updated 7/20/2004 2:16:31 PM ET 2004-07-20T18:16:31

The Federal Aviation Administration announced new safety rules Tuesday for light recreational aircraft like balloons, powered parachutes and gliders -- a victory for private aviation groups that have long sought to lower the hurdles to flying entry-level aircraft.

Under the rules, an aviation enthusiast will be able to obtain a sport pilot license with lower training requirements than for a private pilot's license. The FAA said generally light sport aircraft are safer than private aircraft because they fly so low and so slow.

"We want to make aviation safe and affordable for recreational pilots," said Marion Blakey, FAA administrator. She said the rule "reduces the barriers to becoming a pilot and an aircraft owner while assuring that safety will always be the priority."

Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman David Berkley said the new rules will make it cheaper and faster to get a license to fly.

"It really does promote access to the dream of flight," Berkley said.

Private pilots are required to have 40 hours of training and a medical certificate from the government. To qualify for a sport pilot's license, a candidate will need 20 hours of training and a valid driver's license.

The new rules cover aircraft that weigh no more than 1,320 lbs. and have a level-flight speed of no more than 120 knots. Included are gyroplanes, powered parachutes, balloons, certain gliders and some two-seater planes, depending on the number of occupants, weight and airspeed.

Earl Lawrence, the EAA's vice president of regulatory affairs, said the rules also ease the regulatory requirements for manufacturers, opening a mass market for "low and slow" planes.

"It allows them to produce and bring into the marketplace less expensive airplanes that meet the weight limitations of sport aircraft," Lawrence said.

Most "low and slow" recreational aircraft are now built by individuals from kits, Lawrence said.

Currently, he said, certification accounts for about half the cost of bringing an airplane to market. It can take years for aircraft makers to prove to the inspectors that every part on the plane works, Lawrence said. FAA inspectors must certify the manufacturing plant and each component as it's being built.

The new rules will require manufacturers to build the plane to a standard, develop quality control standards and establish ways to recall the planes. The rules will require an FAA inspector or designee to inspect the plane at point of sale to make sure it will fly, he said.

The new regulations will also allow people to buy insurance and register light aircraft, which in turn will enable them to finance purchases of the planes, Lawrence said.

The Piper Cub -- a small two-seater introduced in 1936 -- would qualify as a sport plane. A Piper Cub hangs in the FAA lobby in Washington.

The new rule will also puts fewer restrictions on people who want to fly another kind of plane, the ultralight. An ultralight is defined as a single-seat flying machine that weighs less than 254 pounds, carries no more than 5 gallons of fuel and has a top speed of 63 miles per hour. A motorized hang glider, for example, is an ultralight.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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