Two aircraft airworthiness certificates created as US agency finally bows to pressure

The US Federal Aviation Administration has issued the final sport pilot/light-sport aircraft rule, which will be effective from 1 September. The rule is a fillip for the US general aviation community, which has pushed the FAA for a decade to certificate small, simple, low-performance aircraft to plug the gap between ultralights and larger piston singles. The industry has also strived through this new regulation to simplify and lower the cost of pilot training.

The rule is the first to make use of the FAA's new consensus standards policy, where industry, under the auspices of the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), was responsible for agreeing and applying standards for the design and production of the light two-seat aircraft.

The final rule holds few surprises compared with the proposed standards set by ASTM. For powered fixed-wing aircraft, the light-sport category will be limited to two-seat, single-engined non-turbine designs with fixed-pitch propeller and fixed landing gear. Helicopters will be excluded due to their complexity, says the FAA. Maximum stall speed remains at 45kt (85km/h) and maximum speed 120kt. The agency has raised the maximum take-off weight from the proposed 581kg (1,280lb) to 600kg, or 649kg for seaplanes.

To qualify as a sport pilot, the number of training hours has been cut by half, to 20h, compared with the typical private pilot's licence.

"We worked with the general aviation community," the FAA says, "to create a final rule that sets safety standards for the 15,000 people who will now earn FAA certificates to operate more than 15,000 existing uncertificated aircraft." Another 12,000 pilots and new aircraft will be certificated over the next 10 years.

The FAA has created two new aircraft airworthiness certificates: one for special light-sport aircraft, which may be for personal use as well as flight training, rental or towing; and a separate certificate for experimental light-sport aircraft, which may be only for personal use. The rule also establishes requirements for maintenance, inspections, pilot training and certification.

"Because the new rules will help keep recreational flying affordable, we expect the return of thousands of pilots who left aviation because of the high costs of insurance and financing," says FAA administrator Marion Blakey. "The sport pilot, light-sport aircraft rule reduces barriers to becoming a pilot and an aircraft owner while assuring that safety will always be the priority."



Source: Flight International