When the FAA issued the sport pilot rules in September 2004, it was clear that the new certificate was a stepchild to the FAA family of “real” pilots, you know, the private, commercial, and ATP certificates.
The clues? “Real” pilots don’t have to carry their logbooks on every flight to prove their qualifications. “Real” pilots don’t need make-and-model endorsements to fly different aircraft in the same category and class. And the dual instruction “real” pilots receive for one certificate counts toward the requirements of the next one up the line.
Now, almost four years later, the FAA has accepted sport pilots and invited them to join the family of “real” pilots. On Tax Day, April 15, it published a notice of proposed rulemaking that covers 22 “fixes” that would eliminate the things that separated sport pilots from “real” pilots.
If approved as proposed, all sport pilot certificates will carry category and class ratings, just like “real” pilots, so sport pilots will no longer need to carry their logbooks on every flight and have make-and-model endorsements in them. And the dual instruction they receive will count toward the requirement of the other certificates in the FAA family because sport pilot instructors would be covered by the same regulatory subpart as “real” CFIs.
As a whole, the 22 proposed fixes are good, but I wonder if they are too late to give this entry-level pilot certificate any chance of a viable life. Remember that the FAA adopted–and most of the industry supported–sport pilot and its light-sport aircraft because together they would make it to easier and less expensive for the average person to own and fly their own aircraft. In short, it’s an effort to simulate growth in the pilot population and increase the industry’s customer base, both key to GA’s survival.
Remember the recreational pilot certificate? It was created for the same reason, and it worked within the existing GA infrastructure. Sport pilot and light-sport aircraft started from scratch; it’s survival and viability depended on those already in aviation getting on board.
Like thoroughbreds in the gate, there were a number of light-aircraft manufacturers waiting for the bell to sound. They quickly created, approved, and embraced industry consensus certification standards and went to work. Their first customers were “real” pilots, because they can immediately fly these efficient, economical aircraft. To join in the fun, newcomers must find a flight school that offers sport pilot training.
Like it or not, flight schools make or break any effort to recruit new pilots because they are the newcomers’ first impression of aviation. There are exceptions, but as a whole flight training is a parochial industry that doesn’t like change, doesn’t like things different from the way they’ve always done things.
To be blunt, if it isn’t private ticket, in the school’s mind it isn’t worth the effort. And that’s exactly what they tell prospective students, itemizing every difference in their sales pitch that pounds prospects into a private pilot training course.
I heard this at flight schools nearly two decades ago, when the FAA introduced the recreational pilot certificate, which also had, if I remember correctly, requirements that set it apart from the family of “real” pilots. And I heard it two months ago from a school that offers sport pilot training to meet customer demand but only after trying to talk newcomers into a private ticket.
We in aviation have until August 13, 2008 to comment on the NPRM (at www.regulations.gov), and in 12 to 18 months, the FAA will issue the final rule that makes sport pilot part of its family of “real” certificates.
But only we can undo the damage done to the new born certificate while it was a foster child in our care, and the care of the flight schools who made us. If we care about the future of aviation, that is.
Before deciding on the comfort of the status quo, consider this: with increasing costs, for avgas especially, the average cost of a private ticket, often quoted at $6,000, is rapidly approaching $10,000. If we had to do it over, how many of we “real” pilots could afford it today? — Scott Spangler