The Sport Pilot certificate was created in September 2004 after years of work by the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA). The intent of the new rule was to lower the barriers of entry into aviation and make flying more affordable and accessible.
The new rule also created the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category of aircraft which are smaller, lower-powered aircraft. The sport pilot certificate offers limited privileges mainly for recreational use. It is the only powered aircraft certificate that does not require a medical certificate; a valid vehicle driver's license can be used as proof of medical competence PROVIDED the prospective pilot was not rejected for their last Airman Medical Certificate.
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THE FAA'S FORM 8710-11 SPORT PILOT RULES REGULATIONS AND APPLICATION ALL IN ONE
To qualify for the Sport pilot certificate, an applicant must:
Be able to read, speak, write, and understand English
Log at least 20 hours of flight time of which at least
15 hours must be dual instruction with a qualified flight instructor
2 hours must be cross-country dual instruction
5 hours must be solo flight
Fly one solo cross-country over a total distance of 75 or more nautical miles to two different destinations to a full-stop landing. At least one leg of this cross-country must be over a total distance of at least 25 nautical miles (46 km).
Have received 3 hours of dual instruction in the preceding 60 days
Pass a written test
Pass a practical test
Have a valid US State drivers license AND not been rejected for your last Airman Medical Certificate
...or have a current 3rd class or higher Airman Medical Certificate
The above requirements are for heavier-than-air powered aircraft (airplanes). The requirements for gliders, balloons, helicopters, and dirigibles vary slightly.
Sport Pilots are only eligible to fly aircraft that are either certified specifically as light-sport aircraft (LSA) or were certified prior to the LSA regulations and are within the maximum weight and performance limitations of light-sport aircraft.
The restrictions placed on a Pilot exercising the privileges of a Sport pilot certificate are:
No more than one passenger
Daytime flight only (civil twilight is used to define day/night)
No flight above 10,000 feet (3,000 m) MSL or 2,000 feet (610 m) AGL, whichever is higher
No flight in any of the airspace classes that require radio communication (classes A, B, C, or D) without first obtaining additional instruction and instructor endorsement
The Sport pilot certificate is also ineligible for additional ratings (such as an Instrument rating), although time in light-sport aircraft can be used towards the experience requirement of other ratings on higher certificate types.