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Rules and Regulations
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The freedom to fly, whether general aviation, light sport aircraft, or ultralights, involves a personal responsibility to practice safety on the ground, as well as in the air, and to observe local, state and Federal rules and regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the national airspace system. This also includes pilot and aircraft requirements for the various classes of aircraft. The states control airport construction, maintenance, and operation. In addition, some states have laws concerning insurance requirements. Some local and county governments have ordinances that mandate where and when general aviation and air sport activities may take place.

Based on experience and ongoing communication with these various agencies, USUA provides information and assistance to its members concerning the various rules and regulations. We believe that a basic understanding of these regulations is essential to becoming a good pilot.

FAA Regulations:

FAR Part 103 (Ultralight Vehicle)

Advisory Circulars:

General Aviation Rules that apply to Sport Pilots:

All FAA regulations
FAR Part 1 (14 CFR 1) (Definitions and abbreviations)
FAR Part 61 (14 CFR 61) (Certification: Pilots, flight instructors, and ground instructors)
FAR Part 91 (14 CFR 91) (General operating and flight rules)

There are several regulatory options available to ultralight owners, each offering unique privileges andlimitations. Differing amounts of effort are required to achieve and maintain the option you choose. Ultralightsfall under two basic sets of rules; either ultralight rules (Ultralight Vehicles) or General Aviation rules(Ultralight Aircraft). The following overview highlights basic options that come closest to programs envisionedappropriate and reasonable for those who wish to fly for fun. Detailed rules for each option are located inFAA and industry publications.

Flying Under Ultralight Rules (FAR Part 103)

  • Recreational flight limited to single seaters weighing less than 254 lbs
  • Any category, class or type of vehicle permitted (i.e. airplane, trike, powered parachute)
FAA has chosen not to promulgate Federal regulations regarding pilot certification, vehiclecertification, and vehicle registration, preferring that the ultralight community assume the initiative forthe development of these important safety programs. The ultralight community has taken positiveaction and developed programs almost two decades ago gaining FAA approval for their implementation.

FAA further states, "...it should be emphasized that the individual ultralight operator's support andcompliance with national self-regulation programs is essential to the FAA's continued policy ofallowing industry self-regulation in these areas."

Vehicle Requirements

FAA does not require ultralights to have any proof of airworthiness. It is the responsibility of the owner to make sure the ultralight is safe to fly. Publications such as the "Federal Ultralight Resource Guide" and the "Amateur Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook", available in the USUA Flying Store, provide explanations of how FAA defines an ultralight. These publications cover all phases of preparation and of flight testing for newly constructed non-production aircraft.

Ultralight vehicle registration is available through USUA. Download a registration application from the Forms section.

Pilot/Instructor Requirements

FAA does not certify ultralight-specific pilot knowledge and proficiency, but it expects pilots to complete training under an FAA-recognized program. By earning your ultralight pilot wings, this confirms your ultralight-specific knowledge and proficiency. Ultralight pilot flight instruction time averages 10 to15 hours, prior to solo flight. A current list of FAA-recognized USUA flight instructors can be found in our instructor list.

Flying Under General Aviation Rules (Part 61 & 91)


  • Recreational flight in single seaters and two-seaters.
  • Passenger carrying in two-seaters.
  • Some category, class and type aircraft not allowed depending on certification option.

Aircraft Requirements

FAA requires that all aircraft be registered with FAA and have a current airworthiness certificate (FAAinspection required). FAA also requires regular inspections that must be performed by an FAA authorizedmechanic or original builder.

OPTION A: Light Sport Aircraft

In 2004, the FAA authorized a new aircraft certification option, named "Light Sport Aircraft". Light Sport Aircraft, are simple, low performance, low energy aircraft including airplanes, gliders, gyroplanes, balloons, airships, weight shift control (trikes), and powered parachutes. These planes can have one, or two seats, and can have a maximum weight of 1320 lbs. For more information, see our Sport Pilot web page.

OPTION B: Experimental Amateur-built

FAA requires you to build the majority (at least 51%) of the plane solely for educational or recreationalpurposes (FAA inspection required). The Amateur Built Aircraft and Ultralight Flight Testing Handbook,available through USUA, covers all phases of preparation and flight testing of newly constructednon-production aircraft. Order the handbook in the USUA Flying Store.

OPTION C: Amateur-built Glider

In recent months FAA has encouraged certificationof trikes (analogous with a sailplane with a motorreferred by FAA as a "self-launch glider") in theexperimental category as "amateur built-glider." When obtaining certification for a glider-trike, oneneeds to request the glider designation of their FAAAirworthiness Inspector or Designated AirworthinessRepresentative (DAR).

OPTION D: Primary Category-Sportplane

Buy a ready-to-fly plane designed, tested and built by an FAA-authorized manufacturer. The Sportplaneclass under Primary Category limits aircraft to two seats, a weight of 1,200 pounds and a stall speed of 39knots. FAA does not allow trikes and powered parachutes in this certification category. Despite numerousmanufacturer’s attempts, only the Quicksilver GT 500 has made it through this FAA process.

FAA Pilot Certificate Requirements

All FAA pilot certificates require minimum flight instruction and solo flight time, minimum age limits, medicalcertification and successful completion of written, oral and flight tests by FAA inspectors of FAA designees. Ifyou already hold an FAA private pilot certificate you may already have all you need.

OPTION A: Sport Pilot

The holder of a Sport Pilot license, may operate a plane that meets the definitions of a Light Sport Aicraft (1320 lbs max, 2 place max, etc). Minimum flight instruction and solo flight time 20 hours withmost of other Private Pilot requirements applying including a minimum age of 17. For a short time, FAAproposes experience credit for participating in an FAA-recognized ultralight training program. FAA writtenand flight tests would be required.

OPTION B: Recreational/Private Pilot

The holder of a Recreational Pilot certificate may carry one passenger in an aircraft up to the size of aCessna 172. Minimum flight instruction and solo flight time is 30 hours with most of other Private Pilotrequirements applying including a minimum age of 17 and a third class medical certificate. In addition, FAAlimits this certificate to only FAA certificated airplanes and rotorcraft, and only flying during daytime. Lessthan 300 folks have this certificate. Most go straight to Private Pilot.

USUA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS

Working for Pilots on National and Local Issues

No matter what ratings you hold, no matter what type of ultralight you fly, as a pilot in America you will facepublic policy issues and government regulations more often than the average citizen. And, often, your abilityto fly can be affected!

USUA is working full-time to make sure pilots have their say. As a member, you have the nation's most activeultralight aviation advocates representing your interests year round in Washington, D.C. and before a broadrange of government agencies, including FAA. USUA stands up for ultralight aviation on airspacerestrictions, proposed certification of pilots and vehicles, unnecessary airworthiness requirements—everyvital issue facing ultralighters today.

USUA members have said over and over, loudly and clearly, that the current privileges under FAR Part 103should be indefinitely maintained by FAA. On it's members behalf, USUA has taken this message to FAA andstood behind it during the ongoing FAA ultralight rulemaking project to protect the freedoms enjoyed byAmerican ultralighters.

USUA's elected regional representatives keep states covered and monitor local communities, too. Whether itis a possible ban of ultralights at a local airport or the imposition of discriminatory or illegal fees, USUAprotects and defends ultralight interests. Regional Representatives are hard working volunteers who devotetheir personal time and resources to help foster understanding and cooperation within their region.

Legislative Action Organization

If your right to fly for fun is threatened, USUA will swing into action toprotect your freedom. You can make a difference by joining the nation'sstrongest ultralight membership association.

Excerpt from the January 2001 issue of Ultralight Flying! Magazine:

USUA: REGULATORY WATCHDOG

FAA continues to regulate ultralighting under its Code of Federal Regulations as it has since this air sportbecame recognized as a unique and distinct segment of aviation in the late 1970's. Some operations fallwithin Part 103 (Ultralights) and its associated exemptions and advisory circulars while other operations fallunder Parts 61 & 91 (General Aviation rules). The debate continues (heard in some halls of FAA andGeneral Aviation circles as the "ultralight problem") about how to "deal" with this recreational element ofaviation that is foreign in some ways to the traditional focus of air commerce and transportation.

As far back as 1985, USUA has directly been involved with FAA. While the kind of result that would reallyopen up our sport to the general public hasn't been realized yet, USUA has made significant inroads towardenhancing the image of ultralighting, protecting the freedoms we enjoy today.

USUA took the lead when FAA asked the aviation community in 1994 for technical support and advice on a rulemaking project for ultralights. FAA had been working on the process for several years without results. Under the chairmanship of then acting USUA Director of Safety and Training, Tom Gunnarson, a working group was formed within the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) to study FAA's project and develop recommendations.

The ARAC group, composed of a wide diversity of groups representing different interests within ultralightingand general aviation, has met on a regular basis and drafted recommendations that would provideregulatory relief for ultralighters. In recent years the project focus slowly shifted away from ultralighting asFAA continued to encourage modification of existing general aviation regulations.

Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee

The Secretary of Transportation and the FAA Administrator created a Departmental Task Force on FAAReform to recommend improvements that could be made in the operations within the FAA itself and betweenthe FAA and the Office of the Secretary. A subgroup of the Task Force was specifically directed torecommend changes that would improve the rulemaking process concerning safety issues. That subgroupproposed the establishment of an advisory committee to serve as a forum for the FAA to obtain input fromoutside the Government on major regulatory issues facing the agency. The Secretary approved the proposalto establish an advisory committee.

Therefore, the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) was established in 1991 to assist the FAAin the rulemaking process by providing input from outside the Federal Government on major regulatoryissues affecting aviation safety. The ARAC includes representations of air carriers, manufacturers, generalaviation, labor groups, universities, associations, airline passenger groups, and the general public.

FAA asked the ARAC to accept a task to review part 103 and to make a recommendation to the ARACconcerning whether new or revised standards were appropriate. On August 30, 1993, the FAA announcedthe formation of an ARAC Working Group. As part of its task the working group was asked to consider apetition to amend part 103 (Docket No. 25591) that had previously been submitted by the United StatesUltralight Association.

Tom Gunnarson, then acting USUA Executive Vice President, was selected to serve as chairman for the working group. The first meeting took place in Washington, DC in October 1993. Over 25 ultralight manufacturers and organizations, and representatives of general aviation interests and government groups were in attendance. After six-year effort the group provided a recommendation to FAA that became known as "Sport Pilot."

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