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A recreational pilot certificate only allows flights within 50 miles of home airport. A sport certificate has no distance limits even though it's easier to get - no medical certificate, less flying time and less instruction. What's the reason?

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  • $\begingroup$ The recreational pilot certificate never really caught on. As of October 2017 there are only 220 recreational pilots compared to 5,157 sport pilot certificates. I think the reasons for this are reflected in your question. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilot_certification_in_the_United_States $\endgroup$ – DLH Feb 13 '19 at 22:53
  • $\begingroup$ Also supposedly the LSA category weight limit will be raised to 3,600 pounds but we will have to see if that actually happens. The new limit would mean that most trainer aircraft like Piper Cherokees and Cessna 172s would be considered light sport aircraft and you could train for a sport certificate using these common rental aircraft. Source: avweb.com/avwebflash/news/… $\endgroup$ – DLH Feb 13 '19 at 23:02
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The Recreational Pilot PTS and Sport Pilot PTS look nearly identical, but the key to your question can be found under AREAS OF OPERATION, Section I. PREFLIGHT PREPARATION. Sport Pilots are required to demonstrate "Cross-Country Flight Planning", whereas Recreational Pilots are not.

Since they are not required to demonstrate the ability to plan a cross-country flight, unlike Sport or Private pilots, Recreational pilots are not allowed to perform them without an additional endorsement.

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  • $\begingroup$ All of the answers and comments were helpful. Thanks all. This was the first that answered my original question so I gave it the checkmark. I knew when I asked the question that a rec cert could be endorsed for cross country. Can it get a blanket endorsement saying, in effect, that the rec pilot cert holder knows all the sport pilot stuff he was missing and should be able to fly anywhere, any time from now on, or is it limited to a specific destination one time only? $\endgroup$ – stretch Feb 18 '19 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ FAR 61.101(c)(3) does not specify any time, location or distance limits to the RPL cross-country endorsement, but the CFI could add some of their own, similar to a student cross-country solo endorsement. If you're going to do enough training for a CFI to consider a blanket endorsement, why not just upgrade to a PPL? $\endgroup$ – StephenS Feb 18 '19 at 23:09
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Because a sport pilot certificate requires the applicant to undergo at least three hours of cross country flight training whereas a recreational pilot certificate does not have that requirement.

I always got the impression that a recreational pilot certificate was essentially for people who had soloed and did not want to accomplish any other aviation goals save flying around their local airport. Instruction is restricted to pre-solo aeronautical knowledge and skills. It’s pretty limited in capability compared with a private pilot certificate, which explains why there are less than 600 recreational pilots registered by the FAA.

And one can expand a recreational pilot certificate to permit PIC on cross country flights over 50 nm, but this will require additional training and logbook endorsements by an instructor

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To put it short, the Recreational Pilot certificate allows you to fly common aircraft such as the Cessna 152. The Sport Pilot certificate was only created recently (2004), and it restricts the owner to Light Sports Aircraft - 1300 lbs MTOW or less.

Pilots on a budget normally get a well-used plane, and that's rarely an option for LSA, just because they're all quite new. Right now a well-used light aircraft can still be bought cheaper than a new LSA. So the Recreational path still has a lower financial entry barrier.

Long-term, the Sport cert appears to be meant to displace the Recreational. LSA restrictions are more practical and reasonable, given modern-day technology. Anyone who can't find a LSA that's good enough for them isn't likely to be satisfied with Recreational Pilot restrictions either, and will go for the proper PPL.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks @Therac. My question was only about the distance limit. I was aiming for PPL long ago, then my life got complicated: marriage, children, etc. Now I'm ready to resume and I find that two new pilot certificate classes have been added. Sport pilot would be OK for me, at least for now, but the LSAs are big bucks to buy and there aren't all that many to rent. So I guess my question is more about the unfairness of it all. $\endgroup$ – stretch Feb 13 '19 at 22:19
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Because the spirit of the regulations are a bit different and there is some history tied to this. The recreational pilot cert allows you to fly a lot of lighter common GA planes (J-3 Cub etc.) but limits you to one passenger and a local area. The idea being that the training is reduced a bit but you dont really need to worry about complex navigation, long range weather planning or any of the stuff that comes with flying a capable plane, far. The cert was intended mostly for local weekend fun in aircraft that were already easily rented.

The sport pilot cert was intended to birth a whole slew of aircraft but the type never really took off. Since new limitations were in place the hope was makers would build new planes but the reality was that a new sport plane cost well more than a nice used GA plane. You could often take the difference and get a full PPL as well as an instrument rating and still have some left over. Sport planes are fairly useable in some regards and pretty docile so the training was matched to the intended plane more than to complete with recreational.

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  • $\begingroup$ A sport pilot can only fly LSAs, which excludes the C172 and most other 'typical' GA aircraft, if only because of the MTOW limitation of 1320lbs. There are rumors about the FAA increasing that limit to include more aircraft, but it hasn't happened yet. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 13 '19 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Many aspiring pilots can't get a medical cert or use BasicMed, so SPL is their only option. LSA rentals seem to be cheaper around here than non-LSA rentals, and you need fewer hours to boot, so the total cost of training should be significantly less than a PPL even for those without medical issues--if they can live with the limitations. $\endgroup$ – StephenS Feb 13 '19 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ I think there is a typo in your second sentence. It refers to sport pilot certificates when you mean recreational pilot certificates. There are no limitations on distance for sport pilots but they are limited to aircraft with only two seats. Recreational pilots may fly in aircraft certificated for up to four passengers and are limited to local flights unless they get training and an endorsement for cross-country flights. $\endgroup$ – JScarry Feb 14 '19 at 22:07

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