Wednesday, March 09, 2005

My take on the Sport Pilot rule

OK...I've tried to keep my mind open and positive about the new FAA Sport Pilot rule and refrained from voicing any negative thoughts on the matter, but I feel that I now have to put my thoughts into words for posterity's sake.

In 1994, I took twelve hours of instruction from a United States Ultralight Association (USUA) Basic Flight Instructor (BFI). I have the hours documented in my logbook, but the instructor never signed off on them, telling me he would do so when I soloed. That never happened because he and I didn't see eye-to-eye on my flying ability. We had a bit of a disagreement at about 2000 feet on my last flight with him and I decided that I wouldn't solo with this BFI and I never returned. He went out of business some months after our episode, but that's another story.

I bought my single seat MX in the Fall of 1994 and soloed in it, and accumulated 60 hours or so of flight time before it fell into disrepair. Read some of the articles in my archive if you want all the details. I finally got flying again in August of 2004, all the while believing that I was going to have time to get registered as an Ultralight pilot before the Sport Pilot rule went into effect. I was wrong. I got caught with my pants down. The FAA announced that the Sport Pilot rule would go into effect on September 1st and all registered ultralight pilots would be allowed to take the written and oral test and they would become Sport Pilots if they had accumulated the required minimum hours that the rule specifies. I didn't make the deadline, and I don't think that with only 30 days notice that it would have been possible for me. I was having problems with my engine at the time and the instructor I was using wouldn't let me solo in his aircraft, citing liability issues.

I am interested in becoming a Sport Pilot because it will allow me to legally carry more fuel to extend my range and not worry about the weight limits imposed on part 103 legal ultralights. It would appear that I'll have to wait for sport pilot instructors to be trained in quantity, so that I can pay to receive training that I have already had, paying even more per hour than I originally did. Then I'll have to pay an independent inspector, called a District Area Representative (DAR) to inspect and certify that my airplane is airworthy. DARs are about as plentiful as Sport Pilot instructors because of the newness of the rule and the time it takes to get essential people trained and in place. Then I have to get a registration number and display it on my airplane. This entire process could very well cost me $1000 or more. And why is it I want to do this? Oh, yeah, to carry more fuel and add equipment to my airplane to make it safer structurally without worrying about weight. what are the alternatives? Only one that I can visualize. If I never want to fly to an event or location where the FAA will have a presence, I could just carry extra fuel and not worry about complying with the five gallon limit that part 103 stipulates. My MX looks identical to the part 103 compliant Quicksilver MX of 1984, the year my MX was manufactured. I could make all the needed upgrades that add weight and not worry about it, because it would still look like a compliant ultralight. If I wanted to fly to a location that has an FAA presence, I could remove the extra fuel. Would anybody who mattered ever bat an eyelash? I doubt it. The FAA has always operated on the premise that they don't investigate ultralight related accidents. They haven't ever gone looking for overweight ultralights and if there was a blatant violation (like an extra fuel tank plumbed into the fuel system) somebody might raise an eyebrow or ask a question or make a remark, but I don't believe the matter was ever pressed and/or fines issued. Will this still hold true now that the Sport Pilot rule is in effect? I don't know, but I sure don't want to be the poor sucker who is the unlucky one to be made an example of by the FAA.

Please don't misunderstand me. I want to comply, but it is not financially feasible for me to do so at this point in time, even if the proper instructors and inspectors were in place right at this moment. Sport Pilot does not seem to be a viable option for me, and I'm guessing, hundreds of other ultralight pilots facing similar circumstances.

I would like to propose an alternate solution. Move the deadline for ultralight pilots wishing to make the transition to Sport Pilots. Allow those who have been flying for years (but may not have chosen to register with an FAA recognized organization for whatever reason or principle) credit for their knowledge, at least reducing the cost to become a Sport Pilot. This doesn't solve the entire problem, but it would allow me personally to pursue the Sport Pilot option and become compliant, even if the process takes a year or so. As it stands right now, if there were a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) in a properly certificated Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) occupying the hangar next to me, I couldn't afford to start the process. I'm sure I'm not the only one.


Post a Comment

<< Home