Up In the Air

The Sport Pilot proposal is coming and it will establish a new subpart (“J”) under Part 61 of the Federal Aviation Regulations but it also promises to introduce nothing less than a new concept of airman certification. The FAA’s new pilot certificate aims to address the knowledge and skill requirements needed to operate and maintain an increasingly wide variety of personal aircraft that have emerged since the early 1980s. Now, as it advances from its origins in the EAA to legal enactment by the FAA, we get a glimpse of the final draft of this NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) … and here it is. Note: The rules are *not* cast in concrete, yet and it may be a couple of years before they’ve run their way through legal/bureaucratic channels (stay with us for the latest) — but here are the highlights as they currently stand…

Pilots — The Sport Pilot Certificate:

  • Minimum age 16
  • Significantly less required training (current estimate is 20 hours)
  • FAA test required
  • Flight review requirement likely, BUT via ground observation
  • Ultralight training and experience credit (“grandfathering” of Part 103 pilots)
  • Time & instruction loggable toward more advanced certificates: private, commercial, etc.
  • State driver’s license in lieu of medical
  • Controlled airport access
  • Day VFR, ‘not for hire’ only
  • ‘Backward compatibility’ for recreational, private, commercial certificates
  • Application for some vintage aircraft
  • Flight over congested areas may be prohibited or require 3rd class medical

Bottom Line, Pilots: The sport pilot certificate would encourage many more people to enter the “certificated” realm of flight, because the training and flight time would be applicable to higher certificates.


  • Ultralight instruction experience conversion (“grandfathering” of Part 103 instructors)
  • Student sign-off by aircraft type
  • ‘Type ratings’ within classes (e.g., power parachute, fixed wing)
  • Endorsements needed for solo, carrying passenger, cross-country, etc.
  • Current CFIs may acquire a new logbook signoff to provide sport pilot instruction by showing previous relevant experience.

Bottom Line, Instructors: This would insure a ready supply of experienced instructors when the rules take effect.

Aircraft Compatible with the New Rules:

  • Maximum weight 1232 pounds
  • 39 knot Vso, 45 knot Vs
  • Maximum achievable cruise speed in level flight (Vh) 115 knots
  • Two-place maximum (one pilot & one passenger)
  • Day VFR only
  • Manufactured, ready-to-fly, w/o Part 23 compliance
  • Registered as Experimental if home built
  • FAA registration; insurable

Bottom Line, Aircraft: ‘Credentialed’ and reputable, light aircraft.


  • Owner-performed maintenance; repairman certification with training
  • A&P can do annual

Bottom Line, Maintenance: It’s the law of supply and demand. As the unit price goes down, the demand goes up. Reduce the already onerous burden of maintenance costs, cut out the paper trail where it’s appropriate, and more people will sign up with the program.