Created in 2004 as an alternative to Recreational and Private Pilot, Sport Pilot requires half of the training time of Private Pilot and without all the cumbersome limitations of Recreational Pilot. Sport Pilot also has one other huge advantage, it does not require an FAA medical! (However, if you have failed an FAA medical you must get that resolved to be eligible for Sport Pilot). Sport Pilot requires a minimum of 20 hours of training, 15 dual and 5 solo. Realistically, most people will need at least 30 hours to accomplish all of the requirements and be proficient enough to pass the practical test.
A Sport Pilot can fly any aircraft that meets the definition of a Light Sport Aircraft found in section 1.1 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. These aircraft can be in the type certified category, Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category, or Experimental category. A Sport Pilot can fly day VFR (visual flight rules) only and under 10,000’ altitude or 2500’ from the surface above 10,000’. There are no distance restrictions, fuel capacity restrictions or horsepower limitations. A sport pilot can land at any airport in the United States (with proper equipment and endorsements) except for 12 named airports that are exceptionally busy. (You would not want to go to them anyway…). A Sport Pilot cannot fly for hire or in the furtherance of a business. Sport Pilot is not generally recognized outside of the United States.
A Private Pilot rating requires a minimum of 40 hours of training, 30 dual and 10 solo. However, the national average is around 70 hours. A 3rd Class FAA medical is required to obtain a Private Pilot rating, however an existing Private Pilot can let his medical lapse and exercise the privileges of a Sport Pilot. A Private Pilot is not limited to aircraft that meet the definition of Light Sport and can fly aircraft up to 12,000 lbs. gross weight, can fly at night and up to 18,000’ altitude. Private Pilot is a prerequisite for both Instrument Rating and Commercial Rating. A Private Pilot may not operate for hire, however, he may use an aircraft in the furtherance of a business. For example, he may use an aircraft for transporting himself and employees for business purposes or to survey job sites. In addition to the training a Sport Pilot receives, a Private Pilot requires some instrument training, night training and controlled airspace training.
A Private Pilot may add an Instrument Rating. An Instrument Rating allows a pilot, with a properly equipped aircraft, to fly in weather that is below VFR minimums. Essentially, that allows the pilot to fly in poor visibility and in clouds. However, it does not allow a pilot to fly in all weather. For example, if the temperature is below freezing, flying through clouds can cause ice to build up on the airframe which will cause the loss of lift and/or control and crash. Some aircraft are equipped to fly in known icing conditions. However, that generally becomes a very expensive aircraft. To take the practical test for an Instrument Rating, a minimum of 40 hours of simulated instrument flying with at least 15 hours of that being dual instruction is required.
A Commercial Rating allows a pilot to fly for compensation in many circumstances. Exactly what commercial operation is allowed without further compliance with FAA regulations gets complicated. However, if pursing a career in aviation of any kind, a Commercial Rating will be required. The requirements for a Commercial rating are somewhat complicated but are listed in section 61.129 of the FAR’s.
Light-sport aircraft means an aircraft, other than a helicopter or powered-lift, that since its original certification, has continued to meet the following:
- A maximum takeoff weight of not more than—
- 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms) for aircraft not intended for operation on water; or
- 1,430 pounds (650 kilograms) for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
- A maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum continuous power (VH) of not more than 120 knots CAS under standard atmospheric conditions at sea level.
- A maximum never-exceed speed (VNE) of not more than 120 knots CAS for a glider.
- A maximum stalling speed or minimum steady flight speed without the use of lift-enhancing devices (VS1) of not more than 45 knots CAS at the aircraft’s maximum certificated takeoff weight and most critical center of gravity.
- A maximum seating capacity of no more than two persons, including the pilot.
- A single, reciprocating engine, if powered.
- A fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if a powered aircraft other than a powered glider.
- A fixed or feathering propeller system if a powered glider.
- A fixed-pitch, semi-rigid, teetering, two-blade rotor system, if a gyroplane.
- A nonpressurized cabin, if equipped with a cabin.
- Fixed landing gear, except for an aircraft intended for operation on water or a glider.
- Fixed or retractable landing gear, or a hull, for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
- Fixed or retractable landing gear for a glider.