Sport Pilot Flight Training Time
On July 24th, 2009, the FAA Office of the Chief Counsel issued a letter of interpretation stating that the flight training provided by subpart K instructors (those with only a sport pilot instructor certificate) cannot apply toward the flight training time required for the private pilot certificate (normally, this training is provided by a subpart H certified flight instructor).
From the four-page letter of interpretation written by FAA attorney Paul Greer, the FAA’s rationale for this ruling can be distilled down to a single argument supporting the agency’s position:
“Permitting a sport pilot to use flight training provided by a flight instructor with a sport pilot rating…to meet the aeronautical experience requirements for the issuance of a private pilot certificate however, would be the functional equivalent of permitting that instructor to provide flight training for the issuance of a private pilot certificate…. It [the FAA] did not intend to decrease the minimum experience requirements for flight instructors who provide training for the issuance of private pilot certificates….”
My position relates only to flight training in the light sport airplane category, although I believe the following argument holds true for other categories and classes of aircraft, as well. In my opinion, the flight training provided by sport pilot instructors is sufficiently similar in both the quality and quantity (with the exceptions listed below) to that provided by certified flight instructors that some or all of this flight training time should be applicable toward meeting the private pilot flight training requirements. My reasoning follows.
It’s true that sport pilot instructors are not required to provide training in basic instrument maneuvers, night flying and electronic navigation to the sport pilot, nor are these instructors required to possess this knowledge themselves. Knowledge in these three areas, however, represents only about 15% of the total flight training knowledge required by a private pilot applicant. This means that 85% of the flight training provided by a sport pilot instructor to sport pilot applicants is identical to that provided by certified flight instructors to private pilot applicants. In fact, Paul Greer writes, “The FAA recognizes that many of the areas of operation on which an applicant for a sport pilot certificate is required to receive training are identical to those on which an applicant for a private pilot certificate is also required to receive training….” The areas in which the received training is identical is based on an examination of the FAA’s own Practical Test Standards. (The PTS identifies the minimum standards of competency that the FAA requires of all pilot applicants.)
Comparing the sport and private pilot Practical Test Standards reveals that every single flight maneuver required of a sport pilot applicant (less basic instrument maneuvering and electronic navigation) is also required of the private pilot applicant. The Practical Test Standards also make it clear that the areas of operation, tasks, objectives and minimum proficiency levels for both sport and private pilot applicants are fundamentally the same, with no practical difference between the two. It’s clear from the Practical Test Standards that the FAA requires sport pilots to demonstrate levels of performance similar to that of a private pilot applicant on the practical flight test.
It thus becomes difficult to argue that sport pilot instructors, despite having less experience, can’t or don’t provide training comparable to that provided by certified flight instructors. While it’s true that a sport pilot instructor may have less experience than his or her certified flight instructor counterpart, the FAA’s Practical Test Standards also makes it clear that this produces no practical difference in the quality of flight training provided by either instructor.
Please keep in mind here that the training a sport pilot receives isn’t somehow deficient when compared to a private pilot’s flight training. Instead, the sport pilot’s training is simply appropriate to the limitations of the airplane and regulated limits under which he or she flies (i.e., two-place, day only, at/below 10,000 feet MSL, etc.). Clearly the PTS’s completion standards indicate that in those areas where the sport and private pilot applicants receive training by their appropriately rated instructors, there is no difference in either applicant’s proficiency, skills, or competence.
Let’s also remember that sport pilots wishing to apply their flight training time toward the flight training time required for the private pilot certificate will not be deficient in knowledge or flight proficiency when becoming private pilots. The regulations require that all private pilot applicants receive a certain minimum amount of ground and flight training in very specific skill areas. Where the sport pilot regulations don’t require this training, the private pilot applicant would be required to receive that training from a certified flight instructor. In other words, the regulations ensure that sport pilots seeking a private pilot certificate will meet the minimum standards required for that rating by the FAA.
On the other hand, to be intellectually honest in this endeavor, it is important to acknowledge the FAA’s position on not lowering the experience level of flight instructors who provide training for the private pilot certificate. An instructor’s experience must, after all, count for something. It’s reasonable to assume that an instructor with more experience may have more to offer in terms of the intangibles of piloting, such as judgment and wisdom. The problem here is that these intangibles are difficult to qualify, much less quantify.
Given that sport pilots trained only by sport pilot instructors will have to spend some amount of training time with a CFI in preparation for their private pilot certificate, it’s reasonable to assume that some of these intangibles will be conveyed to this applicant. If, however, these “intangibles were not passed along to the sport pilot by sport pilot instructors, I doubt this ultimately matters in terms of safety. Why? Because there is a significant safety benefit derived from allowing sport pilots to apply their flight training time to meet the private pilot flight training requirement. This benefit consists of the economic incentive a qualified sport pilot now has to continue his or her training toward a private pilot certificate without having to worry about funding an additional 20 hours of dual instruction.
The FAA has many precedents for safely lowering the overall flight experience requirements as an incentive to attract more people to aviation (think about the reduced experience requirements for the recreational pilot certificate, sport pilot certificate, reduction in total time for instrument rating, etc.). Common sense suggests that incentives for pilots to attain a higher rating must have some positive effect on that student’s overall safety.
As an additional note, there is a precedent that allowed private pilots to instruct students in preparation for the private pilot certificate. Prior to 1960 (and through the early 1960s), CAA regulation 20.130 provided for private pilots to obtain a limited flight instructor certificate with as little as 200 hours total time and no instrument rating. If this private pilot instructor had an instrument rating, then he or she could also give instrument instruction to prepare and endorse applicants for their instrument rating. This ruling change in the 1960s for several reasons, one of which was the CAA’s concern that pilots were operating aircraft of ever increasing performance. The intent was to raise the standard of instruction to match the needs of pilots who might eventually fly these higher performance machines. Then again, for at least a decade, the CAA apparently found it reasonable in allowing private pilot instructors to teach in lower performance airplanes. This is precisely what sport pilot instructors are doing today, with light sport airplanes generally being of lesser performance than they were prior to the 1960s.
While I have the greatest respect for the work the FAA does, especially in the sport pilot area, I do believe that this ruling undervalued the capabilities of sport pilot instructors. I also believe that the FAA didn’t properly weigh the safety benefits of encouraging students to continue training as compared to the loss of those intangibles associated with an instructor’s lesser experience.
I hope that the FAA will reconsider allowing some or all of the flight training time provided by sport pilot instructors to sport pilots to apply toward the private pilot flight time requirement.
August 20, 2009