The sport pilot license has gained popularity in recent years. Compared to other pilot licenses, it offers the ability to earn a pilot’s license and fly airplanes with much less training and therefore a much lower cost.
Since there is much less flight time and training required there are more restrictions that something like a private pilot license. Some of the most common questions around the sport pilot license are around these restrictions.
One of the most common questions is: Can someone with a sport pilot license fly at night?
No, someone with a sport pilot license is NOT permitted to fly at night. They are required to fly during the daytime using VFR (Visual Flight Rules).
Visual Flight Rules
VFR (or visual flight rules) refer to the pilot being able to fly the airplane by what he or she is able to see. On a more technical level, it means it’s daytime, there is at least 3 miles of visibility, and the pilot can see the ground. This type of flying is considered the safest form of flying since the pilot is not dependent on his instruments and can instead navigate and make decisions based on what they see.
Note: Although sport pilots are allowed to fly only during the day, that doesn’t mean that there are conditions during the daytime where a sport pilot would still not be permitted to fly. If it’s daytime and the other conditions cannot be met, then the pilot still cannot fly. Specifically, if it’s very cloudy.
Why Can’t Sport Pilot’s Fly at Night?
There are several reasons why a pilot with only a sport pilot license is not permitted to fly at night. They are mostly centered around the safety of the pilot and his or her passenger (should they have one).
Night Flying Experience and Training
Night flying is considered more dangerous than flying during daylight since you cannot see as well. Flying at night using the planes instruments is not something that is covered in sport pilot training. This is a very specific skill that has to be learned and worked on like anything else.
Light sport aircraft are, by definition, much smaller and lighter than most other aircraft. They are designed to be the “bare minimum” of equipment to fit within the weight limitations of the light sport aircraft designation. Many of these planes do not have the proper equipment needed to fly at night. Depending on the plane this includes having adequate lighting and the instruments needed to fly in complete darkness.
FAA Medical Exam
Sport pilots are not required to pass a FAA medical exam. Instead, sport pilots are required to hold a valid drivers license which is used to show you are medically able to fly a light sport aircraft.
This is another of the requirements that are lowered in order to allow people to earn the sport pilot license with less training and expense. The downside of this is that since you are not required to pass a medical exam, you are further limited in your flying options – including at night. For safety reasons, the FAA wants to make sure that anyone flying a plane at night has the necessary medical clearance to do so safely.
Since you are interested in whether or not a sport pilot can fly at night, it might be worth looking at a few of the other restrictions of the sport pilot license. Here is a brief list:
- You are limited to having a single passenger
- You can only fly during the daytime using visual flight rules (Three statue miles of visibility, visual contact with the ground)
- Cannot fly over 10,000 feet
- Tow any object
- Accept payment as a pilot (including transporting passengers or cargo)
- Fly outside of the country (unless you have prior permission for that foreign aviation authority)
- Fly in A airspace
- Fly in B, C, or D airspace without specific training/endorsement
Due to the limited amount of training required as well as other safety concerns, having a sport pilot license does not allow you to fly at night. If flying at night is something you are interested in, make sure to look into some of the other pilot licenses offered.
These might require more training and an additional cost, but odds are that if you already have your sport pilot license and want to fly at night you’d enjoy learning more flight training anyway.