20 Hours to Solo

Will a new pilot category restore the glory days of general aviation?

Sport pilots who choose to build the SeaRey kitplane can take off from and set down on both land and water. (Jim Koepnick/EAA)
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Blue Skies operates three 1980s-vintage Piper Warriors and a Cessna 172. The Warriors rent for $103 per hour. Although LSAs burn about half the fuel of the Warriors, Carzoli believes that the $70,000 to $100,000 price tags for suitable trainers would drive up his insurance and financing costs and that to make a profit, he would have to rent them at almost the same price as the Warriors. To satisfy any emerging demand for sport pilot training, Carzoli is kicking around a plan to use vintage aircraft that fall into the LSA category—Piper Cubs, Aeronca Champs, and Aercoupes—but he doesn’t think he’ll need to implement it anytime soon.

When Jim Hazen went to apply for his sport pilot certificate at the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in Scottsdale, Arizona, it took a while before he could find anyone there who knew what he was talking about. “Most people in the building had never heard of sport pilot,” he says.

EAA president Tom Poberezny, whose organization quarterbacked general aviation interests with the FAA during the decade-long development of the new LSA and sport pilot categories, counsels patience. “This is more like a marathon than a sprint,” he says. Poberezny admits that there is a shortage of sport pilot instructors, examiners, and LSA inspectors. “It will be another couple of years before we have the proper infrastructure,” he says.

Since receiving his certificate last year, Hazen has been spreading the sport pilot gospel. He is mentoring several students in Mesa, including Greg Robinson, a 41-year-old plumber. Robinson has been interested in aviation since the age of seven. He flies remote-control model airplanes and helicopters and started his sport pilot training last year in an Air Piesek Allegro 2000. “The Allegro is lighter and more responsive than a Cessna, and it’s a lot cheaper to fly, but that’s not really the issue for me,” he says. “You see so much more out of the big windows, and between the view and the sense of accomplishment you get from flying, well, that is what does it for me. I just love the freedom of it.”

Tom Zastrow, 64, a retired U.S. Department of Labor investigator who lives in Oviedo, Florida, got interested in the new class of flying by taking rides in a friend’s Beechcraft Musketeer. “My friend warned me that flying was like drilling holes in the sky and filling them with money, but sport pilot is still cheaper than the traditional approach,” he says. “I’m not interested in flying at night, using a plane for business trips, or instrument flying.” Zastrow purchased a used Challenger 2 sportplane for $10,000, and has spent another $6,000 upgrading it. “I’m looking forward to sharing flying with my friends and family,” he says. “It’s like riding in a convertible.”

The new category of flying is “definitely an aviation sweet spot right now,” says Tom Peghiny, president of sport airplane distributor Flight Design USA in Woodstock, Connecticut. “The convergence of new technology, new regulations, and the changing pilot demographics. It’s pretty exciting.” Last year, sales of new conventional single-piston-engine airplanes—Beechcrafts, Cessnas, Cirruses, Columbias, Diamonds, Mooneys, Pipers—reached 2,500. Will names like Allegro, Breezer, Skylark, Sting, and Zenith be as recognizable one day? It will be years before the general aviation industry knows if sport flying provides the tonic it seeks.

What’s an LSA?

A light sport aircraft…
• cannot take off in excess of 1,320 pounds (1,430 for seaplanes and 660 pounds for lighter-than-air vehicles)
• can be powered by only one reciprocating engine with a fixed-pitch propeller
• must have fixed landing gear
• has no more than two seats
• has a maximum stall speed of 51 mph
• has a maximum cruise speed of 138 mph

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