Flying can be very expensive. It takes a minimum of 40 hours to earn a private pilot’s license under a Part 61 program. The average cost of obtaining a private ticket in the United States can range from $6,000 to $10,000.
The Sport Pilot ticket, created in September 2004, potentially cuts that cost in half because the experience requirement is only 20 hours. The math is simple: Less hours equals lower cost. The fact that less time is required also makes the ticket attractive because it’s easier to get through the training quickly. The idea, say key members in the industry, is to get more people into aviation.
It appears to be working.
More and more flight schools are adding Light Sport Aircraft to their fleets. Sport Pilots train in LSAs, which are two-place planes with 100-hp engines. That’s fine for training as usually it’s just a student pilot and instructor in the aircraft.
At first many schools and FBOs adopted a wait and see attitude toward the new ticket, reluctant to purchase an S-LSA for their fleets. However, the schools that did add S-LSAs soon noticed that the LSA, which usually was priced below other aircraft and was a new airframe, tended to fly more than the other aircraft.
“The LSA market is maturing,” said Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) and a key player in the LSA industry.
Johnson tracks LSA trends on his website, ByDanJohnson.com, and has created a list called FIRM (for Flight Instruction and Maintenance) that keeps track of verified LSA businesses. According to Johnson, there are approximately 70 LSAs that are certified for flight instruction.
“The economic downturn may actually be helping LSA in that the contraction is focusing buyers on the much lower cost of a new LSA compared to a new GA aircraft,” Johnson suggested
Also comparing favorably is Sport Pilot training. While it’s half of that required for a private ticket, it’s still quite similar. Sport Pilots learn about aerodynamics, maneuvering, aircraft systems, weather, communications, navigation and airport operations.
If you decide to pursue a private pilot ticket in the future, you may find that much of your experience applies to that certificate as well. Read the FARs and Practical Test Standards carefully to be sure.
Because there are so many classes and categories of LSA — from metal and composite airplanes to powered parachutes and gliders — it can be a challenge to find an instructor qualified to teach in the LSA you want to fly. Here the Internet is a valuable tool. Type sport pilot instructor into a search engine. You’ll find several pages with lists, and the instructors are sorted by state and specialty.