sport aircraft pilot certificates, which the FAA expects to increase at a rate of more than 7 percent for the forecast period, and more than 25 percent over the short-term.

How Many Student Pilots Are U.S. Pilots Versus Foreign Pilots?

One of the questions this forecast did not address was the percentage of U.S. Student Pilot starts versus the percentage of foreign Student Pilot starts. During an interview I did with Dana D. Siewert ATP/CFI/DPE from the University of North Dakota (which has a very large pilot training program) he indicated that more than 70% of their students were foreign students.

Final Thoughts

For years I have heard of the impending pilot shortage due to retirements from the Part 121 airlines and the declining number of military pilots leaving the military; however, when I talk to some of my fellow pilots they tell me that there is more a lack of jobs than of pilots. There is no question that foreign air carriers are growing rapidly and need pilots, but here in the U.S. I am not convinced this shortage exists yet, particularly in view of the low pay regional airlines get away with paying their crews. I would love to hear any comments from you! Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here!

Comments (2)

  • Paul Mulwitz on June 24, 2019

    Nice article, John, but you left off the biggest motivator for many people to want to use the new Sport Pilot privileges. Pilots with higher licenses (Private, Commercial, etc.) can reduce their privileges to those of a Sport Pilot and fly with only a state driver’s license as medical qualification instead of an FAA medical certificate. For many older pilots that means freedom to fly without dealing with the FAA medical bureaucracy.

    The new privilege level for these folks is ideal for recreational flying. These pilots are limited to Light Sport Aircraft, and VFR/Day operations. There is a wide selection of LSAs – some of which are really nice – to fly in this new regulatory realm and there is exactly ZERO paperwork to do this. This is the reason there are more than a hundred new aircraft make and model combinations that meet the new S-LSA definition available on the market.

    The new twist in medical qualification doesn’t allow really sick people to be pilots in command of light planes. What it does is move the medical decision point from the FAA bureaucracy to the pilot in question. In a fairly large number of cases this means ability to fly without paying attention to unjustified FAA medical bureaucrat prejudices over conditions that really don’t prevent a pilot from safely performing his duties. All pilots must self-certify their medical qualification for every flight and this is no different for Sport Pilots and those flying with reduced privileges of a Sport Pilot.

    One little technical problem with your article – the 120 KCAS limit for LSA is not for maximum power but rather for maximum continuous power. In fact LSA can go a bit faster than 120 KCAS under maximum power (for a limited time) while still meeting the definition.

  • admin on June 24, 2019


    Thanks for the comments, and the correction on the speed limitation.

    The one problem I do see with the medical requirement is this: Let’s say that you go in to renew your medical certificate unaware that you have a problem that would disqualify you from renewing it. Once you have applied for, and been refused, a medical certificate by the FAA you can’t self certify and fly an LSA.

    Very often the reason for denying your medical is a non-critical one but yet otherwise healthy and well qualified pilots can’t self certify and fly an LSA. In my opinion the FAA should remove that restriction from the medical certification requirement and allow pilots who didn’t qualify for renewal of their FAA medical certificate to self certify. After all, many individuals who are well aware of the fact they would not qualify for an FAA medical certificate, and who have never applied for one, can self certify.


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