When you hear that someone flies planes as a hobby, what’s the first thing you think about that person? That they’re extremely wealthy?
Until recently you’d probably be right, since earning a Private Pilot License costs more than $10,000 and can take months of time that average people simply can’t spare.
But now, nearly everyone with dreams of being a pilot can make them a reality with the new Sport Pilot rule. How so? Read on to learn more about the Sport Pilot License (SPL) and how it works.
The Sport Pilot License
Not only is attaining a Private Pilot License expensive, but to qualify, you must undergo a medical exam and learn how to fly at night and in other conditions that many pilots would never encounter.
Recognizing that the standard pilot’s license was overkill for the needs of many people, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), created a new category of pilot’s license called Sport Pilot. These pilots are able to earn their license in about half the time and at about half the costs as a Private Pilot, but they are restricted to flying a new category of two seat aircraft called Light Sport Aircraft.
How Much Does It Cost?
While Sport Pilots are restricted to smaller two seat aircraft, this also makes it less expensive to rent a plane during your training than it can be for the larger, four-seat airplanes that have traditionally been used for training. Expect to spend about $100 an hour to rent the training airplane, including fuel. You will only being billed for the time that the engine is running. Your instructor will also charge about $30 to $40 an hour for his time.
Finally, budget another $500 to $1,000 for training materials, exam fees, an aviation headset, and other necessary supplies and equipment (those cool bomber jackets aren’t cheap!). Expect to spend around $4,000 to $5,000 for everything you will need for your flight training as a Sport Pilot.
What Are the Requirements?
A Private Pilot must dedicate at least 40 hours of flight training and pass a medical exam to get his license. By contrast, a Sport Pilot License requires a mere 20 hours of training and does not require any specific medical exam if you hold a valid driver’s license. Of those 20 hours, only a minimum of 15 are with an instructor. The remaining 5 hours are flown solo. In fact, you can fly solo, as a student, within weeks of your first lesson.
During your training, you will also be studying independently to learn about the basics of flight and the regulations you will have to abide by as a pilot. Here is an example of the computer-based pilot training course offered by King Schools that I used when working towards my pilot’s license.
Once your training is complete, you will be subjected to three different tests. The first is a FAA written exam administered by computer. Next, you will schedule a practical exam called a check ride. That exam has two parts and is administered by a senior pilot who the FAA has authorized to grant you a license. He will first quiz you orally on your aviation knowledge and then test your practical skills in aircraft with you for about an hour. Should your performance meet or exceed the FAA standards, you will then be a certified Sport Pilot.
Getting the Sport Pilot License is amazingly quick and easy. Flying solo for the first time and passing my check ride were two of my proudest achievements ever.
As a licensed pilot, you can go “flightseeing” above urban areas or landmarks. You can take a passenger with you for a romantic weekend getaway or even take a week and fly across the country. In my time as a pilot, I have flown over Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. I have flown to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas on vacations, and I have even seen whales jumping out of the ocean in Alaska.
Should you later decide to become a Private Pilot, you can apply some of the training you have already received to the higher rating that will allow you to fly larger aircraft at night and in more weather conditions.
As a Sport Pilot, you can only fly a qualified Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). These aircraft have a single engine and a maximum of 2 seats. They must weigh less than 1,320 pounds and can fly no faster than 138 miles per hour. You will not be permitted to fly at night or though clouds, and you must stay below 10,000 feet.
This means that you will be going low and slow compared to the larger, faster aircraft that Private Pilots are permitted to fly. The weight restriction means that almost all of the aircraft’s payload will be taken up by the occupants and the fuel. Let’s just say that once you learn how much baggage your aircraft can carry, you will start to miss the generous allowances granted by the airlines.
You will also have to get used to the idea of being grounded due to weather, as you will not be permitted to fly when there are low clouds, poor visibility, or any kind of winter precipitation. In case you are wondering, you also will not be able to fly for any type of compensation other than to share half of the expenses with your passenger.
Who Should Get a Sport Pilot License?
This type of license is perfect for the person who yearns to touch the sky, but cannot afford to spend $10,000 on a Private Pilot License. A Sport Pilot license is also great for people who hold a driver’s license, but realize that they cannot pass the aviation medical exam required for Private Pilots. Finally, it’s for people whose main goal is to get up in the air and have fun, not to travel great distances in the shortest amount of time or carry more than one additional passenger.
This Sport Pilot License is the rare case where an entire industry encouraged the government to issue new regulations. The new rules have been a win for both the industry and for pilots as they have dramatically lowered the time and expense necessary to learn to fly the most rudimentary aircraft.
If you have ever dreamed about flying an airplane, you owe it to yourself to find a local flight school that offers Sport Flight Training. Call them up and ask for an introductory flight lesson. It may be your first step to becoming an aviator.
Would you consider getting a Sport Pilot License? Why or why not?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)