LightSportGyroplanes.comSaturday October 24, 2020
Date: April 2, 2014
SLSA Gyroplanes: A Disparity
by Ira McComic
In 2004, when the FAA implemented the Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot (LSA/SP) regulations, those regulations allowed Sport Pilots to fly a variety of light-sport aircraft: airplanes, gliders, lighter-than-air balloons and airships, powered parachutes, weight-shift-control aircraft, and gyroplanes. All of those categories and classes of light-sport aircraft—except for one class—were allowed to be factory-built in accordance with an industry consensus standard and certificated with a Special airworthiness certificate in the Light-Sport category (SLSA). The lone exception was the gyroplane class. Unlike all other light-sport aircraft, FAA regulations restrict gyroplanes from being factory-built and certificated as SLSA.
The year 2014 marks the ten-year anniversary of the LSA/SP regulations. Light-sport aircraft, specifically intended for Sport Pilots, have proven popular. There are now thousands of licensed Sport Pilots. Many of these persons wouldn’t be flying without those regulations. The sales and services provisioning Sport Pilots have benefited the US economy.
Looking to the US, other countries have implemented similar regulations and have seen similar success. Yet, despite pioneering the Light-Sport Aircraft/Sport Pilot era, the US lags those countries when it comes to light-sport gyroplanes. That shortcoming is due to a regulatory disparity in the LSA/SP regulations, which was put there at the beginning of those regulations, and ten years later, is still stalling the full benefit of those regulations in the US. That disparity, from a practical viewpoint, prevents Sport Pilots from flying factory-built gyroplanes.
The FAA allows pilots to fly factory-built gyroplanes that are type certificated. However, the last time a type certificated gyroplane was manufactured in the US was nearly fifty years ago. Today, there are less than a dozen of these gyroplanes still in existence in the entire country, some only in museums, and few of them of them are still flyable. In any case, and more directly related to the issue, existing type certificated gyroplanes don’t meet the definition of a light-sport gyroplane and therefore can’t be flown by Sport Pilots.
Although an alternative for Sport Pilots who want to fly factory-built gyroplanes is to fly ones that meet the definition of light-sport in FAA Part 1 and that are certificated as Experimental Exhibition, an Experimental Exhibition airworthiness certificate imposes such severe restrictions on the operation of an aircraft—such as where and when the aircraft may be flown without advance notice to the FAA and limiting the circumstances for carrying a passenger—that it’s impractical for ordinary recreational flying.
Consequently, the effective result of the confluence of existing regulations is an odd incongruity. The regulations allow some pilots, those with a Private Pilot or higher-level license, to fly Experimental gyroplanes, and they may do so without a rating in gyroplanes or even any training in them. Furthermore, the regulations allow persons who have no pilot license at all to fly factory-built ultralight gyrocraft, which aren’t required to have any kind of aircraft certification. Yet, the regulations effectively prevent Sport Pilots from flying factory-built gyroplanes, even though those gyroplanes would be required to be not only certificated but would also require the pilots to have specific training in gyroplanes to fly them.
In practical terms, Sport Pilots who want to fly gyroplanes have only one recourse: gyroplanes certificated as Experimental Amateur-Built. And because Experimental aircraft aren’t allowed by regulations to be rented, a Sport Pilot is further restricted in his options for flying gyroplanes. Without the option to rent a gyroplane, a Sport Pilot must make the financial commitment to purchase one in order to fly these aircraft; in other words, he must buy one to fly one.
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