Sport Pilot or Private Pilot? What’s Best For you?

It used to be, if you wanted to fly an airplane you had to obtain a Private Pilot’s Certificate. At least 40 hours of flight training time adding up to thousands of dollars given to one of the local flight schools.

Today there’s another option for those who just want to fly locally for the pure enjoyment of flying. It’s called a Sport Pilot Certificate.

Is a Sport Pilot Certificate the best option for you? For a lot of new pilots this is becoming the case. These people are putting in 20 to 25 hours of training rather than the 40+ required to get your Private Pilot’s License. The difference is saving them over $2500 in training costs. The end result for many, is the same as if they had pursued the Private Pilots Certificate.

Here’s the best part about the Sport Pilot License. You can always put in the additional hours later to bump up to a Private Pilot Certificate. This means, you can start flying for the pure enjoyment of it a lot sooner.

Another item that attracts people to the Sport Pilot License is the medical certificate. You don’t need one to fly as a Sport Pilot. If you have a valid drivers license, you have everything you need. But, here’s the catch, if you try to get your Private Pilot medical and fail, you won’t be able to get a Sport Pilot Certificate. So, check the medical requirements for a Private Pilot BEFORE you get your exam. Failing it can close a lot of doors… permanently!

After you’ve spent a year or two with the Sport Pilot Certificate, you just head back to the flight school and put in the additional hours and you’ll have your PPSEL (Private Pilot Single Engine Land). Most Designated Examiners (the people who give you your “checkride” or flying test) will tell you, the Private Pilot students who already been flying as a Sport Pilot are a LOT more capable pilot. The experience adds up.

What are the Limitations on a Sport Pilot License?

No night flying. Do you plan on flying at night? If you don’t, you may want to consider the Sport Pilot license. If you’re color blind, you may already have a restriction on your medical that says No Night Flying.

No more than one passenger. If you plan on taking a family trip to granma’s house, you’ll probably want to go with the Private Pilots Certificate. If you and your spouse or a friend want to take a fun fishing trip to a local hot spot, this will work.

No higher than 10,000 feet. Truth is, any plane you’re going to be flying isn’t going to be equiped for flight much higher than that anyway. I don’t know where you’d want to fly that you’d need to go higher. Even a trip across the Cascade Mountains doesn’t require 10,000′.

No flying in A, B, C, or D airspace. If the airspace requires radio communications, you probably can’t fly there. But wait! You can get an endorsement in your logbook that will make you exempt from this rule. That should only take a couple of hours of flight time.

Most people who get their Sport Pilot Certificate will eventually go on to get their Private. That’s the beauty of it. Once you’ve done your 20 or so hours, you can enjoy a lot of flying. Then when you’re ready you can move up. You’ll already have a lot of air time under belt.

Finding a flight school. This is the hardest part. Because this is a relatively new program, their aren’t very many flight schools who will accommodate this training.

This is a good place to start. The Experimental Aircraft Association has a search function to find a Sport Pilot Instructor near you.

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