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Joining sport and recreational aviation

RA-Aus flight training outline:
3-axis aeroplanes, trikes and powered parachutes

Rev. 28 — page content was last updated 21 November 2014
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Module content

1. Student entry conditions
2. Ground and flight programs at flight training facilities
3. Outline of the flight training program
4. Competency, ground and flight tests
5. Certificate endorsements
6. Fees charged by the FTF
7. Costs charged by Recreational Aviation Australia
8. Airfield security ID
9. After you get your Pilot Certificate
10. Pilot licence or pilot certificate?
11. Procedure for holders of a valid pilot licence
12. Airservices Australia — RA-Aus flight training scholarship program

1. Student entry conditions

A student cannot fly as pilot-in-command of an RA-Aus aircraft (i.e. fly solo) until she/he has attained the age of 15* and until a Student Pilot Certificateis issued. Up to three hours dual instruction can be undertaken before applying for a Student Pilot Certificate and a further six hours dual instruction may be flown while waiting for the document. However, an intending student can apply for RA-Aus membership and issue of a Student Pilot Certificate, before selecting a particular flight school, by downloading the form Application for membership – Student Pilot Certificate from the RA-Aus website and returning it to the RA-Aus office. If the applicant is under 18 years of age a parent must also sign the application.

*Note: thus a person would have to be at least 14 years old before it is practicable to commence flight training; in all Australian states the minimum age for a learning to drive permit is 16.

Generally, as long as you are in reasonable physical and mental condition — equivalent to that needed to hold (and maintain) an Australian private vehicle driver licence — you can become a member of a sport and recreational aviation association and learn to fly an Australian sport and recreational aircraft, just for the fun of it, and at your own pace and convenience. Your medical fitness does not need to be confirmed by a designated aviation medical examiner, nor do you need a medical certificate from your own general practitioner; but you must sign a declaration that your medical fitness is at least equivalent to that needed for the driver licence. For more information on the physical condition required for the private vehicle driver licence see 'Assessing fitness to drive'.

A student pilot must possess a RA-Aus Operations Manual (which will be issued automatically by RA-Aus on joining) and a log book, and it is recommended that a study manual is also purchased. There are a number of titles available or you can use the tutorials on this website. You may also wish to purchase maps and other reference materials. When you start training, the school should issue you with a training package that contains flight notes produced by the school including a Pilot's Operating Handbook* or aircraft Flight Manual for the training aircraft and a study manual.

*Note: a Pilot's Operating Handbook is a basic form of aircraft Flight Manual established by the United States General Aviation Manufacturer's Association in 1975.

The RA-Aus Operations Manager may refuse to accept an application for a Student Pilot Certificate or a Pilot Certificate if it is known that the applicant has a history of aviation regulation contravention or flying activities that might bring the good name of RA-Aus and its members into disrepute.

2. Ground and flight programs at flight training facilities

Classroom studiesAll forms of flight are potentially hazardous, but the skills of safe flight can be readily mastered by anyone who has the necessary enthusiasm and motivation, and consequently willing to devote some effort to it. Remember the regulations expect that you are an 'informed participant'; being a person aware of the risks involved in a particular form of sport and recreational aviation and willing to accept those risks.

The training programs at flight training facilities [FTFs] comprise a ground study program and an in-flight program, but much of the ground study program is usually done in your own time, under direction from your instructor. The principles learned on the ground are assimilated in the flight program so that you, the student pilot, should always be comfortably aware of the consequences of each of your actions, or inactions. Each in-flight lesson entails flight time of about 45 minutes plus pre-flight and post-flight briefings; thus the total time at the FTF for each flying lesson will be about two hours. Flight training will be conducted in both the airfield circuit area and a local training area designated by the school; except if a cross country navigation exercise [navex] is involved. The flight time for a longer navex may be 90 minutes or more. You can of course opt for two flying lessons in each day; i.e. a full time schedule. More than two in-flight lessons in one day is probably unproductive, as are lesson durations that exceed 45 minutes — excepting an advanced navex.

3. Outline of the flight training program

The Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority [CASA] Flight Instructor Manual issue 2 (December 2006) is available in PDF format (89 pages) and although it is intended primarily for flight instructors, a student will find it is well worth studying. The manual is written for 3-axis fixed wing aeroplanes but the programs for weight-shift trikes and powered parachutes are similar. The exercise sequence outlined in the CASA manual is as follows:
  • Familiarisation with the aeroplane and air experience
  • Preparation for flight
  • Taxiing
  • Operation of controls
  • Straight and level flight
  • Climbing
  • Descending
  • Turning
  • Stalling
  • Sideslipping
  • Take-off
  • Approach and landing
  • Spin prevention and spiral dives
  • First solo
  • Emergency and special procedures
  • Pilot navigation
  • Instrument flying
  • Night flying
The RA-Aus syllabus is similar, though the last two items covering instrument flying and night flying are not included in any sport and recreational flight training program because such aircraft are prohibited to fly in meteorological conditions that mandate flight by instruments only, nor may they be flown after last light or before first light.

The ground study program, though broad-ranging, does not require any particular educational qualification except for reasonable proficiency in spoken and written English. It covers — in general terms — the theory of flight, the atmosphere and aviation meteorology, aircraft instruments, engine handling, radio communication procedures, flight planning and navigation, air law and basic (level 1) aircraft maintenance plus coping with emergencies.

The diagram below shows an indication of the practical and exam components required to attain the Pilot Certificate. Note that the hours shown represent the legal minimum required. More often than not, most student pilots will take longer than this to achieve competency before they can first fly solo, and before they can attempt the Pilot Certificate flying test.

Training time-line

The end of the ab initio training period could be regarded as reaching a competence level equivalent to that required for the day VFR private pilot licence; i.e. Pilot Certificate plus the navigation, communications and passenger endorsements. Perhaps you should not aspire to acquire extra endorsements until you have around 50 hours solo experience in your logbook – unless there is a pressing need to do so. Note that the HP (high performance) and LP (low performance) endorsements listed in the image under 'Other endorsements' are no longer relevant.

4. Competency, ground and flight tests

All aspects of your performance and progress should be measured objectively, and continuously, against a competency standard required by RA-Aus. There are only three ground examinations and one formal flight test involved in the initial program. The first ground examination is a simple test on the rules of the air (i.e. the traffic rules), which must be passed before your first solo flight. The second is the RA-Aus Basic Aeronautical Knowledge (BAK) test, which must be passed before the Recreational Aviation Australia Pilot Certificate can be issued.

Also prior to issue of a Pilot Certificate, the student pilot must pass the RA-Aus examination on human factors, airmanship and decision-making.

The written examinations are generally 'multiple choice', which require you to select one clear answer from three or four possible answers. Your instructor will endeavour to make sure you know your subject beforehand. Also, the flight tests are only undertaken when your instructor believes you have acquired the necessary competencies and recommends to the facility's Chief Flying Instructor [CFI] that you are ready, so you will not be undertaking a flight test unless you are most likely to pass. The flight test is conducted by the CFI to formally assess your airmanship and ability to manipulate the aircraft safely. The Chief Flying Instructor is responsible to the association's Operations Manager — and to you of course — for your ground training, your flight training and your safety at all times.

Flight instruction — preflight check

After success in the flight test and BAK you are qualified, in one of the three major RA-Aus aircraft groups (i.e. Group A 3-axis, Group B weight-shift trikes or Group D powered parachute) to fly within a radius of 25 nautical miles from the airfield. You are not yet qualified to carry passengers. There are two other Pilot Certificate aircraft group ratings; Group F for foot-launched backpack engine-powered parachutes with an empty weight exceeding 70 kg (HGFA are responsible for the aircraft of 70 kg or less) and Group C for combined control (i.e. combined weight-shift and aerodynamic control inputs) aircraft.

Incidently, Australia has a long history in flight training. The first pilot or aviator's certificate was issued 17 November 1911, by the Aerial League of Australia, to William Hart for satisfactory completion of the certificate flight test — five continuous figure eights within a 500 metre circuit. It wasn't until 1921, after the 1921 Air Navigation Act came into being (and the establishment of a network of 60 landing grounds for the aerial mail services was commenced), that government-controlled civil pilot's licence and aircraft register systems were introduced "to reduce reckless flying and the number of air fatalities".

The first Commercial Pilot's Licence was issued in 1921, by the newly established Department of Civil Aviation, to Norman Brearley, ex-WW1 pilot and founder of Australia's first regular airmail and passenger service — West Australian Airways which later became Australian National Airways and, finally, Ansett-ANA.

5. Certificate endorsements

When a newly qualified, 3-axis group A pilot receives their Pilot Certificate, it may carry endorsements reflecting the configuration of the aircraft type in which the person trained or is qualified. Those initial endorsements may be:
  • tail wheel; for aircraft with a tail wheel or tail-skid undercarriage rather than the normal nose wheel undercarriage;
  • and perhaps two-stroke engine; if training in an aircraft with a two-stroke engine rather than the normal four-stroke.
If you wish to undertake flights that will take you more than 25 nautical miles from the original point of departure you must get a navigation or cross country endorsement. This entails both a flight test and a written examination covering flight planning, meteorology, navigation, and flight rules and procedures. Also you must have accumulated a minimum 10 hours cross country navigation flight training including a minimum two hours solo navex experience.

You need to gain some familiarity with the control, advisory and information services available from the various air traffic service units of Airservices Australia. Instruction will be provided in the on-line acquisition of weather briefings and current advisory notices to airmen [NOTAM] from Airservices Australia and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Airaile over Narromine
For safety all pilots should obtain a radio operator endorsement, which also allows you more freedom, and ease, of flight — for instance if you want to visit our annual fly-in. It only entails some study of the radio communications procedures in Class G airspace and at non-controlled aerodromes, and a written and oral test by an RA-Aus instructor. In most FTFs you will start learning some radio procedures from your first flight.

You can qualify for a passenger carrying endorsement to your Pilot Certificate after you have a total of 10 hours solo (i.e. as pilot in command [PIC]), which must include two hours in a RA-Aus two-seat aircraft. The CFI has to be convinced of your personal maturity and you also have to do a flight test to check that you know how to look after your passenger. The pre-flight planning of fuel requirements, passenger and baggage arrangement, assessment of runway and air density conditions, calculation of aircraft weight and balance, and the physical pre-flight airworthiness checking of the aircraft is emphasised, to ensure the flight will be operated safely. All RA-Aus flight training facilities offer the navigation, passenger and radio endorsements.

At the conclusion of the basic program you, as a certificated RA-Aus pilot, will be fit to carry out the level 1 maintenance; to check the aircraft's airworthiness by reviewing the maintenance release and maintenance log; to do the daily and pre-flight inspections of the aircraft. If you also have the cross country endorsement then you can also fly — in daylight and reasonable weather under the visual flight rules [VFR] — anywhere within Australia. Generally you will be restricted to fly below 10 000 feet above mean sea level, to stay within Class G airspace unless you fulfil some specific requirements of Airservices Australia (the air traffic management organisation), and not fly over towns in some recreational aircraft categories, or designated remote areas, or other prohibited or restricted areas. For fuller airspace information see RA-Aus/HGFA/ASRA powered aircraft flight operations and the other material on that web page.

6. Fees charged by the FTF

The flight hours required by an individual vary, particularly according to the flight frequency, i.e. generally someone flying just three or four hours each month will need more hours than someone flying three or four hours every week. Most people, not undertaking a full-time schedule, achieve the Pilot Certificate within 3–5 months.

For a person who is not the holder of a valid International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) pilot licence (which in Australia would be a CASA licence), RA-Aus regulations require a minimum 20 hours general flying training, including a minimum of 5 hours flying as pilot in command, i.e. solo, before the Pilot Certificate flight test and if this minimum was achieved then the total flying costs would be around A$3000 to A$4000 including the Australian Goods & Services Tax. (The schools charge from $150 to perhaps $220 per flight hour depending on the type of aircraft employed and other factors.) But the typical student time is 15–20 hours flying with an instructor and 8–10 hours solo flying and, like learning to drive, a few students will take a lot longer to achieve a satisfactory competency level in all the required training sequences. The costs you will incur depend chiefly on flight hours and the aircraft type flown. Check the flight training facilities for the FTFs near you, or near where you plan to take a vacation. Accessing the flight school websites may provide comparative information on rates for their types of training aircraft.

Instead of charging an hourly rate, some FTFs may offer a fixed-price package, or a package negotiated to fit your needs, which you should assess carefully — bearing in mind the range of qualification times mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

There will also be out-of-pocket expenses for purchase of study manuals and navigation materials. Perhaps you should also consider purchasing your own helmet and communications headset early in your training period.

In this guide I have included the text of a brochure issued to prospective clients by a flight training facility. You should read this document, which rightly points out that when selecting a flight school, there are aspects other than fees to be considered. Advice is given on setting goals, picking aircraft types to train in, getting started, selecting a school and hints on how training actually happens.

Not particularly highlighted in the school brochure is the need for the student to be happy with the instructor's personality and training style — not easy to assess on initial contact. The training should reinforce your view that your decision to learn to fly is a wise one and not be a de-motivating experience. Expect value in return for your expenditure — if you are not happy with the customer service provided by the FTF, inform the CFI of your needs; if you are still dissatisfied, take your custom to another school.

It is also important that the student takes responsibility for their own learning and, with that in mind, I have included a document, titled "Learning to fly: a students viewpoint", written by Dr Carol Richards, a recreational aviation enthusiast and former RA-Aus board member who did much to develop the Airservices Australia–RA-Aus flight training scholarship program for young people.

7. Costs charged by Recreational Aviation Australia

Before you can be issued with an RA-Aus Student Pilot Certificate or Pilot Certificate you must be a member of Recreational Aviation Australia and carry the third party legal liability insurance protection. This has been arranged by RA-Aus to cover members for damage to other people's property or person.

The RA-Aus fee schedule issued July 2014, including GST, is:

  • Student pilot joining fee: $210.00; which includes the issue of the Student Pilot Certificate, third party insurance cover, Operations and Technical Manuals, first 12 months RA-Aus membership and 12 months subscription to the monthly Sport Pilot magazine. This journal is the official means of RA-Aus board and executive communication to the members of the association.

  • Issue of Pilot Certificate on qualification:  no charge

  • Pilot Certificate endorsements:  no charge

  • Annual Pilot membership renewal: $210.00
    (which includes third party insurance cover, amendment service for the Operations and Technical Manuals, and the annual subscription to the monthly journal Sport Pilot.)

8. Airfield security ID

An aviation security identification card [ASIC] must be worn by all persons who need access to the secure parts of some Australian aerodromes. A flight school will advise if students need an ASIC and the RA-Aus staff will handle an ASIC application. The RA-Aus fee for this members-only service is $200, which includes the service charges from the various police, security authorities and the card manufacturer. Download the application form.

9. After you get your Pilot Certificate

Most pilots do not buy their own aircraft initially but prefer to join a club where members can hire an aircraft from an associated school, usually paying a flight time hourly charge. One thing about joining a club, you will be well entertained when the members get together to swap tall stories! There are quite a number of sport and recreational clubs in Australia but they normally tend to focus on one aircraft class — 3-axis powered aeroplanes, sailplanes, gyroplanes, hang gliders, trikes, powered parachutes and so on. Your initial RA-Aus Pilot Certificate usually covers only that aircraft group rating in which you qualified.

If you wish to extend the category of recreational aircraft that you are qualified to fly you will need further instruction in the chosen group before that aircraft group rating can be added to your Pilot Certificate. You can also add endorsements for formation flying, waterborne/amphibian operations and others — so there is ample potential to spread your wings. I will cover this in the advanced flight training section of this guide.

To continue holding an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate you must remain a financial member of RA-Aus, remain medically fit and undertake a biennial ultralight flight review [BFR] with a Senior Instructor or Pilot Examiner. This two-yearly review helps pilots identify any deficiencies in competency which may have developed. See the Operations Manual section 2.07, subsections 4–5.

Whether you extend your qualifications or not, you will experience a whole new world of fun with many varied activities within the recreational aviation community. Some of the internet discussion forums may provide rewarding participation.

10. Pilot licence or pilot certificate?

To compare the RA-Aus training program with the general aviation program for their Private Pilot Licence we recommend you visit CASA's Learning to fly page. While there, look at the 'Licence Requirements and Entitlements' section.

Some Australian-designed aircraft, such as the Jabiru, may be registered as a sport and recreational aviation aircraft or as a general aviation aircraft. In fact, many Jabirus are used in flying training organisations from both camps so it is easy to compare the cost of attaining a Private Pilot Licence with that of attaining an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate.

It is interesting to note that in September 2004, the United States Federal Aviation Administration [FAA] introduced their Sport Pilot Certificate which seems to be having a beneficial impact on US recreational aviation and the associated aircraft manufacturing/distribution industry, with more than 5000 SPCs current in early 2014. The FAA Sport Pilot Certificate is very similar to the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate — the same driver's licence medical standard, the same minimum dual (15) and solo (5) training hours before qualification, and the same concept of only one passenger and maximum aircraft weights — 600 kg for a landplane, 650 kg for a seaplane.

Since about 1998 CASA has been proposing the introduction of a Recreational Pilot Licence (RPL) within the General Aviation environment. This came into being on 1 September 2014. The RPL is, in many respects, similar to the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate and might provide an alternate path for those who might wish to join sport and recreational aviation without going along the RAAO path. This is not the 'parallel path principle' laid out in the proposed CASR Part 103, implementation of which has also been expected for a number of years. The proposed RPL is based on the USA's existing (but most unsuccessful) Recreational Pilot Certificate, where only about 200 US pilots (just 0.03% of all US pilots) were still certificated 22 years after the introduction of the classification. The FAA's Sport Pilot Certificate has been much more successful.

Note: the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) documentation uses the term 'pilot licence' and the British Commonwealth nations of Canada, Britain and Australia employ the 'licence' term for the various pilot qualification documents issued by national airworthiness authorities — such as the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority. A 'licence' is a permit from a government authority to do something, which could be to go fishing or to go flying. The United States Federal Aviation Administration uses the term 'airmen certification', e.g Sport Pilot Certificate, Recreational Pilot Certificate, Private Pilot Certificate etc. A 'certificate' is a document issued by an authority that formally attests to the fulfilment of the requirements — or the achievement of the proficiencies — necessary for certification. The Australian recreational aviation administration organisations issue Pilot Certificates on qualification.

11. Procedure for holders of a valid pilot licence

Holders of a valid aeroplane pilot licence (e.g. PPL, CPL, ATPL) who wish to obtain an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate can undertake conversion training at an RA-Aus flight training facility to gain familiarity with the flight characteristics of very light aircraft. Prior to undertaking the flight test for the issue of a Pilot Certificate and endorsements, an applicant must complete such dual training as deemed necessary by a CFI and, in any case, shall have not less than 5 hours experience, in an aeroplane registerable with RA-Aus, which shall include a minimum of one hour solo. Of course, licence holders converting to powered parachutes or weight-shift aircraft may need considerably more than five hours of training.

Holders of a pilot licence which is no longer valid because the period of effectiveness of the last biennial flight review or class 2 medical certificate has lapsed, are also eligible to apply for the Pilot Certificate, however it is likely that lack of recency will affect the conversion flight time necessary. An aviation medical certificate is not required but an RA-Aus pilot must be medically fit to a standard equivalent to that required to hold a private motor vehicle driver's licence in Australia. For more information on the physical condition required for a private vehicle driver licence see 'Assessing fitness to drive'. It is the responsibility of all Pilot Certificate holders to report to RA-Aus any change in their health status which would cause them to be below that minimum health standard required.

Persons who have not completed their PPL training may utilise their GA training hours towards the RA-Aus Pilot Certificate. However, this depends on acquiring in excess of the minimum 20 hours experience including a minimum of 5 hours solo and the candidate must also demonstrate to the CFI that they successfully meet the standard for the issue of an RA-Aus Pilot Certificate. It may also be necessary to do the RA-Aus Basic Aeronautical Knowledge written test.

Read paragraph 2 of the Flight Crew Certificate document in the Operations Manual. Email the RA-Aus Operations Manager or telephone 02 6280 4700 to discuss your needs.

12. Airservices Australia — RA-Aus flight training scholarship program

The aims of the Airservices Australia/RA-Aus joint scholarship program are to:
  • introduce young people to the sport of recreational aviation
  • develop responsible and safe flying attitudes
  • offer a basis of aviation knowledge for advancement and careers in recreational, military or general commercial aviation
  • assist young people to complete their flying training at minimal cost
  • encourage young people to become active long-term members of the recreational aviation community.

For more infomation visit the RA-Aus GYFTS page.

The next module in this 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series is an outline of the 'air experience flight'.

This 'Joining sport and recreational aviation' series

Copyright © 2000-2014 John Brandon     [contact information]

Training timeline image by RA-Aus member Dave Gardiner