Why The Sport Pilot Certificate Eclipsed The Recreational Pilot Certificate

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

Cessna Skycatcher Light Sport Aircraft

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!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

What Are Pilot Certificates and Why Do They Matter?

When the Wright Brothers introduced the world to manned powered flight the race to build better and better aircraft ensued. Soon many individuals were building their own aircraft, and improvements in aviation technology rapidly increased.

At first there were no regulations, no licensing requirements and no restrictions for building, flying and maintaining an aircraft.

The Aero Club Of America

By mid-year 1905 a number of the members of the Automobile Club of America decided to form the Aero Club of America to promote the advance of aviation. In an effort to bring structure to flying airplanes the Aero Club began issuing pilot certificates.

The pilot certificates were not mandatory, and were issued upon a pilot demonstrating some minimum requirements which included climbing to a predetermined altitude completing a figure 8 flight while holding a steady altitude.

If you are interested in learning how to fly, and to get your own Private Pilot license, but don’t know where to start, let me suggest you get the Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual or the Gleim Private Pilot Manual. These fine books can help you understand what is involved, how to start and how to prepare for the Private Pilot Certificate.

The First Five Pilots

The Aero Club decided to award the first pilot certificates to men who had already built their own aircraft and had flown them, thus these certificates were honorary. The men were:

  1. Glenn Curtiss
  2. Frank Purdy Lahm
  3. Louis Paulhan
  4. Oriville Wright
  5. Wilbur Wright

You might wonder how they decided the order to issue these pilot certificates, and it was by alphabetical order of their last names.

Later on pilot licenses issued by the Aero Club were signed by Orville Wright who had become the chairman of the Contest Committee formed by the Aero Club.

The Air Commerce Act Of 1926

In May of 1926 the Air Commerce Act was passed which authorized the Secretary of Commerce to issue rules regarding air traffic, the certification of aircraft, the licensing of pilots and the establishment of airways and navigation aids.

The Commerce Department begin issuing safety regulations and certifying pilots while building a system of lighted airways followed by airways based upon radio beacons.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

Currently, pilot certification is conducted by the FAA either directly or through the use of designated examiners who have been certified by the FAA to conduct practical oral and flight tests and then issue a pilot certificate.

These examiners are typically persons who have demonstrated to the FAA over time their competency as certified flight instructors and safety as pilots.

Today many commercial airline, corporate and helicopter pilots receive their type ratings for aircraft through test administered in flight simulators without ever flying the actual aircraft itself!

Pilot Certificates

Today there are 7 different certifications a pilot can hold:

  1. Student Pilot Certificate
  2. Sport Pilot Certificate
  3. Recreational Pilot Certificate
  4. Private Pilot Certificate
  5. Commercial Pilot Certificate
  6. Certified Flight Instructor Certificate
  7. Airline Transport Pilot Certificate

The privileges for each pilot certificate will be restricted to the category and class of aircraft to be flown, and in some cases the specific type of aircraft to be flown.

In addition, a Private, Commercial or Certified Flight Instructor can also add an Instrument Rating to their certificate allowing them to operate an aircraft solely by reference to instruments within the aircraft.

Pilot Privileges By Category, Class And Type

Some of the aircraft category ratings are:

  • Airplane
  • Rotorcraft
  • Glider
  • Lighter than Air

Some of the aircraft class ratings are:

  • Single engine aircraft
  • Multi-engine aircraft
  • Land aircraft
  • Water aircraft
  • Helicopters
  • Airships

An example of a type rating would be:

  • Douglas DC-3
  • Cessna CitationJet
  • Airbus 380
  • Boeing 777

Medical Certificates

Each pilot must also pass a flight physical by a medical doctor designated by the FAA as a medical examiner. Currently there are three basic levels of medical certificates:

  • Third Class
  • Second Class
  • First Class

The class of medical certificate required has to do with the pilot certificate a pilot holds. For example, a Private Pilot can hold a Third Class Medical Certificate, a Commercial Pilot a Second Class Medical Certificate and an Airline Transport Pilot a First Class Medical Certificate.

Each medical certificate lasts for a specified period; i.e. Third Class 2 years, Second Class 1 year and First Class 6 months.

Pilot Certificates

A pilot certificate today looks much like a fancy credit card which the pilot must carry with them at all times while operating an aircraft, in addition to their current and valid medical certificate.

To learn more you should get Flying Airplanes: For Fun and Money! (A Practical Guide to Becoming a Professional Pilot) which is a great read!

In future posts I will discuss the various pilot certificates.

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!

What Everyone Should Know About Private Pilots

Most of us will sooner or later encounter a friend or acquaintance with a Private Pilot’s License. And, in all likelihood, you will receive an invitation to take a flight with them.

But is it wise or safe to accept the invitation? Let’s find out.

If you are interested in learning how to fly, and to get your own Private Pilot license, but don’t know where to start, let me suggest you get the Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual or the Gleim Private Pilot Manual. These fine books can help you understand what is involved, how to start and how to prepare for the Private Pilot Certificate.

What Is A Private Pilot?

A private pilot has a pilot’s certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which allows him to fly an airplane for which he is both qualified and current in, and to carry passengers and baggage. However, a private pilot cannot receive compensation for flying an aircraft.

In order to obtain a private pilot certificate the applicant must accomplish several things:

• Pass a written examination by the FAA
• Accumulate a certain number of flying hours in various aspects of flying like cross country, night and performing specific maneuvers
• Be recommended for the private pilot certificate by a licensed flight instructor
• Pass an oral examination by an FAA examiner
• Pass a flight test with an FAA examiner

When I look at the searches on the internet I see a lot of questions about “how much money can a private pilot make” and “private pilot salary” which indicates to me that many people don’t understand what a private pilot really is.

This does not, however, mean that passengers can’t share operating expenses with the pilot.

What Is A Private Pilot License?

The license is actually called a “Private Pilot Certificate” which is issued by the FAA upon completion of a rigorous training program, passing a medical examination by an FAA medical examiner, and passing a flight test administered by a representative of the FAA.

In the old days a pilot certificate was a piece of paper you would carry with you when you flew, but today it is similar to a credit card. On this pilot certificate are details about yourself similar to what you will find on your driver’s license, but in addition it contains information about what types of aircraft the pilot can fly and limitations as to when and under what circumstances he can fly.

What Are The Requirements For A Private Pilot Certificate?

For an airplane single-engine rating. Except as provided in paragraph (k) of this section, a person who applies for a private pilot certificate with an airplane category and single-engine class rating must log at least
(1) 40 hours of flight time
(2) 20 hours of flight training from an authorized instructor
(3) 10 hours of solo flight
(4) 3 hours of cross-country flight training
(5) 1 cross country of over 100 nautical miles total distance
(6) 1 cross country of over 150 nautical miles total distance with 3 full stop landings
(7) 10 takeoffs and 10 landings to a full stop
(8) 3 hours of flight training on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by references to instruments
(9) 3 hours of night flight training
(10) 3 takeoffs and landings at an airport with a control tower
(11) 3 hours of preparation for the flight test
Learn To Fly – It Is Easy, Fun and Very Useful!

While flying an airplane is more difficult than driving a car (after all, you are operating in 3 dimensions), anyone who is in reasonably good health with good eyesight can learn to fly.

As an instructor pilot I have taught students as young as 12 years old and as old as students in their 70s, so anytime is a good time to learn to fly.

Once you attain your pilot’s certificate you will discover that you have joined an elite group who share a love for all things aviation, and that not only is flying fun, but it can help you expand your horizons by making it possible to travel large distances in a short time without all the hassle of traffic on the highways.

Where Do You Start If You Want To Learn To Fly?

To start go to your local airport and find the fixed base operator’s facility. This is where aircraft owners store and have their aircraft serviced.

Take an introductory flight to see if flying airplanes is something for you. If you like it, the next step is to locate a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) and arrange for your flying lessons.

From there the CFI will help you with getting your Student Pilot’s Certificate, your flight medical certificate and outline a plan for your lessons.

Learn More From The FAA

To learn more visit “Become A Pilot” on the FAA website.

To learn more you should get Flying Airplanes: For Fun and Money! (A Practical Guide to Becoming a Professional Pilot) which is a great read!

Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!


ps: Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter “All Things Aviation” here!