The birth of Sport Pilot

If you are one of the hundreds of people who have been waiting years for Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft to become reality, this could be the year you get your hands on a ready-to-fly Light Sport Aircraft (LSA).

In April the first ready-to-fly models, which are European imports, were certified by the FAA and made available for training. That doesn’t mean a floodgate has opened, however.

According to Lynne Birmingham, president of Hansen Air Group, the company that is the main distributor for the Italian-built Tecnam models, each aircraft has to be individually inspected, then certified by a Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) before it can be flown under Special Light Sport Aircraft rules in the United States.

The S-LSA designation means the aircraft is certified for training and rental. DARs must physically inspect both aircraft and the paperwork before the certification is given.

“At first it takes a long time to get a model certified but, like anything else, once you do it a few times you get more efficient,” said Birmingham.

The first S-LSAs coming into the United States will be going to flight schools, according to Josh Foss, president of Sportsplanes.com. For the better part of the past year his company has been establishing independently owned regional centers across the United States to provide flight training, sales, service, maintenance and parts for LSA. According to the Sportsplanes website (Sportsplanes.com), 18 regional centers have been established so far and the company predicts another 28 or so will open within five months. In addition, his company plans to be the North American distributor for the German-made C-42 and Breezy.

Foss notes Sportsplanes.com has been getting inquiries for about a year from wanna-be Sport Pilots or pilots who are interested in becoming LSA owners.

“We are finding that most pilots who want to own a Light Sport Aircraft want one that looks like a conventional airplane,” he explains. “They don’t want something that looks like a beefed-up ultralight. In addition we are finding a lot of ultralight pilots who want to step up to an LSA. At the present time, however, there are just not enough light sport airplanes out there. When people call with inquiries we have to take their names down.”

As this issue was going to press, there were less than 10 FAA certified, ready-to-fly LSA models in the United States. Some of these are taking part in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Sportpilot Air Tour, which began the first weekend of June at the Golden West Fly-In in California.

“People have to be patient,” stresses Foss, noting that it will be a few months before the S-LSA training fleet is in place around the United States.

At Sportsplanes.com there is a list of flying schools that plan to provide instruction. Foss notes that his company also plans to visit different flight schools to provide demo flights.

“That way they can make the decision whether they want to use these aircraft in their schools,” he says.

Some of the inquiries Sportsplanes.com gets are from people who are looking for a certificated flight instructor who has the experience and is qualified to teach the Sport Pilot.

“Those CFIs are in the process of being trained as well,” Foss notes. “The biggest misconception with the Sport Pilot program is that people think it is another recreational pilot program that the FAA is going to pull the legs out from under when it gets going. A lot of people felt the recreational pilot ticket didn’t give pilots much freedom because they were bound to the airport. The Sport Pilot training allows the pilot to get training and endorsements in their logbook that will allow them to go pretty much anywhere.”

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