The FAA issued a Press Release today announcing the release of the long awaited Light Sport Aircraft Rule. The Rule was created “for the manufacture, certification, operation, and maintenance of light-sport aircraft” and was intended to “make recreational flying safer while keeping it affordable and fun”. Light-sport aircraft weigh less than 1,320 pounds (1,430 pounds for aircraft intended for operation on water) and are heavier and faster than ultralight vehicles and include airplanes, gliders, balloons, powered parachutes, weight-shift-control aircraft, and gyroplanes.
Under the Rule, the FAA created two new aircraft airworthiness certificates: one for light-sport aircraft, that may be used for personal as well as for compensation while conducting flight training, rental or towing; and a separate certificate for experimental light-sport aircraft, that may be used only for personal use. Maintenance, inspections, pilot training and certification requirements are also included in the Rule. According to FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey. “This sport pilot, light-sport aircraft rule reduces the barriers to becoming a pilot and an aircraft owner while assuring that safety will always be the priority”.
One of the highlights of the rule as it was making its way through the rulemaking process was the concept of an airman being able to fly a light sport aircraft with only a valid driver’s license in lieu of a medical certificate. This was viewed as something that would bring a lot of airman back to flying who had previously lost their medical certificate or were unable to obtain one.
Unfortunately, as issued the Rule does not provide the relief hoped for regarding airman unable to obtain a medical or who have lost a medical certificate in the past. The Rule contains a new FAR 61.303 that restricts a person’s eligibility to use a driver’s license in lieu of a medical if the person “had his or her most recently issued medical certificate (if the person has held a medical certificate) suspended or revoked or most recent Authorization for a Special Issuance of a Medical Certificate withdrawn”.
Otherwise, an airman may use a driver’s license as long as he or she has “been found eligible for the issuance of at least a third-class airman medical certificate at the time of his or her most recent application (if the person has applied for a medical certificate)” and does not “know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner”.
I am sure a fair number of people are disappointed with this aspect of the issued Rule. However, further review and study will be necessary to determine the full scope and extent of the new regulations and to see whether the Rule as issued will actually have the impact of increasing general aviation activity as hoped.