January 4, 2017 UPDATE — The owner of N152SC has decided to sell the airplane; here is a link to the advertisement. Holladay Aviation is not involved in the sale. The plane is no longer available for flight training or rental.
Since we added the Sport Cruiser to our roster in June 2016, the response from existing and new customers has been mixed. The handful of students and certificated pilots who have flown the Sport Cruiser appear to have been satisfied with it, but our flight logs indicate that the majority of our customers prefer to fly the Cessna 150, 152 or 172. We can speculate on the reasons for this, but we’d appreciate your feedback.
What is the future of light sport at Holladay Aviation? It’s difficult to say, but it’s important to consider the following facts. According to FAA data, in 2015 there were approximately 590,000 pilots holding some level of FAA pilot certificate. Of those, there were 170,000 private pilots but only 5,000 sport pilots. It’s clear that the majority of people who choose to fly recreationally in the United States hold a private pilot certificate. Of the dozens of pilots we’ve trained over the years, only one has obtained a sport pilot certificate.
It’s also important to distinguish between “light sport aircraft” and “sport pilot certificate” because they are mutually exclusive. As the holder of a sport pilot certificate, or as the holder of a private pilot certificate or higher without a valid FAA medical certificate, you may only fly a light sport aircraft. But pilots who hold a private pilot certificate or higher with a valid FAA medical certificate can choose to fly a light sport aircraft, but are not limited to light sport aircraft. Most people who are healthy enough to fly an airplane can easily obtain a Third Class medical certificate and are therefore eligible for a private pilot certificate.
The notion that a sport pilot certificate is substantially less expensive or easier to obtain than a private pilot certificate is patently false. It is not a “half price pilot’s license” as many have called it. Even though the FAA only requires a minimum of 20 hours for a sport pilot certificate versus 40 for the private, the reality is that most people need at least 20 hours of training to prepare for their first solo in any airplane. After that, it’s another 5 hours of solo flight and at least another 5 hours to prepare for the sport pilot check ride — which is essentially identical to the private pilot check ride. By the time you do that, you’re at 30-plus hours, and for a nominal amount of extra time and money you can earn a private pilot certificate and have many more options and aircraft available to you. The bottom line is that unless you are unable (or unwilling) to obtain a medical certificate, it makes little sense to earn a sport pilot certificate unless you are planning to buy a light sport aircraft and don’t have any desire to fly at night or earn an instrument rating down the road. (Click here to read an article about Third Class Medical Reform, published by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.)
It will be interesting to see how the prices of new and used light sport aircraft change as the new FAA medical certification rules become effective this year, and more existing pilots are able to fly non-LSA without renewing their medicals. Will we purchase or lease another light sport aircraft? The answer is, only if it makes good business sense. We love little airplanes and appreciate new technology as much as anybody, but we also have a responsibility to ourselves, and to our customers, to make good decisions and sound investments. A late-model LSA with the required FAA paperwork to be used in a commercial operation like a flight school (S-LSA) can cost $100,000 or more. That means that the insured value is high, which drives up the cost of insurance both for our company as well as for renters. A classic Cessna 150 or 152 in excellent condition costs less than half of a new LSA. Another consideration is maintenance. Most aviation mechanics are qualified to inspect and repair a Cessna, but only a small number of them have the proper training and certification to work on newer light sport aircraft, which by and large are powered by a Rotax engine. There are a handful of reasonably priced classic airplanes that meet the FAA definition of light sport aircraft that we’d consider, but only if there was a valid business case for doing so.
We are very satisfied with our Cessna fleet and continue to make functional and aesthetic improvements to these economical, rugged and time-tested aircraft. Upgrades planned for 2017 include larger moving-map GPS displays and ADS-B traffic and weather. We hope you will appreciate these investments and that you will continue to enjoy flying the Cessna 150, 152 and 172 for years to come.