"The general public and the younger general aviator pilots, they hardly know what this category is right now," Parle said.
Easier to get licensed
Most buyers are in the 65 to 80 age range, who have been flying for decades. In many cases, the pilot fails the medical test due to health problems ? having high blood pressure, diabetes, a pacemaker, or bypass surgery ? and is no longer permitted to fly a general aviation aircraft.
With a sport aircraft, "as long as you can drive, you can fly," Parle said. To train for flying a sports plane, all that's required is a valid driver's license.
The FAA confirmed that someone can obtain a sport-plane license if they fail a medical test. However, Knapinski of the EAA said someone in such a situation still would need to get a special issuance medical certificate from the FAA, which assesses whether the person is safe to fly.
It provides hope for people like Deborah and Bill Stegemann.
A retired army aviator, Bill has been flying for 42 years and he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.
"I know when my husband gets to the point when he can't pass his medical, there's still options, other than me getting my license," Deborah said. "It's fabulous that the older pilots can continue flying, if they have a few health issues and can't pass the medical. This is a part of their life, and you take away something that has been with them for 30 to 40 years, and it's like cutting a piece out of themselves."
Parle expects sport planes to become very popular among recreational pilots and flying instructors.
"Because of the reduced operating costs and how refined these vehicles are for the money, we believe the category is going to have an impact on the small, single-engine aircraft," he said.
"This is the hottest category, period. That said, I don't believe the critical mass has been obtained yet."
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