A Sporting New Deal

The FAA is working on a new set of rules that could make flying a lot more accessible — and a lot cheaper — for many more people.

Let’s face it: The recreational pilot certificate went over like a lead balloon. In the entire country, there are less than 400 (according to AOPA, as of 12/31/99, it was 343), but the Sport Pilot Certificate, and the dawning of a new age, may be coming, soon (as in soon after Sun ‘n Fun, in mid-April!).

Many believe that the current Part 61 certification procedures are too forbiddingly comprehensive, so much so that a great number of people who might otherwise take advantage of simple recreational VFR flying privileges are discouraged from doing so. Moreover, in recent years, diverse aircraft types have begun to emerge, such as powered parachutes, ultralight sailplanes, and a whole slew of experimentals taking hold of America’s imagination. Present regulations and currently available training aircraft just don’t reflect, nor encompass, the current trend, and certainly not the increasing diversity of aircraft types.

When I say a new age, I mean it. The time may be coming soon, when many additional thousands of aviation enthusiasts can take to the air with much less demanding training and become eligible to carry a passenger in an owner-maintained, registered aircraft (or one assembled from a kit). These new pilots might be using their state driver’s licenses as medical certification, and log that time toward more advanced ratings.

If anything embodies the FAA’s historic charter of regulating and yet promoting aviation, this would be it.


  • Sixteen years ago, the United States Ultralight Association ( USUA) petitioned the FAA to expand FAR Part 103 to include two-seat ultralights. They did this in the same way you or I theoretically could if we wanted something changed. They followed the steps laid out in FAR Part 11 — the rules for changing the rules.
  • If the FAA thinks there are grounds for proceeding, as it did in this case, the next step is to form an Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), whose members have expertise in the subject. (In this case, it included USUA, EAA, the US Hang Gliding Association, the North American Powered Parachute Federation, AeroSports Connection, and other manufacturers.)
  • This Part 103 Working Group, after several years of work (and advice from the FAA), decided that rather than change Part 103 and risk jeopardizing already-allowed freedoms, they would propose an entirely new pilot certificate. The final draft of this was approved by ARAC in July 1998, and the formal recommendation was submitted to the FAA in December 1999.
  • The next step is an internal FAA review, from all of its various departments charged with all of the respective areas of flight operations that would be affected. Companion rules would be needed for aircraft certification and maintenance, flight operations, air traffic and airports, etc. FAA head, Jane Garvey assigned it the highest priority — one normally reserved for commercial rather than recreational aviation.
  • Once these were signed off on, the FAA then studied the proposal’s economic impact and legality, after which other agencies (such as OMB, as well as FAA’s parent, the DOT) reviewed it.***The next step, and one which is only a few weeks away, is the publishing of the draft rule in the Federal Register, the official publication of the executive branch of the government for notifying the public of nearly every government action. Depending on public comments in the subsequent 180 days (though it could be 30, 60, or 90), the FAA can: publish the NPRM as the final rule, make minor changes and publish it as final, make major changes and publish it as another NPRM, or drop it entirely. This process usually takes at least six months.
  • Then, if it passes muster, the final rule will appear in the Register with an effective date, which would probably be months in the future to allow the FAA (e.g., FSDO staff) to come up to speed on it.

The regulation may incorporate at least three distinct aircraft types, such as powered parachute, powered weight shift trike, and conventional three axis fixed-wing aircraft. Another possible format might be specific make and model logbook endorsements, which would simplify both the regulation and the certification process. There are other aspects regarding medical certification, specific flight review and examiner requirements, and airspace privileges, which will undoubtedly be the focus of much discussion.

Next week, look for Part II and a full summary of the sport pilot concept, proposed aircraft characteristics and maintenance requirements — as well as what changes may be in store for flight instruction.