Sunday, January 23, 2011

You Play on Land and Water! Why Not in the Air?

Calling all Recreational Weekend Warriors! You know who you are – recreational powersports enthusiasts who spend approximately 120 hours per year recreating on weekends, including holidays and vacation days. Thinking about your next recreational fix?

Satisfy your adventurer spirit and discover the exhilarating world of Recreational Sport Flying. Recreational Sport Flying is the recreational powersports alternative. Become a Sport Pilot and fulfill that burning desire for freedom and adventure like no other.

You think quads are fun. You get a rush out of power boating. Wait until you fly a light sport airplane. Now that will thrill you!

Experience the thrill of piloting a rugged light sport airplane. Challenge the elements – land, water and air. Discover the magic of flight!

Once you learn to fly - you will never experience anything more satisfying and fulfilling. Transform your life and become a convert today. Get Hooked On Flying!

Now Affordable and Fun!

"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Sport Pilot License

The Sport Pilot certificate or license is a fairly new category of pilot created by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in 2004. In fact, it has been called "the biggest change in aviation in 50 years." The primary purpose behind creating this new category is to promote and encourage recreational general aviation (aka Recreational Sport Flying) by dramatically reducing the cost of learning to fly.

A Sport Pilot License is much less expensive and easier to obtain than a Private Pilot's license, making it very affordable and achievable for the average person. This is possible because it requires half the time to complete. A Sport Pilot license requires only 20 hours minimum training (combined ground and flight instruction) versus 40 hours minimum training for a Private Pilot's license. However, a Sport Pilot is by no means trained to lower standards than a Private Pilot. The piloting and mastery of a recreational aircraft is fundamentally the same. The difference is - there are some slight limitations on Sport Pilots versus Private Pilots due to the nature of recreational sport flying and its lower demand on piloting and cockpit management. The age requirement remains the same as obtaining a Private Pilot's license. You can solo at age 16 (fly by yourself during training), and obtain a license at age 17 (act as PIC or Pilot-In-Command). And there is no upper age limit for the Sport Pilot license. Note: additional training hours may be required to establish proficiency in a light sport airplane type and/or model.

A Sport Pilot license allows a pilot to fly aircraft that are certified under a complementary aircraft category called Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). The LSA category comprises several sub-categories: fixed-wing airplanes including ultralights, weight-shift control trikes, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, gliders, etc. This blog focuses on fixed-wing airplanes, the most popular type – and more specifically on Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA).

Another benefit of the Sport Pilot license is that it allows you to use a valid U.S. driver's license as evidence of medical eligibility in order to operate an airplane SLSA. The same restrictions (i.e. wearing glasses, etc.) that apply to your driver's license also apply when you fly a light sport airplane as a Sport Pilot. In other words, your driver's license can be used in lieu of having to complete a flight medical examination (a 3rd class medical exam is required for a Private Pilot's license) to establish medical fitness. Of course, every pilot must use sound judgment before any flight, and determine if he or she is medically fit to operate an aircraft safely.

Bottom line: becoming a pilot is now more affordable and achievable – for age-ready youth, baby boomers, and recreational powersports enthusiasts alike – than ever before! What are you waiting for? Isn't it time you stopped dreaming? Join the Recreational Sport Flying Revolution and become a Sport Pilot today.

Sport Pilot Limitations

• Flying only using Visual Flight Rules (VFR) - flying by visual ground reference in good weather conditions (requires 3 statute miles flight and surface visibility, including visual contact with the ground).

• Flying only at altitudes below 10,000 feet above sea level or 2,000 feet above ground level, whichever is higher.

• Flying only during daytime hours - no night flying is allowed.

• Flying only to airports in the U.S. (with proper endorsements) - recreational sport pilots usually fly to and from non-towered airports, remote airstrips or natural terrain and/or water locations (i.e. floatplane equipped SLSA).

• Flying only in designated airspace that may require minimal communications with air traffic control.

• Cannot carry more than one passenger.

• Cannot carry passengers for compensation or hire.

• No flying in furtherance of a business.

Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) and Airplane Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA)

The Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category is a fairly new category of aircraft created by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in 2004 that complements the Sport Pilot license in order to make owning and operating a recreational sport aircraft easier and more affordable. The LSA category comprises several sub-categories: fixed-wing airplanes including ultralights, weight-shift control trikes, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, gliders, etc. This blog focuses on fixed-wing airplanes, the most popular type - and more specifically on Special Light Sport Aircraft (SLSA).

Airplane LSA may be sold in kit form or ready-to-fly. Kits are usually purchased by those with a passion for building. For those lacking the builder mindset, ready-to-fly airplanes, SLSA, come completely assembled by the manufacturer.

SLSA come in two fixed (non-retractable) landing gear configurations – taildragger (aka tailwheel) and tri-cycle (aka nosewheel). Most are familiar with the tri-cycle gear version which is typically easier to control - i.e. maneuver on the ground, take-off and land, etc. Tri-cycle gear SLSA also come ready-to-fly in a STOL adaptation. STOL stands for Short Take-off and Landing. STOL SLSA or rugged Light Sport Utility airplanes provide the capability of landing on remote or backcountry airstrips or natural terrain, as well as executing short take-offs and landings requiring steep ascents or descents over obstacles like trees or hills.

An ideal feature of some SLSA is foldable wings. Foldable wings allow the ability to trailer aircraft to and from an airport, airpark or airstrip, including remote natural terrain. This feature enables additional savings by eliminating the need for expensive hangar or tie-down storage. Instead, you can store your SLSA in your garage, on the side of your home, or at another less expensive storage location.

Light Sport Aircraft Defined

• Maximum gross weight of 1,320 lbs. (1,430 lbs. for floatplanes)

• Maximum 2 seat cabin (pilot and one passenger)

• Non-pressurized cabin (when equipped as a fully enclosed cockpit)

• Fixed landing gear (taildragger or tri-cycle)

• Single, reciprocating engine

• Maximum airspeed in level flight with full cruise power – 120 knots (138 mph)

• Maximum stall airspeed – 45 knots (51 mph)

Sport Pilot Flight Training

A Sport Pilot is by no means trained to lower standards than a Private Pilot. The piloting and mastery of a recreational sport aircraft or SLSA is fundamentally the same. The difference is that there are some slight limitations on Sport Pilots versus Private Pilots due to the nature of recreational sport flying and its lower demand on piloting overall.

Less training is required for the Sport Pilot license versus the Private Pilot's license because there is no requirement to train for night flying, high altitude flying, control tower operations and procedures at busy, restrictive airports, or radio navigation procedures. Therefore, flight training is in effect reduced from a 40 hour to 20 hour minimum requirement. However, actual hours may vary somewhat according to ability, frequency of lessons, weather conditions, airplane model and scheduling challenges.

Sport Pilot flight training essentially consists of two components: ground school plus flight instruction. Ground school is primarily self-study and may be conducted entirely at home through a book and/or DVD series, concluding with a knowledge written exam. Flight instruction consists of a series of flight lessons and solo flight time designed to train the student pilot on how to operate his or her chosen airplane SLSA safely and confidently. All training will culminate in a practical flight exam (better known as a checkride) conducted by a FAA examiner. If you pass the checkride and your written exam, you receive your Sport Pilot license.

Minimum 20 Hours Flight Training

• 15 hours dual flight training with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) – includes 2 hours spent on cross country flight procedures (i.e. longer distance flights to and from pre-selected airports).

• 5 hours supervised student “solo” flight time, including completion of one cross country flight of at least 75 miles to and from 2 different pre-selected airports; when your instructor feels confident that you are ready to solo, he or she will set you off on your own (or solo) as you work toward the completion of your training.

Sport Pilot Flight Training Areas

• Pre-flight procedures

• Fundamentals of flight

• Flight operations

• Flight maneuvers

• Take-offs and landings

• Stalls

• Crosswind control

• Emergency operations

• Airport operations

• Aviation weather

• Airplane performance

• Thumb-on-the-map navigation

• Ground reference maneuvers

• Airspace and air traffic

• Radio communications

• Post-flight procedures

• And more!

Recreational Sport Flying

What is Recreational Sport Flying? Recreational Sport Flying is normally considered non-conventional general aviation flying – in other words, for recreational purposes rather than traditional transportation purposes. It focuses on recreational sport flyers who utilize airplane SLSA for recreational powersports fun and adventure. Flight plans are usually not needed, and cross-country trips are typically infrequent. In fact, flying under the radar might be considered the "Norm."

Sport pilots take-off, go fly, land, and do it all over again – enjoying the purest and simplest form of recreational flying fun – for example:

• Flying around an ocean shoreline, a lake, or airport or airpark

• Flying airport-to-airport or airpark-to-airport for a bite to eat

• Flying to a remote or backcountry landing spot and enjoying an afternoon picnic

• Shooting landings on land or water

• Taking in the sights

• Flying in formation

• Flying to recreational sport aviation events (i.e. AirVenture, Sun ‘n Fun, etc.)

• Exploring remote or backcountry locations or airstrips – satisfying the adventurer spirit

• Camping with your airplane (i.e. fishing, hiking, etc.)

• Doing fly-ins and fly-outs

• Engaging in short “air rover” flights just for fun – while building proficiency and flight time

• Simply enjoying the freedom and adventure of Recreational Sport Flying

One unique feature of Recreational Sport Flying is the ability for rugged airplane SLSA to land and take-off from remote or backcountry locations or airstrips that would otherwise be off-limits to high-end luxury models. STOL SLSA or rugged Light Sport Utility airplanes provide the capability to land on short airstrips or natural terrain, as well as execute short take-offs and landings requiring steep ascents or descents over obstacles like trees or hills. These airplanes are literally like quads or jeeps that fly! Now how cool is that?

Recreational Sport Flying is truly the recreational powersports alternative. Become a Sport Pilot and fulfill that burning desire for freedom and adventure like no other!

Sport Pilot and SLSA Costs

Flight Training

The cost of obtaining your Sport Pilot license in an airplane SLSA will run anywhere from $3,500 to $4,500. In contrast, a Private Pilot's license will run anywhere from $8,500 to $9,500 or more. As you can see, the Sport Pilot license is much less expensive and more affordable for the average person who wants to learn to fly and join the Recreational Sport Flying revolution!

Pilot Gear

Sport Pilots will need at best the following pilot gear - headset, kneeboard, VFR sectional map, electronic flight computer, fuel tester, timer, wind meter and tire chocks. A headset is the most expensive item of all, and a good one will run around $200 to $300. All items in total should cost under $750 new.

Annual Operating Cost

Based on flying 120 hours a year (an average of 10 hours a month) in a rugged airplane SLSA (equipped with a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 ULS engine), the annual operating cost will run approximately $350 per month. Operating cost normally comprises engine cost (i.e. oil, overhaul reserve), fuel cost, inspection cost (an FAA requirement), and insurance cost.

To illustrate savings utilizing an airplane SLSA vs. a conventional piston single-engine airplane – a conventional piston single-engine powerplant will consume fuel at 9.5 gallons per hour vs. an SLSA piston single-engine powerplant (i.e. Rotax 912 ULS engine) at only 4 gallons per hour. This dramatic reduction in fuel consumption results in a significant savings for the Sport Pilot owner/operator.

Preventive Maintenance

SLSA must be maintained by a FAA certified mechanic. However, a Sport Pilot may perform some preventive maintenance on his or her aircraft – such as adding oil or cooling fluid, adding air to tires, and performing other minor maintenance. This helps to reduce overall costs.

Airplane SLSA Financing

The price tag for a new, standard equipped rugged airplane SLSA will run approximately $70,000 to $100,000, depending on the manufacturer. Standard equipped models typically include a portable GPS system for enhanced navigation and weather information. Financed over a 10-year period or 120 months, the monthly cost breaks down as follows:

1) Aircraft Price Tag = $70,000

15% Down = $10,500

85% Financed = $59,500

Interest Rate = 7%

Monthly Payment for a Sole Owner = $692

2) Aircraft Price Tag = $100,000

15% Down = $15,000

85% Financed = $85,000

Interest Rate = 7%

Monthly Payment for a Sole Owner = $987

Shared Ownership

When it comes to Recreational Sport Flying, shared ownership is the prudent way to go. Since most recreational powersports enthusiasts spend approximately 120 hours a year on recreational weekend bliss, it doesn't make sense to be the sole owner of an airplane SLSA. Instead, it makes perfect sense to own an SLSA under a shared ownership or partnership arrangement. When you divide the monthly financing cost by 4 shared owners and then add operating cost based on each owner flying 120 hours a year, the cost is much more affordable.

Each of 4 shared owners' out-of-pocket monthly cost would be as follows:

1) $692 + $350 = $1,042/mo. for a sole owner


$692/4 shared owners + $350 ea. = $523/mo. per each shared owner

2) $987 + $350 = $1,337/mo. for a sole owner


$987/4 shared owners + $350 ea. = $597/mo. per each owner

Each of the 4 shared owners would also pay 1/4 of the down payment or acquisition cost. And, of course, a longer financing term would further reduce one's overall monthly outlay.

As you can see, one should strongly consider shared ownership as the sensible choice!

Note: All estimates are based on general data derived from various online resources. The blog is not responsible for cost accuracy.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reviving General Aviation - "Must See" Changes and Attitudes

With the advent of the Sport Pilot certificate and the variety of new light sport aircraft (LSA) on the market today, recreational flying is once again possible for the broader population. The Sport Pilot certificate and LSA product line can undeniably move us forward to making GA and recreational sport flying available to the “common” man, but the following changes and attitudes must first take place:

• We must not write-off the “common” man from being able to afford to fly – and refuse to accept the idea that GA flying is for the wealthy only.

• LSA manufacturers must continue to work harder to drive down unit cost of aircraft for ownership to be achievable.

• We must get more creative with shared ownership and financing models - so that the overall aircraft acquisition cost for the “common” man is driven down to relative terms.

• Sport Pilots must move to smaller, privately-owned airports/airparks to facilitate and advance recreational sport flying.

• We must encourage the development of non-residential recreational sport flying airports/airparks – and ultimately see the development and growth of a recreational sport flying infrastructure and network throughout the U.S.

• We must proactively reach out to age-ready high school students through aviation education and youth outreach programs, promoting the benefits of aviation and the classroom-to-real world connections (science, technology, mathematics, etc) to school districts.

• We must see the creation of Safe-Haven Networks to promote the purest and most simplest form of recreational flying, removing the stresses and complexities associated with heavy traffic and ATC communications.

These changes and attitudes must take place now in order to reach the broader population, revive general aviation, and make the dream of flying achievable again!

Friday, January 15, 2010

What in the World is a Safe-Haven Sport Flying Network?

Working within the confines of the current airspace rules and regulations established by the FAA, the purpose of Safe-Haven Sport Flying Networks is to map-out and delineate recreational playgrounds in the sky for recreational sport pilots to safely fly within. In other words, develop pre-defined safe-haven networks in the sky that overlay networks of complementary airfields on the ground. The network of airfields would include selected towered and non-towered public/private airports, backcountry airstrips and desert/mountain airfields. The objective is to make it easier for sport pilots to fully engage in recreational sport flying - steering clear of busy airports and commercial and business aviation corridors while being able to experience and enjoy a variety of flying environments. Thus, each network must exist in less congested and less restricted airspace and regions. The primary objective is to encourage recreational sport flying without the stresses and complexities associated with heavy traffic and ATC requirements. This makes for an ideal environment for those learning to fly and/or wanting to build proficiency, as well as for those simply wanting to enjoy the purest and most simplest form of recreational piloting and adventure.

Youth Outreach Program - Volunteer Plus Adoption Model

I advocate a youth outreach program specifically targeting high school students ages 15 to 18 – in order to address this extremely important youth segment head-on! In other words, rather than wait for our youth to come to aviation, take aviation directly to them within the broader public school system – but with more intentionality and focus on "age-ready" students who can legally obtain a pilot’s license. I believe parents would be more agreeable to this, too. Develop their passion for aviation and flying by first encouraging them to start a high school flying club and, secondly, by getting them plugged into a local/regional private recreational sport flying airport/airpark network and cultivating their enthusiasm and proficiency through recreational sport aviation. Plant the seed within a more affordable and achievable flying environment and see where it grows from there.

So, what does this youth outreach program look like? It's very simple. Rather than relying solely upon providing aviation-related educational resources to existing teachers, who may or may not be active pilots or enthusiasts, you need to shift the responsibility and focus to a "volunteer plus adoption" model. Volunteer resources can run the gamut of – local Sport Pilot flight school staff, EAA Chapter members, AOPA members, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) adult members, retired airline/military/corporate pilots or other general aviation enthusiasts/experts. Volunteers must be coupled with a 3-tier adoption model as follows:

 The first tier is Adopt-a-District. Promote youth outreach to one or more unified school districts in targeted counties of one's state – and promote the educational benefits of learning to fly. Show the correlation of how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) work in harmony in the real world of flying. The objective is to use real world application to foster understanding and stimulate enthusiasm, including the residual benefits of developing other important life skills such as good communication and teamwork, listening and comprehension.

 The second tier is Adopt-a-Teacher. The idea behind this tier is to partner with teachers who are ideally aviation enthusiasts and/or active pilots who can help keep the outreach program active and anchored within their respective high schools. The objective here is to bring in volunteers along side teachers to co-teach all introductory ground school courses – oriented specifically to fundamental airmanship (aviate, navigate & communicate) and recreational sport flying. This may be done as an after-school enrichment program or in-school elective class.

 The third and final tier is Adopt-a-Club. The idea behind this tier is to develop flying clubs and get high school students plugged into them, encouraging participation through regular meetings at school and weekend gatherings at the nearest local/regional private recreational sport flying airport/airpark. The goal of these clubs is to sustain interest and strengthen a passion for flying. The teachers and volunteers can help facilitate all flying club activities.

The great thing about getting EAA or AOPA members and/or retired airline/military/corporate pilots involved in youth/high school outreach is that they represent the baby boomers who should be very excited about this program – having an opportunity to share their enthusiasm and experiences and give back to the community. The youth outreach program is a very proactive means for getting youth hooked on flying across the broader public school system. The ultimate objective of the youth outreach program is to encourage age-ready high school students to take the next step and attain their Sport Pilot certificate at their nearest local/regional private recreational sport flying airport or airpark.

In conclusion, the youth outreach program closes the gap to achievability, and helps prime-the-pump to bigger and better ambitions. Without it, the future of our pilot population looks dim!

Shared Aircraft Ownership – the "New Normal"

According to the Aircraft Partnership Association (APA), the primary constraint on all recreational-use vehicles is – available time!

Since the majority of powersports (aka motorsports) buyers are wage-earners and small business owners (still working and earning a living), recreational enjoyment is usually constrained to evenings, weekends, holidays and vacations. Due to these constraints, and other variables like weather, the average annual hours of recreational vehicle usage – which includes traditional powersports vehicles such as ATVs, snowmobiles, fishing boats, RVs, etc. – ranges from 50 to 100 hours per year. Thus, powersports equipment is typically under-utilized by its sole owner.

The APA concluded that personal aircraft mean ownership and operating costs are surprisingly similar to powersports vehicles. The APA calculated that median powersports vehicle usage costs range from between $50 to $150 per hour – about the same range as that of many single-engine piston personal aircraft. In addition, aircraft enjoy a much longer operational life than other types of powersports vehicles – and retain value for decades! This much slower depreciation makes shared ownership of personal aircraft extremely compelling to the broader powersports market – as it offers the unique opportunity for selling 3 to 5 years down the road – and buying newer or pocketing the proceeds. This same benefit is typically not available to other traditional powersports vehicles due to generally steep depreciation experiences. Therefore, shared ownership of personal aircraft is highly compelling and achievable, especially when personal aircraft are used for recreation or training purposes. Likewise, according to the APA, scheduling conflicts, usually a concern for most aircraft partnerships, are rare or easily manageable in most shared arrangements where recreational usage is characteristically lower.

According to the APA, the most common misconception of the recreational powersports buyer is that personal aircraft used for recreational aviation (i.e. recreational sport flying) are much more expensive to own and operate than traditional recreational powersports equipment. However, the APA dispels this notion by concluding that the hourly costs or rates are actually comparable as long as unit price or acquisition cost is shared.

Therefore, sole ownership of a personal aircraft is truly not prudent in the world of recreational sport flying or recreational aviation. However, shared ownership is very practical and prudent – and also vital to penetrating the larger powersports market. The APA strongly believes that the more quickly the current GA community refines the means for shared ownership, the sooner will we see increased sales to the untapped recreational powersports market and perhaps a revival in general aviation.

In its conclusion, the APA strongly believes that the GA community has a harsh choice to make at this juncture – either sell shared aircraft ownership to the powersports market to increase sales or learn to be content with a shrinking and aging single-engine personal aircraft market.

It’s time to think outside the box and fully embrace shared aircraft ownership as the “new normal” in order to revitalize recreational general aviation in the US. Shared aircraft ownership makes recreational sport flying as affordable as most traditional powersports pursuits, and also opens the door to a $44+ billion broader market. It’s a win-win for all!