Can A Private Pilot Fly As A Sport Pilot?

Yes! Federal Aviation Administration states that the only things required to fly as a sport pilot are the following:

  • Be 17 years of age or older, though 16 years of age is acceptable if the application is to operate balloons or gliders
  • Hold an FAA 3rd class medical certificate or above (or have a current, valid driver’s license for light-sport aircraft)
  • Have the ability to speak, read, write and understand English
  • You must also be in possession of:
  • Current flight review that meets 14 CFR 61.56
  • Category/class ratings for the aircraft you want to pilot
  • Recent experience in carrying passengers

This is what is known as the Sport Pilot Rule, meaning that anyone in possession of both a private, recreation, commercial, or airline pilot certificate AND a valid, in-date medical is able to fly light sport aircraft legally and safely.

Provided you are already a certified pilot with at least a recreational certificate, you may even be able to fly without a current FAA medical, provided that you also meet the following criteria:

  • Hold a valid and current US driver’s license, state-issued
  • Hold at least a recreational pilot’s certificate
  • Not have been denied your most recent FAA medical certificate
  • Not have had your most recent medical revoked or otherwise suspended
  • Be competent to fly by self-assessment
  • Not have a medical condition that suggests you are an unsafe pilot
  • Holders of a Special Issuance Medical may only fly if it has not been withdrawn.

Do Sport Pilot Hours Count Towards Private Pilot Training?

Yes! According to the Federal Aviation Administration, as long as you have a student pilot certificate, it does not matter whether you are pursuing a sport or private license. All training time can be transferred over to the new course!

If you’re planning to do so, then get organized. Bear in mind that information such as any additional hours and the type of flights they were must have been correctly logged and signed by your instructor in order to count towards your certification.

It’s also important to remember that if you’re only looking to get a sport pilot certificate, you won’t be able to fly solo or perform an aircraft checkride in anything other than an approved light-sport aircraft.

However! Any flight hours that were logged during the night do not count towards your Private Pilot’s License, so you’ll have to discredit those when you declare your flight hours to whichever flight school you decide to attend. 

Remember, there are a lot of categories of flight hours you need to have logged in order to become a private pilot, which you might not have covered in your sport pilot training. It’s important to ensure you’ve covered them all before you complete the course!

What Is The Difference Between A Sport Pilot And Private Pilot?

There are a couple of notable differences between the two. Private Pilot Certification is perhaps the most popular, being as it is also the most traditional path to take. Requiring 40 hours of flight training, it is also the course that students pay more for, and must invest greater time and energy into in order to complete.

On the other hand, a Sport Pilot Certificate is fairly new, having only been introduced in 2004 for those who want to fly smaller, sleeker, easier-to-pilot aircraft. This is the primary difference between the two - you can only pilot a strict list of light-sport planes, with two or fewer seats and a smaller take-off weight limit.

However, one benefit to this is that the Sport Pilot Certification only requires 20 hours of flight training logged to earn it, which essentially amounts to half the work and a great deal less time and effort to achieve good results.

Likewise, you don’t need to get a medical certificate in order to obtain your Sport Pilot Certificate - which is a huge selling point for many who suffer from physical or mental illnesses any wouldn’t otherwise be able to fly. You do, however, require a valid and in-date US driver’s license instead!

It is also important to point out, though, that the Sport Pilot Certificate is restrictive as you cannot pursue further training with it. That said, the hours you log flying for the SPC count towards your overall achievements in reaching the Private Pilot certificate if you decide to, which you can then use to partake in more advanced training. 

Deciding between the two is fairly easy: do you want to pilot large planes that carry passengers, or eventually teach other pilots and help them gain certification? Then you’ll need the Private Pilot Certificate!

Otherwise, if it’s just “personal” planes you’re looking to pilot, and you don’t mind if they’re on the lightweight side, then you’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort just doing the Sport Pilot course.