Destinations: Go Anywhere
This could be the subject of an entire article, but I’ll limit the discussion to those pilots returning after a long layoff.
Many pilots have heard of the benefits of going “Light Sport.” For pilots already certified, the attractions are many.
• If your medical has not been denied, a valid driver’s license and self-certification for a medical is all that is needed.
• You can fly simple airplanes (not to exceed 1320 pounds gross weight), without retractable landing gear and controllable pitch propellers, on VFR flights, carrying one passenger. These aircraft can be newly manufactured, or any number of vintage airplanes (Cubs, Champs, T-Craft, Ercoupes, to name a few) that meet the gross weight test.
• Because you are already a certificated pilot, no additional flight test is required.
• Because you are already a certificated pilot, the restrictions of a pilot certified under Light Sport ONLY do not apply to you. You may fly in a Class B airspace, fly at night, fly cross country, and fly internationally in a Light Sport Aircraft, as well in a normally certificated aircraft.
On the other hand, you still have to do a biennial flight review — so why NOT simply get a medical certificate, do the biennial review, and be able to fly anything for which you are rated? If you go this route, you can ALSO do Light Sport.
There are three reasons I can think of:
• Inability to pass a third class medical exam. If you fail the exam, you cannot fly Light Sport (but you can still fly gliders and balloons — go figure). If you question whether you can pass the exam, you really should have a medical opinion on the risk of your flying passengers. You might be LEGAL to fly light sport, but are you SAFE?
• Fear of having a medical certificate denied. This is a big wrinkle the FAA threw in at the last minute for medicals. Again — if you fail the exam, no Light Sport.
• A conscious decision to “downsize” your flying. Like older people “downsizing” their housing, some pilots voluntarily elect to restrict their flying as they get older. They only want to fly simple airplanes on nice days.
As you can see, there is little reason for previously certificated pilots NOT to go the full pilot route. Is Light Sport a viable option for older pilots? I know active pilots that still do a good job of flying in their 80s (emphasis on the ACTIVE pilot). Once again, if you are doing something often, you tend to do it better than someone that does the activity only occasionally.
Even if you decide to go Light Sport, you owe it to yourself and to your passengers to consult with a physician anyway. Ultimately — medically certified or self-certified -- the choice of when to fly or not to fly is YOURS — being a pilot is all about taking responsibility for your actions — one of the reasons we became pilots in the first place. Consider your choices carefully — and do the right thing.
Jim Hanson is the LONG-time FBO at Albert Lea. He has been flying for 45 years, and at his age, he doesn’t REALIZE he is getting old — flying is all he has ever done. He continues to stay active in nearly every class and category of airplane. When asked why he continues to be so active, he replies “If I slow down, I’m afraid they may put me in the Old Pilot’s Home!” He can be contacted at his office at 507-373-0608, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.