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Tue, Jul 24, 2007

New EAA Program Aims To Draw New Pilots To The Fold

Learn to Fly!

by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas

Yeeeehhhaaaaaa! Welcome to a whole new world of aviation, sport pilot. The signs at the new "Learn to Fly" area of the EAA tent proclaim the excitement for the "new" Sport Pilot Certificate.

Charlie Becker, Director of Aviation Services at the Experimental Aircraft Association sees "sport pilot and light sport aircraft as the key to the future of aviation." 

The "new" certificate had its birth about 13 years ago with the first proposals to the FAA. About three years ago, the implementation began. "You’re starting to see the infrastructure grow and finally catch up with the expectations," says Becker.

The next generation trainers are being introduced, the latest being the Cessna 162 Skycatcher, and Cirrus Design's just-announded SRS.

According to Becker, many of the Light Sport Aircraft coming into the country are being delivered to individuals.

"We need them out on the flight line and I know Cessna's plan is to get a lot of their initial production out to their Cessna Pilot Centers". The expectation is around 2009.

During the wait, EAA members can apply for their Student Sport Pilot Certificate at the Learn to Fly area in the EAA Member tent between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. During AirVenture, Designated Pilot Examiners are donating their time to approve the paperwork and issue certificates. Normally, the paperwork to issue the Student Sport Pilot Certificate runs $40 to $50 -- so if you are not a member of EAA but are interested in becoming a Sport Pilot, the EAA yearly membership dues are $40. The free certificate, coupled with the "normal" EAA benefits, make it a no-brainer.

Becker applauds the Pilot Examiners. "I think that tells you how dedicated people are in aviation when Designated Pilot Examiners will take time out of their stay here in Oshkosh to sign off on Student Pilot Certificates just so that they can get this ball rolling."

The Student certificate will be valid for two years. Becker hopes "the person will go home and take that next step of finding an instructor and become a pilot." According to research, EAA reports that student pilot starts are down and total pilots has dipped below 600,000. "The more people you bring in on that first step of the ladder the bigger that (pilot) base becomes, it benefits everyone in aviation." Says Becker. "It's just good for the industry."

Non-members and members alike can enjoy the mini-forums at the membership tent on different aspects of becoming a sport pilot or private pilot. "We’re here to answer and encourage people as much as possible" says Becker.

'Reach For The Sky' is a new booklet available at the tent. "It is a summary, in my mind, of everything you need to know to move forward and become a pilot." Says Becker. The booklet is filled with information, making the choice between sport pilot and private pilot, choosing an instructor and even building your own LSA if the mood strikes.

Becker has heard of resistance at some Fixed Base Operators on Sport Pilot. To this end, another booklet is available at the EAA tent, 'CFI’s Guide to Sport Pilot and Light-Sport Aircraft.' Instructors are encouraged to pick up a copy and students are encouraged to take a copy to an instructor putting up walls on Sport Pilot. After enough calls to an FBO about Sport Pilot, economics may take over and realize maybe Sport Pilot is not so bad after all.

The Sport Pilot website contains a listing of CFI’s willing to teach Sport Pilot and those who have access to LSA. Becker notes only about 30% of the CFI’s listed have access to an LSA. Becker asks EAA or NAFI member CFI’s to add themselves to the list if they want to instruct sport pilot. "There are some work arounds, like being able to do some of the training in Cessna 150s and other aircraft that don't comply... but at the end of the day when you get to the solo part you need a light sport aircraft to do your solo work and your check ride."

Older Cubs, Champs and Taylorcraft are also available. Training and certification in the tail draggers would also require additional training, and sign-off in the tricycle gear.

After AirVenture there will be an e-newsletter those interested in the program can sign up for. There will be a free trial period for non-members; members can receive the e-newsletter free. "Learn a little bit about becoming a sport pilot, get some of your training questions answered. I think that will be a very effective training tool as we move forward," says Becker.

What Becker and company want to do at the Learn to Fly center is "Give them all the information they need, encourage them to take that first step, remind them that EAA, through the chapter networks has thousands of members all across the country that want them to be successful and have them join the aviation community." Many people have come up to Becker who have mentioned receiving the student certificate at an EAA event and now are Sport Pilots. "It’s really cool to see it come full circle."

FMI: www.sportpilot.org

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