The Sport Pilot Certificate

Erco 415 Ercoupe at the Les Faucheurs de Marguerites
••• Ahunt/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons

Flying airplanes is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, many people never take off because they believe that flying is not a possibility for them. The high cost and large time investment tend to steer people away. But it doesn't have to be that way! If you want to fly airplanes but don't have the time or money, then the sport pilot certificate is the perfect solution.

The Sport Pilot Designation

The sport pilot certificate was developed by the FAA in 2007 to make flying more affordable and available to everyone. A number of student pilots are unable to complete the private pilot certificate due to time or financial constraints. The sport pilot certificate is meant for those who want to fly strictly on a recreational basis. It allows pilots to be certified with less instruction time and because of this, there are more restrictions in place for sport pilots.

Sport Pilot Certificate Eligibility

To be eligible for a sport pilot certificate, you must:

  • Be at least 17 years old (You can start training for a sport pilot certificate when you're 16 years old, but you can't take the test until age 17.)
  • Hold both a U.S. Driver's License and student pilot certificate OR an aviation medical certificate with a student pilot certificate.
  • Be able to read, speak, write and understand English.
  • Obtain at least 20 hours of flight time, 15 of which must be instructional and at least 5 hours of solo flight time.
  • Pass a written exam and a practical test.

How to Get a Sport Pilot Certificate

  1. Attain a student pilot certificate and medical exam (if necessary- see below).
  2. Gain the required 20 hours of flight time. Fifteen of those hours must be with an instructor, and five must be solo flight hours. (Some people need more flight hours to become proficient at certain aspects of flying, so keep in mind that 20 hours is the minimum that the FAA has set -- not necessarily the exact number of hours it will take you to earn your certificate.)
  3. Receive ground training on the following topics:
    1. Regulations & flight operations
    2. Accident reporting requirements
    3. Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) usage & advisory circulars
    4. Aeronautical Charts
    5. Weather identification & weather reports
    6. Collision avoidance & wind shear
    7. Density Altitude
    8. Aircraft weight & balance
    9. Aerodynamics & systems
    10. Stall & spin awareness
    11. Aeronautical decision making & resource management
    12. Preflight action
  4. Take the FAA sport pilot written exam.
  5. When you're proficient, take the FAA practical test.

What the Exams Are Like

There is a written exam that consists of 40 questions. You are given 2 hours to take it and need a 70% or better to pass. You can take the knowledge test at any time during your training, as long as your instructor gives you an endorsement. You can also complete a home-study course -- some of them mail you an endorsement after you complete a certain amount of computerized practice tests with high scores. The written exam is valid for two years, and the FAA offers a study guide.

The practical exam is the test you'll take to earn your final certificate. This exam consists of a verbal exam followed by a flight exam, in which you and an FAA examiner will take a flight, and you'll perform certain maneuvers, graded against the FAA's practical test standards for sport pilots. Once you're back on the ground, the examiner will fill out paperwork and you'll be done!

What You Can Do With a Sport Pilot Certificate

You can fly around for fun at small, non-towered airports. You can't fly at night, carry more than one passenger, or fly for business or hire. Sport pilots cannot fly within class A, B, C, or D airspace without additional training and instructor endorsements, nor can they fly outside the U.S. Sport pilots are limited to altitudes below 10,000 feet. You'll be able to fly light sport aircraft in the category and class that you are certified for in airspace that doesn't require air traffic control communication.

How to Know If You Need an Aviation Medical Exam

One of the benefits of the sport pilot certificate is that you probably don't need to get an aviation medical certificate to apply for a sport pilot certificate. You can apply for a sport pilot certificate using your driver's license and a student pilot certificate unless you have been denied an aviation medical certificate in the past, or it has been suspended or revoked. Also, if you have a known medical condition that threatens the safety of flight in any way, you need to see an aviation medical examiner for a medical certificate before getting a sport pilot certificate.