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Sport Pilot News > News Archive

08/30/07 - SPORT PILOT AT THREE

Where we are and what’s ahead

The best year yet. That’s the overall assessment of this third year in the life of the sport pilot/light-sport aircraft (SP/LSA) rule that took effect on September 1, 2004. The dream envisioned with its inception is beginning to become reality.

The SP/LSA community made big strides forward during the past 12 months. After more than a decade of direct involvement and leadership in making the rule a reality, EAA has spent three years helping the FAA and the community develop the necessary infrastructure essential for the success of what’s commonly known as the “sport pilot rule.” This burgeoning community is showing increased growth and is a major access point for those who wish to participate in recreational aviation with less time and money invested.

Both Cirrus and Cessna announced their entry into the light-sport aircraft market at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2007 with the Cirrus SR Sport and the Cessna 162 SkyCatcher respectively. Photo illustration by Phil Norton

“The past 12 months gave us a glimpse of the growth and innovation possible within the light-sport aircraft category,” 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.

“The recent announcements by Cessna and Cirrus of their intent to enter the light-sport aircraft market, along with outstanding products already available from other companies, provides further momentum to this segment of aviation,” Lawrence said. “Drawing new people into aviation is essential. Sport pilot is the most practical entry to safe, affordable, and fun flying.”

Among the milestones reached in the third year of the SP/LSA rule:

  • More than 50 new, ready-to-fly aircraft available for one-quarter to one-half the cost of traditional new, factory-built airplanes;
  • More than 2,100 sport pilot certificates issued as of June 1, 2007 (up from 400 in August 2006);
  • More than 230 sport pilot instructors certificated (up from 100 in 2006);
  • More than 4,000 LSA on the FAA register (not counting type-certificated and amateur-built aircraft eligible to be flown by sport pilots) – up from 500 in 2006;
  • More than 240 designated pilot examiners authorized to give sport pilot checkrides – a growth of 20 percent in the past year;
  • Nearly 3,700 applicants have passed the sport pilot airman knowledge (written) test, an increase of 2,300 in the last 10 months;
  • Approximately 6,200 EAA ultralight conversion kits distributed in three years;
  • FAA approval of retractable landing gear for amphibious LSA
  • Much of the SP/LSA growth outpaces the cumulative totals from the first two years. In addition, a growing number of traditional flight schools are adding LSA to their training fleet as sport pilot becomes more widely accepted as a key entry point for personal flight.

    Along with this substantial progress, some challenges remain for the creation of a full, vibrant sport-pilot community, including:
  • Maintenance issues. Continued efforts to develop maintenance courses and make them more widely available.
  • Continuing education: Confusion regarding insurance, airport access, and transition deadlines requires more information and education. EAA will intensify its efforts in this area, especially as the January 31, 2008 transition deadline approaches.
  • 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. LSA manufacturers are also becoming more visible at local and regional aviation events. These combined outreach efforts, led by EAA, FAA or the industry, are essential to connect with potential sport pilots who are now outside of aviation.

SPORT PILOT/LIGHT-SPORT AIRCRAFT ANALYSIS BY TOPIC

New production aircraft (S-LSA)
Analysis/outlook: The best year yet. From the start of the sport pilot rulemaking process, EAA pushed to reduced the barriers to manufacture ready-to-fly aircraft. This effort has resulted in more than 50 models of ready-to-fly LSA available for purchase. In addition, there are also production models for powered parachutes, weight-shift control and gliders. The announcements during EAA AirVenture 2007 that Cessna has committed to production of its new “Skycatcher” LSA and Cirrus is developing the “SRS” model shows that the world’s major piston-powered aircraft manufacturers see the category has an important, growing component to the aviation training community. This explosive growth, although positive for the consumer, has resulted in some complaints of poor customer service after the sale. The reduced barriers to entry combined with a sellers market have attracted some companies to offer aircraft that are underfunded and lack a support network. With Cessna and Cirrus’ entry, this may well lead to a shake of some of the weaker offerings.

New kit aircraft (E-LSA)
Analysis/outlook: Improving. The final ASTM standard for kit assembly instructions has been accepted by the FAA. Those companies that offer fully-built aircraft now have the option of introducing kit versions as well. Market recognition and acceptance of this concept is still lagging, however.

Transition of two-place ultralight training aircraft to E-LSA
Analysis/outlook: A deadline brings activity, but some difficulties. Steps have been taken to overcome an initial shortage of designated airworthiness representatives (DARs) in this category, but there is still a major shortage of DARs in some areas. Some FAA flight standards (FSDO) and manufacturing inspection district offices (MIDO) have been slow to recognize the effect of the transitioning E-LSA, which could cause a bottleneck to develop as the January 31, 2008 deadline for transition approaches. EAA has assisted by developing and distributing more than 6,100 ultralight transition kits. Many people have filed their transition paperwork in a timely fashion, but those who start now will run the risk of not having their transition completed in time. Contrary to some industry viewpoints, there also has been no indication that the FAA will consider extending the deadline for those who have not completed the process by January 31, 2008.

Pilot certification
Analysis/outlook: Outstanding. While some believed that the primary source of sport pilots would be those who are downgrading their pilot certificates, perhaps due to an inability to maintain a medical certificate, the bulk of recent sport pilot students and applicants are coming from the ranks of those new to flying. The past year has seen the addition of more than 1,700 sport pilot certificates. Written test material is completed and available from FAA and private companies. More than 4,000 sport pilot student certificates have been issued. Designated pilot examiner totals are growing as well, easing the ability of student sport pilots to complete their training and earn their certificates.

Availability of instructors/aircraft
Analysis/outlook: Good and bad, similar to 2006. Existing CFIs may instruct sport pilots, and FAA has authorized many new sport pilot instructors (SPIs) in the past year. That number now stands at nearly 700 and will continue to increase significantly. Finding training aircraft at flight schools is still not easy throughout the United States, however, and causes a bottleneck in the process. Some instructors have also been slow to adopt the new certificate.

Repairman-Inspection (LS-I)
Analysis/outlook: On a solid footing. FAA’s guidance and involvement has already led to more than a dozen providers offering courses for this rating. The resources are available for those who wish to obtain this rating.

Repairman-Maintenance (LS-M)
Analysis/outlook: Lagging. At this point, only one school is approved to offer the necessary training. EAA has made repeated efforts to draw current airframe and powerplant (A & P) maintenance schools and training centers to provide this training, but has received no further commitments.

Insurance
Analysis/outlook: Improving. Liability and hull coverage is available for light-sport airplanes, but not for powered parachutes and weight-shift control aircraft. Insurance difficulties for LSA often revolve around compatibility issues in other areas, such as tail wheel instruction or unmet standards for flight schools. Sport pilots and LSA owners may also encounter individual aviation insurers unfamiliar with the details of SP/LSA. The picture promises to improve dramatically, however, as established companies such as Cessna and Cirrus enter the market.

Other areas
Analysis/outlook: Some expected growing pains. One area of concern is sport pilot interaction with air traffic control personnel. There is some confusion on the part of Flight Service Stations and air traffic controllers regarding LSA. Some controllers have confused LSA with experimental or homebuilt aircraft. A particular point of emphasis for sport pilots is the filing of proper flight plans when necessary. Expense of new aircraft is a concern in some areas, especially until a pre-owned market in light-sport aircraft emerges.

Overall
Analysis/outlook: Very good, with a marketplace evolving to meet the needs. In just three years, sport pilot/light-sport aircraft has become a part of the recreational aviation community. As the segment expands, new challenges will always emerge. While a few areas are behind the rapid progress seen in areas such as new aircraft development and pilot interest, the marketplace is beginning to find the areas of need and address them. The feared complexities of an entirely new rule and marketplace have been greatly eased in the past year. This new entry point for aviation must help carry the momentum for increased pilot starts. The SP/LSA rule, however, has created new aircraft, new pilots and an increased interest in aviation as safe, affordable and fun outdoor recreation that offers satisfaction like no other pursuit. The continued success of this rule is dependent on advancement as a total package in all areas. EAA will continue its work to build on the dramatic successes made in just three years.


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