AvSport of Lock Haven -- 353 Proctor Street, Lock Haven PA 17745
Student Pilot Frequently Asked Questions
answered by AvSport's Chief Flight Instructor
Q: What kinds of pilot licenses are available?
A: In the US, the three different "entry level" pilot's licenses are sport pilot, recreational pilot, and private pilot.
Q: What is the difference between them?
A: A sport pilot is restricted to day VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flying in specified airspace, in a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) only. These are light-weight, low-power, low-speed aircraft with a maximum of two seats. A recreational pilot is allowed to fly in day VFR conditions in a single-engine, fixed-gear aircraft with no more than 180 horsepower. Up to four seats are allowed, but a recreational pilot can have only one passenger on board. The private pilot license is the most flexible rating, allowing you to fly just about anywhere, in larger and more complicated aircraft, and to carry as many passengers as the plane will safely accommodate.
Q: Can a recreational pilot or a private pilot fly AvSport's LSAs?
A: Absolutely! So can a sport pilot, or even a student pilot (with appropriate instruction and endorsements, of course.)
Q: So, which rating should I pursue?
A: If you are interested in practical air transportation, and want to actually get somewhere, as opposed to merely flying for fun, I would strongly urge you to become a licensed private pilot.
Q: Is there any advantage to becoming just a recreational pilot?
A: Of course. Because exercising the privileges of a recreational pilot certificate is less demanding of skills and training, you can achieve this rating will fewer hours of instruction, and at less cost, than would be required of private pilots. Some pilots seem content to fly at a lower skill level. However, it should not be lost on you that "recreational" pilot is abbreviated "rec" pilot, which is pronounced the same as "wreck."
Q: What about becoming just a sport pilot?
A: That's certainly a good place to start (and many pilots are entirely happy exercising sport pilot privileges). If this interests you, please see the Sport Pilot Frequently Asked Questions.
Q: How much flight training is required to become a licensed pilot?
A: For the sport pilot license, the minimum training requirement is 20 total flight hours, including 15 hours of dual instruction. For the recreational pilot license, the minimum training requirement is 30 total flight hours, including 15 hours of dual instruction. The private pilot rating requires a minimum of 40 total flight hours, including 20 hours of dual instruction. However, these numbers are bare minima; most students require significantly more training and experience to become safe, competent pilots. Your training goal should be to maximize your skills, not minimize your hours.
Q: How come the Sport Pilot rating requires only 20 hours of instruction, as opposed to 30 hours for the Recreational Pilot, or 40 hours for the Private?
A: There's less to teach a Sport Pilot. Since you'd not be allowed to fly at night, night training is not required. Since you wouldn't be flying by reference to flight instruments, no instrument training is in the curriculum. Since an LSA can't go as far, cross-country flights need be only 25 miles (as opposed to 50 for the higher ratings). And, since you'd be restricted from flying in heavily regulated airspace, no training is given in procedures used within such airspace.
Q: When should I expect to solo?
A: Back in aviation's golden age, when aircraft and airspace were simple, radios rare, and electronic navigation nonexistent, many pilots were ready to solo in five to seven hours. Today, fifteen or so hours of pre-solo instruction is not unusual. (It tends to be a little less for sport pilots, and a bit more for private pilots). You'll know when you feel confident to safely act as Pilot in Command, and will probably kick me out of the cockpit when you're ready to fly on your own.
Q: Aside from the training, what is required to become a pilot?
A: For private and recreational pilots alike, the basic requirements are that you must:
For sport pilots, the requirements are similar, except that no medical certificate is required.
- Be 16 years old to solo
- Be 17 years old to receive your pilot certificate
- Read, speak, and understand English
- Hold at least a third-class medical certificate
Q: If I need one, how do I get that medical certificate?
A: You have a physical examination administered by an FAA-authorized Aviation Medical Examiner (AME), pay him or her a fee, and fill out some paperwork. Your flight instructor will provide you with a list of AMEs in your area.
Q: Do I need a student pilot certificate to start training?
A: No, but you will need one before your flight instructor can sign you off for your first solo flight.
Q: How do I get a student pilot certificate?
A: If you choose to get an FAA Medical Certificate, the student pilot certificate will be issued along with your medical certificate, by the Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). If you decide to forego the medical certificate and become a sport pilot, you'll need to have a student pilot certificate issued either at the nearest FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), or by a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) or Sport Pilot Examiner (SPE).
Q: How do I find an AME, FSDO, DPE, SPE, or knowledge testing center?
A: Here are some links that may help you:
Q: What about ground school?
A: All three entry-level pilot licenses require that you pass an FAA written examination. While there are various courses available to help prepare you for this exam, you are not required to attend a formal ground school. Your flight instructor can sign the authorization for you to take the written test. Of course, you may wish to take a formal course through a high school, college, or adult education program. Or, you may opt to receive additional personalized ground instruction from your flight instructor, or purchase a ground-school course on video tape or DVD, or take an online course. You should discuss these options with your flight instructor.
Q: I've heard about rated pilots becoming "sport pilots." What's that about?
A: If you are a licensed pilot (recreational or higher rating), you can qualify to operate simple aircraft under sport pilot rules. For rated pilots, this is not so much a new rating as it is a set of privileges which you can choose to exercise. If you choose to operate under sport pilot rules, you will be restricted to daylight VFR flying in uncongested airspace, in what's called a Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). These are light-weight, low-power, low-speed aircraft with a maximum of two seats.
Q: But I am a rated pilot. Is there any disadvantage to operating under sport pilot rules?
A: If you go this route, you will be restricted to flying an LSA in daytime VFR conditions, within sight of the ground (i.e., no 'VFR on top'), at an altitude at or below 10,000 feet, for strictly non-commercial purposes.
Q: Could I still fly in controlled (Class B, C, or D) airspace?
A: Sport pilots require appropriate training and a logbook endorsement to do so. If you are a rated pilot and previously flew in such airspace, your controlled airspace privileges may be grandfathered.
Q: What are the advantages of becoming a sport pilot?
A: The most important one is that you need not obtain an FAA medical certificate to exercise sport pilot privileges. Of course, you still need to be in good enough health to safely operate the aircraft, but holding a driver's license is considered an acceptable demonstration of medical suitability (as long as you have never been denied an FAA medical certificate). Then too, since the LSA is a fairly simple machine, they are inexpensive to maintain, and easier to operate, requiring fewer hours of instruction.
Q: So, why shouldn't I just get a Sport Pilot certificate?
A: You can, of course, and AvSport specializes in training pilots for just such privileges. Of course, you will be restricted to flying only an LSA, in daylight hours, in good weather, at altitudes at or below 10,000 feet, carrying no more than one passenger, and will be prohibited from entering the most heavily used airspace. To learn more about the Sport Pilot certificate and Light Sport Aircraft, see these additional FAQs.
Q: Is AvSport's trainer an LSA?
Q: I notice that the rental rate for your aircraft is listed as "wet, Hobbs." What does this mean?
A: "Wet" means that the listed price includes fuel. A Hobbs meter is a clock that runs only when the engine is running. Thus, you pay for the plane only during the flight segment of your lesson, not while you're doing a preflight inspection, pulling the plane out, fueling it, or merely admiring it in its hangar.
Q: Is there a quantity discount on aircraft rental?
A: Yes. If you pre-pay for ten flight hours, the eleventh is free.
Q: I notice that, while the plane rents by the hour, the instructor's fee is charged per lesson. Why?
A: The typical lesson includes some ground instruction, a preflight briefing, an actual flight, a postflight debrief, and a question and answer session. If the clock is running, and the student is paying the instructor by the hour, there's always a temptation to short-change the non-flying part of the lesson. By charging a flat rate per lesson (no matter how long it actually runs), the instructor is encouraging the student to get all of his or her questions answered.
Q: So, how long does an lesson actually run?
A: It varies depending upon the phase of training. But, in general, a lesson will run about two hours, of which one hour or so will be spent in the airplane, and the rest in dialog with your instructor. But, if you need more time to master a lesson, you won't have to pay any extra for the flight instructor - only for the airplane.
Q: Is there a quantity discount on flight instruction?
A: Yes. If you pre-pay your instructor for ten lessons, the eleventh is free.
Q: If I don't use them all, are prepaid aircraft hours and instructor lessons refundable?
A: Of course. However, if you quit, you don't get your free hour, or free lesson!
Q: How frequently should I schedule my lessons?
A: Because a long delay between lessons can cause your skills to deteriorate, you should plan on flying at least twice per week (weather permitting, of course). But, if you train too frequently or too intensely, fatigue can diminish learning effectiveness. Thus, most students seem to do best with about three lessons per week.
Q: At that rate, won't it take me forever to finish my license?
A: It will probably seem that way. But most serious students complete their sport pilot certificates in about three months, the recreational pilot license within six months, or a private rating in less than a year.
Q: Isn't there a faster way?
A: Yes. There are flight academies that provide intensive, concentrated pilot training, crammed into just a few weeks. You fly every day, several times a day, and eat, breathe, and sleep nothing but aviation. This approach works for some. On the other hand, some of us consider this kind of saturation training a "crash course."
Q: OK, so if I fly with you, what is all this going to cost me?
A: For the sport pilot license, a bunch. For the recreational pilot license, a lot. For the private pilot rating, a lot more.
OK, straight answer: At the bare minimum of required hours, you should expect to spend about $4000 for a sport pilot license, $6000 obtaining your recreational pilot license, or $8000 for the private ticket. (Your mileage may vary.) This expense is typically spread out over a period of several months. And, because the skill levels are cumulative, you can start out with the sport certificate, and then continue on to the recreational or private pilot license as your time and budget permit.
Q: What if I run out of money?
A: Oh, you will! Starting again after a lapse will require you to relearn lost skills. This is why most student pilots fly far more than the FAA minimum required hours before taking their checkrides. If you can minimize downtime, you will also be saving yourself money.
Q: Isn't there a cheaper way?
A: Of course there is. There are instructors out there who will fly with you for almost nothing. These folks are generally trying to get you to pay for the flight hours they need to accumulate, in order to start an airline career. Are they good pilots? Absolutely! Are they skilled educators? Surprisingly, some turn out to be natural-born teachers, and go on to become fine flight instructors. But, it's a gamble. If you want your flight instructor's priority to be teaching, you may wish to study with a professional educator.
Q: Are you trying to build hours toward an airline career?
A: No way! I'm a semi-retired professional educator, and altogether too old (which means, way too experienced) to fly for the airlines.
If you can drive, you can fly!