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EAAers Scrutinize Sport Pilot NPRM Revisions

Plenty to praise but some areas of concern

April 24, 2008 — The FAA published its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking delineating 22 suggested revisions to the Sport Pilot regulations in mid-April. EAAers' evaluations of the "fixes," as the agency referred to them, are largely favorable. However, ideas for improvement to some of the proposed revisions are emerging.

The FAA will field comments on the proposed rule revisions through August 13, 2008. After studying and considering the feedback, and making any adjustments to the rulemaking language, the FAA will issue a final rule. The typical time line for such a process spans 12 to 18 months.

"We've received a steady stream of correspondence from EAA members asking questions and sharing thoughts about the proposed rule revisions," said Earl Lawrence, EAA vice president of industry and regulatory affairs. "In general, the feedback has been agreeable, with the recognition that the collective revisions aim to better align the sport pilot and light-sport aircraft regulations with traditional pilot certificates and ratings," Lawrence said.

He cited as the most conspicuous example the proposed wholesale removal of the Sport Pilot Instructor section of the rule. "This change would end the segregation of sport pilot instruction from other pilot instruction. The individual would be a flight instructor like all other flight instructors, in this case having a sport pilot rating."

Another integrating measure involving flight training would ensure that all dual instruction for sport pilots would apply as dual instruction toward a private pilot certificate as well. Currently the sport pilot receives credit for this flight time to apply toward a private pilot certificate, but the pilot might not receive dual-instruction credit for that time, depending on the credentials of the flight instructor.

Yet another of the proposed rule revisions would make sport pilot identification credentials conform with the traditional certificates that private pilots must carry when they fly. "Today, sport pilots have to carry logbook endorsements with them. The proposed credential, however, would be the standard pilot certificate with notation of the sport pilot designation and specific privileges, such as powered parachute, weight shift, or fixed wing," Lawrence said.

If these proposed desegregating changes are a sign of the sport pilot movement's having "grown up" in the FAA's eyes, some perceive one such proposed revision as causing growing pains. "It calls for sport pilot training for airplanes capable of sustained flight of 87 knots (100 mph) or greater to include one hour of under-the-hood instrument training," Lawrence said. "It addresses a safety issue. A leading cause of private pilot accidents involves pilots unexpectedly flying from VFR conditions into low-visibility conditions. In such unfortunate scenarios, some familiarity with instrument-only flying could prove highly beneficial to the sport pilot."

Lawrence traveled to the FAA facilities in Oklahoma City last week to meet with Larry Buchanan, manager of the FAA's Light-Sport Aviation Branch, to go over the proposed revisions. In preparing for this meeting, he was struck by the relatively small number of items to discuss in relation to the enormity of the collective sport pilot and light-sport aircraft regulations.

"The EAA community worked tirelessly for more than a decade advocating the sport pilot and light-sport aircraft rule that the FAA adopted in September 2004. It was among the most sweeping and comprehensive sets of interrelated rules that the FAA ever enacted. When you think about it, only 22 revisions after everything that the rules entailed... that's not a whole lot. It's a testament to the strength of the original rulemaking effort," Lawrence said.

"It's impossible to think of and address all the different scenarios and all the questions and all the 'what ifs' in creating regulations of this scope," he added. "That's why, now that the rules have been in practice for nearly four years, the FAA has issued these proposed revisions."

Likewise, the discussion between Lawrence and Buchanan, and the feedback coming in from EAA members, suggest that anticipating all the scenarios and 'what ifs' associated with proposed revisions is also a tall order.

For example, a real-life scenario reported by an EAA member from a high-elevation region of Wyoming revealed room to improve on a proposed revision that otherwise appeared entirely acceptable. The revision is a response to EAA's appeal, on behalf of members flying in mountainous regions, for some wiggle room in the sport pilot limitation on altitude.

The original rule sets an altitude limit of 10,000' MSL. The proposed revision would allow for the greater of either 10,000' MSL or 2,000' AGL up to 12,000' MSL -- an apparent victory for EAA members looking to fly through mountain passes.

However, the member from Wyoming related concerns about his state's many high-elevation Wilderness Areas. The laws protecting these vast areas prevent any aircraft flight at 2,000' AGL or lower, preventing that aviator from taking advantage of the wiggle room that the proposed FAR revision would provide.

"The member showed us that an additional 500' AGL are needed, so sport pilots my fly above the Wilderness Area protection zone and still be within the maximum MSL altitude limitation," Lawrence said. "Plus, the Federal Regulations allow for flight up to 12,500' without supplemental oxygen, so it makes sense to match up the sport pilot maximum altitude with that rule."

According to Lawrence, some other provisions of the NPRM may garner attention from the EAA community during the comment period. For example, the NPRM terms would allow only designated pilot examiners (DPEs) to perform proficiency checks. The shortage of DPEs, particularly for powered parachutes and weight-shift-control aircraft, could make this requirement problematic. Lawrence and his team are looking into alternatives.

Lawrence encourages EAA members to study the NPRM and provide comments to the FAA. "And, please, send us a copy of your comments so that your thinking may be incorporated into the position we'll take on behalf of the EAA community," he said. EAA members may reach their government affairs staff by sending an e-mail to govt@eaa.org.

To send comments to the FAA:

  • Go to www.regulations.gov
  • Send mail to:
    Docket Management Facility
    U.S. Department of Transportation
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
    West Building Ground Floor
    Room W12-140
    Washington, D.C. 20590-0001
  • Fax to the Document Management Facility, 202-493-2251

List of 22 Subjects Addressed by NPRM:
  1. Replace sport pilot privileges with aircraft category and class ratings on all pilot certificates
  2. Replace sport pilot flight instructor privileges with aircraft category ratings on all flight instructor certificates
  3. Remove current provisions for the conduct of proficiency checks by flight instructors and include provisions for the issuance of category and class ratings by designated pilot examiners
  4. Place all requirements for flight instructors under a single subpart (subpart H) of part 61
  5. Require 1 hour of flight training on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments for student pilots seeking a sport pilot certificate to operate an airplane with a maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum continuous power (VH) greater than 87 knots calibrated airspeed (CAS) and sport pilots operating airplanes with a VH greater than 87 knots CAS
  6. Remove the requirement for persons exercising sport pilot privileges and flight instructors with a sport pilot rating to carry their logbooks while in flight
  7. Remove the requirement that persons exercising sport pilot privileges have an aircraft make-and-model endorsement to operate a specific set of aircraft while adding provisions for endorsements for the operation of powered parachutes with elliptical wings and aircraft with a VH less than or equal to 87 knots CAS
  8. Remove the requirement for all flight instructors to log at least 5 hours of flight time in a make and model of light-sport aircraft before providing training in any aircraft from the same set of aircraft in which that training is given
  9. Permit persons exercising sport pilot privileges and the privileges of a student pilot seeking a sport pilot certificate to fly up to an altitude of not more than 10,000 feet mean sea level (MSL) or 2,000 feet above ground level (AGL), whichever is higher
  10. Permit private pilots to receive compensation for production flight testing of powered parachutes and weight-shift-control aircraft intended for certification in the light-sport category under Sec. 21.190
  11. Revise student sport pilot solo cross-country navigation and communication flight training requirements
  12. Clarify cross-country distance requirements for private pilots seeking to operate weight-shift-control aircraft
  13. Revise aeronautical experience requirements at towered airports for persons seeking to operate a powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft as a private pilot
  14. Remove the requirement for pilots with only a powered parachute or a weight-shift-control aircraft rating to take a knowledge test for an additional rating at the same certificate level
  15. Revise the amount of hours of flight training an applicant for a sport pilot certificate must log within 60 days prior to taking the practical test
  16. Remove expired ultralight transition provisions and limit the use of aeronautical experience obtained in ultralight vehicles
  17. Add a requirement for student pilots to obtain endorsements identical to those proposed for sport pilots in Sec. Sec. 61.324 and 61.327
  18. Clarify that an authorized instructor must be in a powered parachute when providing flight instruction to a student pilot
  19. Remove the requirement for aircraft certificated as experimental aircraft in the light-sport category to comply with the applicable maintenance and preventive maintenance requirements of part 43 when those aircraft have been previously issued a special airworthiness certificate in the light-sport category
  20. Require aircraft owners or operators to retain a record of the current status of applicable safety directives for special light-sport aircraft
  21. Provide for the use of aircraft with a special airworthiness certificate in the light-sport category in training courses approved under part 141
  22. Revise the minimum safe-altitude requirements for powered parachutes and weight-shift-control aircraft
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