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Fri, Sep 15, 2006

Part One: Sport Pilot -- Now You Can!

Fly The Consumer-Friendly Skies

By ANN Correspondent Annette Kurman

"Now you can!" That was the message conveyed throughout the day Saturday, September 9 at Lawrence Municipal Airport (LWM) as upwards of 400 pilots and aviation enthusiasts converged on the airport's flight line to inspect entries into the new class of light sport aircraft approved by the FAA two years ago.

Just one of eight stops across the country, the weather was perfect for individuals from around the Eastern Seaboard to fly or drive in for a day of lectures, a free flight in a Flight Design CWST, and a look at the newest entries into the LSA category. EAA Chapter 106 hosted the EAA Sport Pilot Tour (alas, with not a rock star in sight).

According to Ron Wagner, manager, EAA field relations, in a talk held in a hangar to an audience of primarily men, many of AARP age (keep in mind that the AARP ropes you in at age 50 these days), the new sport pilot certification makes the dream of aviation "more readily available to everyone and lowers the barriers..." by decreasing the time in which one can secure a certificate, the expense of securing that certification, and the cost of acquiring a new aircraft.

Wagner stressed the LSA category also retains the safety that every certification requires.

Listen To Ron Wagner's Views On Sport Pilot Here



As most everyone with an interest in sport piloting knows, a valid driver's license can put you in the seat of one of the new LSAs. Every pilot, no matter what the certification, self-certifies his medical condition before flying, and a sport pilot -- even one who secured his certificate through a valid driver's license -- is no different.

Said Vermont resident Albert Oglesby, one of the three Green Mountain Staters who drove down for the event, "Pilots always 'self certify' -- whatever medical (certificate) they have -- their fitness to fly. There's not much difference with a Sport Pilot." He agreed with the EAA's Ron Wagner, "if we abuse it (sport pilot certificate), it will go away."

(From the EAA Sport Pilot Sourcebook, "As a pilot, it is your responsibility to ensure that your current medical health in no way jeopardizes the safety of a flight.")

It appeared those in attendance were very familiar with sport pilot's privileges and limitations. Those privileges include: flying during the day using VFR; three miles visibility; visual contact with the ground; flying in uncontrolled, Class E and G airspace; flying up to 10,000 feet MSL; not flying for compensation (although you can share operating expenses with another person); flying in only sport pilot eligible aircraft; flying solo or with one passenger; flying production and experimental amateur-built aircraft that meet the definition of a LSA; and cross-country flying anywhere in the U.S.

Limitations: prohibited from Class A airspace; prohibited from flying in Class B, C, or D airspace until further training and a logbook endorsement from an instructor; no flights outside the U.S. without prior permission from the foreign aviation authority; no towing any object; no flights while carrying a passenger or property for compensation, hire, or for furtherance of a business. (EAA Sport Pilot Sourcebook)

Many of the more mature FAA licensed pilots were very interested with medical issues, addressed in the workshop "Sport Pilot for the FAA Licensed Pilots... Medical Issues."

Wagner's advice? Let your medical certificate expire. Don't go in for a medical review if you think there may be issues that would deny you your medical certificate.

"If you think you might not pass the medical, don't take it," he offered. Wagner also recommended EAA members contact the EAA medical board if they have specific issues they want to inquire about.

However, he added, "we all need to exercise good judgment in using our drivers' licenses instead of a medical." Any pilot, he said, should only fly when they're sure they are medically able to fly. Every time someone flies who shouldn't, they jeopardize it for everyone else."

At this time, in the "growth and implementation stage" of the Sport Pilot certificate, there are some 400 recorded Sport Pilot licenses. That number is expected to grow into the thousands as more people become aware of the opportunity. "The skies the limit," he said, particularly one a major manufacturer comes on board.

Currently most of the LSAs are European made, primarily from Germany and the Czech Republic. Many voiced a hope that Cessna will soon jump into the fray.

According to EAA member and private pilot Brian Rugg, "I think Sport Pilot is the most exciting thing that has happened in aviation for more than 40 years. It's been a real 'grass roots' effort."

All along the flightline you could hear wishful men saying, "I wish I had my checkbook with me (to buy a LSA) and not tell my wife."

Connecticut's Doe and Art Simmonds, both private pilots, were very interested in light sport aviation. "Only problem," said Art, "is that you can't find an airplane."

While saying this in front of eight to 10 LSAs on display -- courtesy of the LSA Marketing Group and its president, Dan Johnson -- what they say is true, to an extent. Said Johnson, "Demand currently does exceed supply."

Additionally, many would-be sports pilots voiced their frustration with finding a flight school. Wagner acknowledged that Sport Pilot is in its infancy and schools are hard to come by. That will change, he promised.

(Part Two of this series, in which Annette takes the controls of an LSA, will follow Monday. -- Ed.)



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