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09/01/05 - ANALYSIS: SPORT PILOT IS ONE YEAR OLD
EAA Looks at Where We Are and What’s Ahead
Thursday’s (September 1, 2005) first anniversary of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule marks an inaugural year highlighted by amazing advances in infrastructure and aircraft, along with a clearer picture of the challenges that must still be met to fulfill the promise of these new categories of airplane and pilot certification.
Over more than a decade of direct involvement and leadership on the rule, EAA finds the one-year anniversary of what’s commonly known as the “sport pilot rule” a point of celebration and renewed motivation to continue to build access for those who wish to participate.
“Some in the aviation community are amazed at how quickly airplanes and interest in sport pilot emerged after the rule became reality last September,” 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 long involvement with the rule, however, told us that the interest would be very high for both potential sport pilots and the light-sport aircraft that they’ll fly. We’ve seen many parts of the infrastructure take shape and new aircraft come to the marketplace.”
Lawrence added that the substantial progress has been made in the first 12 months of an entirely new rule. A number of challenges remain, though, before a full, vibrant sport-pilot community can take shape.
“Our next critical step is to get the practical training in the field, where potential sport pilots are waiting; to ease any aircraft certification hurdles that remain, especially in the ultralight area; and to deal with pilot medical certification matters,” Lawrence said. “These are challenges, but this consensus effort among government, industry and consumers has shown that things can get done in a cooperative, timely manner. EAA has great enthusiasm that will continue and we look forward to fully participating in that effort.”
The consensus effort to establish the sport pilot community has also had the support of the Federal Aviation Administration, including FAA Administrator Marion Blakey. During her appearance at EAA AirVenture 2005 Oshkosh this summer, Blakey reiterated FAA’s partnership with aviation industry and consumers to build sport pilot/light-sport aircraft.
In addition, FAA and industry officials met at EAA headquarters in Oshkosh in late August to discuss specific issues in repair, inspection and maintenance of light-sport aircraft. These sessions, on a variety of sport pilot/light-sport aircraft topics, have been a regular part of the first-year success of the sport pilot rule.
A further EAA analysis of specific sport pilot/light-sport aircraft issues follows.
Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft Analysis By Topic
New production aircraft (S-LSA)
Analysis/outlook: Outstanding. The industry went from final rule to more than a dozen new production aircraft in less than seven months, with more in the pipeline. The combination of consensus ASTM International standards and an eager marketplace showed the best of the free enterprise system.
New kit aircraft (E-LSA)
Analysis/outlook: Marginal. The final ASTM standards for light-sport aircraft kit assembly are not yet complete, so any new product must wait for those standards to be drafted. Fortunately, there are a number of existing aircraft kits already on the market that meet the light-sport aircraft specifications, so that product is ready for the final standards.
Transition of aircraft from two-place ultralight trainer to E-LSA
Analysis/outlook: A slow start, with hopes for improvement. A shortage of designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) in this category makes it hard for people to make the transition to the light-sport aircraft category. More DAR applicants are beginning to emerge, which will help the situation. EAA believes the transition deadlines set in the rule are still valid, as long as DAR applicants can be authorized in an efficient manner.
Analysis/outlook: Good, to a point. The written test material is completed and available from FAA and private companies. At EAA AirVenture alone, more than 380 sport pilot student certificates were issued, so the pilot community is ready. This area will be prepared when the training facilities catch up to the demand.
Availability of instructors/aircraft
Analysis/outlook: Good and bad. Existing CFIs may instruct sport pilots, and FAA has authorized more than 35 new Sport Pilot Instructors (SPIs) in the first year of the rule. That number will increase significantly in the next year. Finding training aircraft at flight schools is difficult, however, and the cause of a major bottleneck in the rule’s first year. All parties must work to remedy this situation.
Availability of checkride examiners
Analysis/outlook: Very favorable. FAA has made major strides to boost the ranks of flight examiners and has scheduled classes to add new examiners. The agency has also looked to authorize current DPEs to test sport pilots.
Analysis/outlook: Solid and growing. FAA’s guidance and involvement has already led to two providers that have scheduled courses for this rating. The resources are available for those who wish to obtain this rating.
Analysis/outlook: Needs help. EAA and the industry have worked with FAA for a revision to the current restrictive policy, which has slowed progress in this area. Those efforts included three EAA, FAA and industry representatives meetings on the issue, including a summit at the EAA Aviation Center in late August. EAA is also working with and encouraging aviation maintenance schools and training centers to provide this training and help clear the roadblock on this matter.
Analysis/outlook: Bright. Brokers and underwriters, led by Falcon Insurance, have created liability and hull coverage for light-sport aircraft. Most of the difficulties regarding insurance for LSAs have emerged because of compatibility issues in other areas, such as tailwheel instruction or unmet standards for flight schools. The picture promises to improve even more as the sport pilot community expands.
Analysis/outlook: A fast start but more work to do, particularly in support of non-fixed wing aircraft. Never has there been such a positive response to a new FAA rule - but then, there have been few rules that have been as comprehensive as the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule. The best results have been seen in the production aircraft, pilot enthusiasm and insurance areas. When studying aircraft maintenance and training aircraft issues, however, the results have been somewhat disappointing. These are areas that must be improved, because the success of this rule is dependent on advancement as a total package in all areas. EAA continues to work to improve the outlook in those areas while building on the successes in other segments of the sport pilot community.