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In just two years, the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft community has grown to be a significant and promising part of the general aviation picture. The past year, in particular, showed the potential within this new area of recreational flight.

Over more than a decade of direct involvement and leadership on the rule, EAA sees the two-year anniversary of what’s commonly known as the “sport pilot rule” as a point of celebration and renewed motivation to continue building access for those who wish to participate.

“The past year was a remarkable one in terms of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft community’s growth,” 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 has met and surpassed the anticipated levels.

“The number of new, ready-to-fly airplanes available to sport pilots has blossomed in the past year,” Lawrence said. “There are more instructors, more training facilities and more opportunities than expected after two years under the new rule. Although much work remains to be done in a number of fronts, sport pilot offers a way to increase current participation in aviation. Even more importantly, it creates an entryway for those interested in outdoor recreation to consider aviation as a safe, affordable, fun and fulfilling pursuit.”

On numerous occasions, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has specifically praised EAA for its work in developing the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft community as a way to build interest in recreational aviation. Administrator Blakey remains a staunch supporter of this rule and its potential to create more flying opportunities nationwide.

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

  • More than three-dozen 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 400 new sport pilot certificates have been issued as of August 1, 2006;
  • More than 100 sport pilot instructors are now certificated;
  • More than 500 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);
  • More than 200 designated pilot examiners authorized to give sport pilot flight tests (checkrides);
  • More than 1,300 successful applicants in the sport pilot airman knowledge (written) test;
  • More than 2,100 EAA ultralight transition kits distributed in two years;
  • The Light Aircraft Manufacturing Association (LAMA) has created an audit program that assures manufacturers and consumers that new light-sport aircraft meet established ASTM International standards.

In addition, the involvement of long-established companies such as Cessna in the light-sport aircraft field, announced at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2006, marks a historic moment for this new aviation sector. Light-sport aircraft companies in North America have also made substantial progress in bringing airplanes to the marketplace after trailing already-established European companies when the rule became effective in 2004.

Along with this substantial progress, a number of challenges remain before a full, vibrant sport-pilot community can take shape. Some primary issues include:

  • Maintenance: There needs to be continued efforts to develop maintenance courses and make them more widely available.
  • Medical certification: EAA’s efforts and recommendations to FAA have done much to help clear the special issuance backlog, but some potential sport pilots still find themselves in a “Catch-22” situation since they need to clear items that may have caused a previous denial or revocation of an airman medical certificate.
  • Education: As with any new rule, there remains some confusion regarding insurance, airport access and potential transition deadlines. EAA’s efforts in this area will continue and, in some cases, be redoubled.
  • Outreach: The 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. These outreach efforts are essential to connect with potential sport pilots who are now outside of aviation.

A further EAA analysis of specific sport pilot/light-sport aircraft issues is available at http://www.sportpilot.org/articles/two_year_analysis.pdf.

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