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Author Topic: Wow!! Alaska general media not only has a clue but really does a good job!!!  (Read 1207 times)

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Dave B

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Wow!! What an article! We can't get AOPA to publish an article this good on Light Sport Aircraft and this is published in a general media newspaper!!!


Sport Pilot stalled in Alaska over bureaucracy

A three part series by Rob Stapleton

While other states enjoy the surging interest in sport aviation Alaskans wishing to obtain a Sport Pilot license will find that there are some big hurdles to overcome if you can even get one here.

“There are no new Sport Pilot instructors or pilots being made in Alaska today,” said Pete Marsh, a Federal Aviation Administration certified Sport Pilot Instructor. “Before the Sport Pilot rule passed this used to be the place to come, the Mecca for sport aviation right here in Chugiak.”

About Sport Pilot and Light Sport Aircraft

The Sport Pilot rule was passed in Sept. 2004 and offers an interested person the ability to obtain a license with a minimum of 20 hours of flight time.

That flight time requires dual, solo, cross country flights and preparation for a Practical Test (check ride).

Sport Pilots may also use a valid driver’s license in lieu of a Third Class medical, but can use an aviation class medical if they choose. An FAA Sport Pilot knowledge test must also be passed by the student pilot with a score of 70 percent or higher.

The medical self qualifying aspect of the Sport Pilot rule was and is a huge departure by the FAA of its flight medical standards. In the past many people who experienced medical complications were blocked from flying. To regain a medical after being “grounded” is a timely and sometimes expensive effort. After an illness or medical issue many pilots gave up flying.

This new Sport License allows a pilot who may have had medical issues but was not officially denied a medical to fly using the privileges of the Sport Pilot license.

Generally meaning, no night flights, no flights above 10,000 feet or 2,000 feet above the terrain if that terrain is above 10,000 feet (very possible in Alaska). Sport Pilots may only fly two place aircraft that have a certified gross weight of 1,320 pounds or less, no retractable landing gear (with the exception of some amphibious aircraft) or an in-flight adjustable propeller, the aircraft may only use a reciprocal engine.

More details about Sport Pilot restrictions and privileges can be found on the Experimental Aircraft Association website:

New types of aircraft and a big misunderstanding

The Sport Pilot Rule also allowed two new types of aircraft; weightshift, and powered parachute which could be used as Light Sport Aircraft by either Sport Pilots or licensed pilots who receive training in them and subsequently receive a log book endorsement by an FAA certified type qualified instructor.

Local Alaska officials with the Federal Aviation Administration misunderstand the issues facing a potential Sport Pilot as a lack of interest in the Sport Pilot licensure. This is not so according to several Sport Pilot instructors who are concerned about Sport Pilot safety.

Currently in Anchorage there is no way for an interested person wanting to learn to fly and achieve a Sport Pilot to do so. There are no FAA Designated Pilot Examiners, no flight schools that offer Sport Pilot flight programs.

This seems strange because according to the FAA Safety Team there are over 400 Certified Flight Instructors in the Anchorage area.

Currently there are three Sport Pilot Instructors in the Anchorage area but none of these have viable aircraft to use for instruction.

There is one instructor and one designated pilot examiner (an authorized instructor check pilot who gives flight testing) for weightshift in Fairbanks, both will only instruct in other people’s aircraft and will no longer offer their aircraft for instructional use.

At Merrill Field ‘Land and Sea Aviation’ has a Light Sport Piper, offers instruction but does not offer instruction to Sport Pilot licensure at this time.

The crux of the AlaskaSport Pilot issue-

The question of why and how this happened begs to be asked. Here is the crux of the situation.

The FAA disallowed former two place ultralights, sometimes referred to as microlights the ability to be used for instruction earlier this year.

These light sport aircraft were previously inspected, certified and registered by the FAA with a valid airworthiness certificates. The aircraft were then certified as Experimental Light Sport Aircraft or ELSAs.

This certification came with operating limitations that allowed for instruction but were limited for authorization until Jan. 31, 2010 when the ability would expire. New limitations were issued that prohibited instruction, or any compensation for hire.

The answer to the question is now obvious, none of the Experimental LSAs owners can legally charge for their aircraft’s use for instruction, or for any other commercial venture.

Since this deadline there are no weightshift or powered parachute instructors willing to fork out the money for a new aircraft.

The original reasoning, if you consider the FAA a reasoning entity was to allow these aircraft to be used for flight training and recurrent flight reviews until the Light Sport Aircraft manufacturing industry could get its aircraft certified by the General Aviation Manufacturing Association.

Sport flying today and in the past-

At this writing there is a list of LSA and Special Light Sport aircraft now available that range in price from $35,000 to $150,000.

In comparison ultralight weightshift and powered parachutes could be purchased for $10-20,000 dollars before the Sport Pilot rule. In fact, these ultralights were the fastest growing and most popular sector of general aviation in 2000.

Governed by Federal Aviation Regulation Part 103 you could fly without a pilot’s license, a medical, or a driver’s license. This was so popular that a flight school called Arctic Sparrow Aircraft produced hundreds of pilots making Birchwood Airport (PABV/BCV) the Mecca of weightshift ultralights. The school run by Mike Jacober became known worldwide and produced over 90 students a year at its apex in the early 2000s.

Jacober was killed, the school closed down and now there are only a handful of “trike” pilots and weightshift aircraft flying at Birchwood Airport or anywhere in Alaska for that matter.

LODA the solution--

The Experimental Aircraft Association, Aero Sports Connection, the U.S Ultralight Association saw the dangers of curtailing the training authorization on the ELSAs and negotiated an agreement with the FAA in mid 2009. Called a Letter of Deviation Authorization, (LODA) the authorization would allow qualified instructors with a valid training program to use their aircraft for flight training.

Officials with the FAA at the Light Sport, 610 Branch in Oklahoma have never issued the LODA to a single Sport Pilot Light Sport Instructor, or a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) in the U.S.

A recent call to the 610 Branch only produced an answer that “Nothing” was going on with the LODA that was said to be held up by the FAA’s legal department. Thus Sport Pilot CFIs have dilemma.

The bureaucracy is so deep and tangled within the FAA, that this issue has the EAA (Listen to an interview here) and ASC pleading with its members—millions—to write the FAA Administrator directly and plead with him to move ahead with the LODA before the administration creates an unsatisfactory safety condition.

Tomorrow Part Two: The safety danger, limitations and costs of Sport Pilot-

Dave B.,   OLM
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Dave B

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Part 2.

Sport Pilot stalled in Alaska over bureaucracy Part-Two


By Rob Stapleton

One of the biggest complaints by the Federal Aviation Administration about Sport Pilot this year has been about its accident rate.

In fact the FAA has asked the Experimental Aircraft Association nationwide to step up the awareness on homebuilt aircraft accidents. Experimental Light Sport Aircraft are included in this category but not the largest concern to federal regulators.

According to officials inside the FAA the largest area of concern are the Private or certificated pilots who are used to flying heavier aircraft that are transitioning down to Special Light Sport aircraft.

“What we are concerned about are those pilots with lots of time as PIC (pilot in command) who are transitioning to low mass, low speed aircraft. They need just as much instruction as those wanting to fly more complex aircraft,” said Edsel Ford, with the FAA’s Light Sport Aviation Branch. “In fact these high time pilots who are use to high speed, more powerful aircraft are a disaster waiting to happen.”

According to a recent article in Flying Magazine the emerging picture of LSA safety is rather dubious.

“As of late spring 2008, there had been 39 fatal LSA accidents (with 49 total fatalities). Of those fatals, 12 were in S-LSAs, meaning that nearly one out of every 100 S-LSAs has been involved in a fatal accident. Of those 39 total fatal wrecks (E-LSA and S-LSA combined), 54 percent were due to loss of control. Ten percent were due to structural failure.”

FAA officials say that the total fatalities in the Light Sport Category have climbed to 66 at in 2010. What local flight instructors are concerned about are the habits of pilots flying Light Sport aircraft.

“If there are no Light Sport experienced flight instructors flying with them or watching over them by giving flight reviews and safety procedures accidents will happen,” said Sport Pilot CFIPete Marsh.

Looking at the report from the FAA 54 percent of the accidents was from loss of control, this is a concern by Sport Pilot CFIs and Standard Category CFIs and the FAA.

According to Ford the FAA Safety Team is currently examining the causes of these types of accidents and how to counter it. Some instructors call this a no brainer, the pilot gets behind the power curve and looses control of their aircraft.

The result of this formula spirals into what Alaskan sport flying enthusiasts are dealing with today.

Insurance companies will not insure tail wheel, weightshift or powered parachute Light Sport aircraft based in Alaska, banks won’t loan money for newer S-LSA or LSA aircraft with no insurance, pilots can’t get flight reviews because the instructors can’t use their aircraft or can’t or won’t afford a newer LSA.

“Here in Alaska we can’t get insurance,  which equates to we can’t get a loan, which means I have to come up with $50,000 in cash,” said Marsh.  “Not even rich people have $50,000 liquid in cash. The reality is no one ever capitalizes their own business they borrow money to start a business. We can’t get a loan because of an arbitrary insurance industry’s demand to make money.”

To counter the lack of an authorization to instruct in ELSA aircraft some instructors are now charging $150 an hour for their time, but not for the aircraft.

One of the other eradicating factors of sport flying in Alaska is the lack of community. Marsh says that the FAA is not supporting the community and its lack of effort to continue to communicate with Sport Pilot CFIs and Sport Pilots.

“What this has done is drive Alaskans to fly outside to get their training and licenses, they then comeback to Alaska with their Sport Pilot license and fly by themselves,” said Marsh. “One of the reasons that flying ultralights was so popular in the past was that there was a community, the older more experienced pilots looked after the newer pilots and this created a camaraderie that attracted more people to the sport. Today that is no longer the case.”

FAA officials continually stress that the Sport Pilot industry is supposed to be self supporting but in reality, sport flying was better supported, and policed by itself when pilots were flying under Part 103 as ultralights.


Next Part Three in the series: The death of an aviation activity

Rob Stapleton can be reached at:

Dave B.,   OLM
STOL Cherokee 160
Challenger II  ('lil bird)  My LSA
Loehle P-5151 Mustang- in progress
Mitchell Wing U-2- in progress
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Dave B

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Part 3.

Part Three in a Triolgy: Sport Pilot stalled in Alaska over bureaucracy


By Rob Stapleton

Ten years ago here in Anchorage sport aviation was a popular pastime for hundreds of budding and experienced pilots—today the sport is all but dead in its popularity.

“We are having too much fun,” were the words of Mike Jacober the guru of weightshift instructors leading the way into flying ultralight aircraft at Birchwood Airport.

 The exclamation caught on and was even used by the editor of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s magazine the Experimenter after flying with Jacober at the annual Oshkosh Fly-in.

In 2000 when the word that the Federal Aviation Administration was considering a license for ultralight pilots that would be called something like Sport Pilot there were mixed feelings in the sport community.

Many saw this as a way to finally legitimize ultralight flying activities which were mainly scoffed by the general aviation industry. Others were skeptical and saw this as the FAA—much like the camel—getting its nose under the tent that would eventually manipulate the industry to kill it.

Today it is a rare sight to see one of those same aircraft flying from Birchwood.

In less than ten years-

During the days of Arctic Sparrow Aircraft there was a club; The Ultralight Flyers of Alaska. This club had over 150 members, elected officers and attended Birchwood Airport Association and Department of Transportation Aviation Division meetings.

Of this club 84 owned and flew their aircraft in club organized Poker Runs, and participated in landing and bomb drop contests during a yearly Alaska Solstice celebration.

Sport Pilot instructor Pete Marsh reflects on those days at Birchwood.

“Sport Pilot has completely destroyed the camaraderie, the club went away, instructors quit instructing, and now if a student wants instruction or desires to get a Sport Pilot license they will have to fly outside to California or Arizona to get it,” Marsh exclaims. “And the sad thing is the guy or gal will come back to Birchwood and be flying all alone.”

Another powered parachute instructor hasn’t flown his ELSA since last winter and it is still on snow skis. A student who was receiving instruction from another SP Instructor in the Mat-Su Valley is looking for an instructor because his instructor sold the ELSA and no longer has anything to fly, and has not completed his instruction, or taken a practical test.

In less than 10 years the community has imploded but not because there is a lack of interest, but rather because it was designed to do so.

Taking a look at the FAR/AIM book of regulations Sport Pilot and Sport Pilot Instructors under Part 61 even the most experienced of flight instructors are baffled by the explanations.

Look at flight time in types, endorsements and even what it takes to instruct a Sport Pilot student and ask determine and answer and then call the local FAA Flight Standards District Office. You won’t find an answer there.

Insurance is also a deterrent-

Bob Mackey with Falcon Insurance told listeners on the most popular sport flying internet radio magazine called Ultraflight Radio, that Alaska ELSA and LSA owners of weightshift and powered parachutes would never get insurance coverage (

And to further add to the list of nails-in-the-coffin for us here in Alaska, on Monday Sept. 20 the FAA’s Light Sport Division finally issued the LODA (letter of deviation authorization).

The LODA only allows Sport Pilot Instructors to apply for the authorization to instruct using their ELSA if they were instructing in the aircraft before the expiration (Jan. 31, 2010).

It also appears that any instruction can only be for good for flight reviews for Sport Pilots using aircraft under 500 pounds empty weight, that have maximum speed of 87 knots (Vh maximum speed with continuous power in level flight).

Under these circumstances only three or four aircraft in Alaska will be able to be used for instruction, if the FAA approves the instructor/owner’s application for the LODA.

The Proof-

The reality is in the numbers.

As of Sept. 2010 there are only 37 sport pilots in the state compared to 3,263 Private Pilots with 3,474 Sport Pilots nationally. Do the math that’s 1.1 percent of the total Private Pilots in Alaska, falling far under the FAA’s estimate for 2010 of an increase of 27 percent by 2020 from 2007 for Sport Pilots nationwide.

Another shocking reality is the mentality of the FAA officials who have worked hard to make this onerous and complicated. Take for example the comments of one official who says that the FAA doesn’t want the old junk ELSAs being passed around in the Sport Pilot instructional community, thus the reason for the restrictions in the LODA.

Doesn’t this reek of special interest control when federal employees carve regulations that require instructors to purchase newer, more expensive S-LSA, and LSA aircraft calling less than ten year old ultralights that transitioned after the Sport Pilot rule passed as Experimental Light Sport Aircraft--old junk?

Alaska instructors think so, and respond with the irony that a 60 year old standard category Piper J-3 Cub built with 1930’s technology can be used for instruction and flown by a Sport Pilot but newer high tech tested FAA certified Experimental LSA’s can’t.

The solution?-

As a bright spot on the horizon, Land and Sea Aviation at Merrill Field has just started offering Sport Pilot flight instruction in a Piper LSA, and have half a dozen students in their school. But even they are faced with who will be the examiner performing the student pilot’s practical test.

Every Sport Pilot Instructor in the weightshift and powered parachute categories that were polled for this story was no longer instructing. Many of their students are either getting instruction to become Private Pilots, or are selling their ELSA aircraft and going back to flying FAR Part 103 single seat aircraft.

Others, well they will fly illegally, no license, no instruction and we will likely only know about them after a tragedy reveals their identity.


Rob Stapleton may be reached at:

Dave B.,   OLM
STOL Cherokee 160
Challenger II  ('lil bird)  My LSA
Loehle P-5151 Mustang- in progress
Mitchell Wing U-2- in progress
Pitbull Gyroplane