Attracting new pilots: Airplanes go light

-- May 27--Inside a brightly lit hangar at Yingling Aviation on Tuesday, two Cessna Aircraft 162 Skycatchers were delivered to the Experimental Aircraft Association, an industry trade group. Pilots will fly the planes to EAA headquarters in...


The FAA has adopted an entry-level pilot license called a sport-pilot certificate. Pilots have fewer requirements to meet but must operate with more restrictions than private-pilot certificate holders.

They also must fly aircraft that meet light sport aircraft definitions. Among other requirements, the planes can't weigh more than 1,320 pounds, carry more than two people or cruise faster than 138 mph.

Sport pilots can go on to earn their private, instrument, multiengine licenses and so on, said EAA chairman Tom Poberezny said.

"The hardest thing in aviation is to take that first step," Poberezny said. "Once you do, you're hooked."

Flight training

At least two Wichita flight schools are adding Skycatchers as training aircraft.

Late next week, Yingling -- a Cessna authorized delivery center for the Skycatchers -- will have one for use in flight training.

Steve Dunne, president of Midwest Corporate Aviation Aircraft Sales, a Cessna dealer, has six on order. He's sold two of them. The other four will be used in flight training or put into inventory for sale.

"I see it revolutionizing the training side," Dunne said.

A sport license reduces the flight hours needed to earn a license, Dunne said.

"Someone can go out, fly around and build time sooner," he said.

Increasing the number of pilots can also help the used- and new-aircraft markets as pilots go on to buy their own aircraft, Dunne said.

But David Dewhirst, president of Sabris Corp., a flight management company, questions the savings for students and flight schools.

A late-model used Cessna 172 is less expensive than a new light sport aircraft, he said.

And the difference in operating costs will be outweighed by the longer time it would take during a lesson to fly from an airport like Wichita Mid-Continent to a practice area for instruction, Dewhirst said. That will cut down on actual instruction time.

"I would be surprised to see the cost of a light sport license to be significantly less than the cost of a private pilot certificate," Dewhirst said.

Kansas Pilots Association president Al Madero said the light sport category has advantages. He likes that it will encourage people to fly and keep older pilots flying because holders of sport pilot certificates don't need an FAA medical certificate.

"There's no problem with learning to fly in a little light airplane," Madero said. "Once you learn the basics of flying, it's easier to step up to a heavier airplane."

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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