Many people have always dreamed of flying as a hobby but have never done so due to the time commitment and expense of earning a private pilot license. If you have no plans of ever flying large aircraft with passengers to far-away destinations, then going through the process for a private pilot license can be a waste to many.
Instead, there is something called a sport pilot license that can allow you to experience all the amazing aspects of flying while not having to spend as much money or time on a full on pilot’s license. Flying airplanes is a rewarding and exciting hobby, and now it’s more accessible than ever before.
Sport Pilot License
The Sport Pilot License allows you to fly what the FAA considers light aircraft on a strictly recreational basis. This is a great option for someone who wants to be able to fly for fun on the weekends with less of an investment than other pilot licenses.
This can open the door to a fun recreational activity that isn’t too expensive for most people. It can also be a great way to introduce yourself to the world of flying and see if you have interest in continuing on to more advanced training or even a career as a pilot.
The FAA has a set of qualifications you must meet to be eligible for a Sport Pilot License (SPL). In order to be eligible you must:
- Be at least 17 years old: Although you must be 17 to earn the license, you can begin to train and fly as long as you are 16 years old
- Hold both a U.S. Driver’s License and student pilot certificate OR an aviation medical certificate with a student pilot certificate
- Be able to read, speak, write and understand English.
Assuming you meet those requirements, you are free to begin your training so you can eventually earn your sport pilot license.
When most people think of flying airplanes as a hobby, they think of it being very expensive. It’s often considered a hobby for the ultra rich. Before getting started down the path to learning how to fly, you want to know up front how how much you should expect to have to pay.
The total cost you can expect to earn your sport pilot certificate is around $5000. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the associated costs.
- Flight Instruction: You’re going to want an instructor that is not only experienced and qualified, but that you work well with. Expect to pay $40-$60 per hour for instruction.
- Airplane Rental: Renting a plane to fly in (plus the fuel) should run you around $100 per hour while you’re learning.
- Aviation Supplies: Expect to spend a few hundred more dollars on things like aviation headsets and other tools necessary to start flying
- Training Materials & Exam Fees: Plan to spend another $500-$800 for books and courses so you can take and pass the written test.
If you are interested in earning your sport pilot license, the first thing I would recommend doing is reaching out to a flight instructor/school in your area to discuss it and ask questions. Find out the specifics of how they do things, their costs, and anything else you would want to ask.
If you decide to move forward, you should start by getting your medical certificate as soon as you can if it’s going to be needed. This process can take weeks and you won’t be able to fly solo until you have received it in the mail.
Next, it’s time to start taking flying lessons and learn as much as you can. While doing that, you should also take the ground ground training so you can learn all the info you’ll need to pass the written test.
All of the things you’ll be learning are important to being a safe pilot, so take your time. Feel free to take more than the required instructional flights. Most people don’t finish and pass the test with the minimum amount of flight time anyway. Instead, focus on making progress and learning as much as you can.
Once you’ve taken all the required flight time and taken the ground course, it might be time to earn the license.
Getting the License
In order to earn your sport pilot license you’ll have to complete the following training and exams:
- 20 hours of flight training (15 of those with an instructor, the other 5 can be solo flying)
- Learn the basics of flying (regulations, procedures, etc) via a instructional course
- Pass an FAA written exam pertaining to what you learned in the course
- Pass a test flight (known as a check ride)
- Pass an oral quiz given by the FAA authorized senior pilot
Congratulations, after completing all of the above you will have earned your Sport Pilot License.
Benefits vs Other Pilot Licenses
- Can be earned in about half the time and expense of a regular (private) pilot license
- Does not make you learn things you might never need like flying at night or into large airports
- In some cases does not need a FAA medical certificate as long as you have a valid driver’s license
What Can You Do With a Sport Pilot License?
The sport pilot license allows you to go out and have a great time flying airplanes for fun. It’s perfect for someone who wants to fly for short periods of time with no intentions of going far distances or using it to take passengers on trips.
You can take your significant other on a short flight to show off your new skills, or just enjoy that great feeling of being up in the sky in control of an airplane all by yourself. Flying an airplane is a very rewarding experience for most that take on the challenge.
Due to the sport pilot license requiring less instruction and flight time, there are some things you won’t be allowed to do. They include:
- You cannon fly aircraft at night
- You cannot fly in the clouds or over 10,000 feet
- You cannon fly aircraft that weigh over 1320 pounds
- You cannon fly aircraft that go faster than 138 mph
- You cannot take on more than 1 passenger
- You cannon be compensated for flights in any way
- You cannot fly in bad weather or bad visibility
Make sure to take a look at the FAA’s page on earning your Sport Pilot License as well. They have a lot of great info that answers a lot of technical questions you might have. Another great resource for anyone interested in flying light sport aircraft is the Experimental Aircraft Association’s (EAA) website. I could spend weeks just reading all the interesting info there.
The opportunity to earn a sport pilot license opens the door to learning to fly for a lot of people that might no otherwise have the opportunity due to the time and financial commitment of earning a regular pilot license. If you have always dreamed of flying but want to do so as a hobby that is less demanding than a full pilot license, this is a great option.