Pilots of Light Sport Aircraft can't operate sightseeing tours for pay

Denise Sanders
Denise Sanders

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

DILLINGHAM AIRFIELD, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The investigation into Tuesday's crash of a powered hang glider off Kauai continues. Part of that will be to determine what the pilot and his passenger were doing up in the sky.

Under Federal Aviation Administration rules, the Light Sport Aircraft isn't supposed to be used for paid sightseeing tours.

Pilot Denise Sanders of Paradise Air takes to the sky with Hawaii's adventurous residents and visitors who want learn how to operate the LSA.

"We tend to explain the whys," the licensed pilot said. "Why are we feeling a little texture in the air here? What is the ocean telling us about the wind, the air currents that we're flying into? How are these mountains going to affect what we're feeling?"

In Hawaii, the popularity of the open-cockpit, powered hang glider -- which costs less and has fewer moving parts than a plane -- is soaring.

"Twenty years ago, one guy was doing it with one trike out on Kauai," Sanders said. "Now, 20 years later, there's six companies operating."

She says the two-seater -- which is capable of reaching an altitude of 14,000 feet and a cruising speed of 70 MPH -- must follow the same federal aviation regulations as other aircraft flying in a general aviation community. Also, each must be inspected and receive an airworthiness certificate from the FAA.

"A number of years ago, there were a whole bunch of homemade unregistered ultralights out there and we were a little concerned about the safety records," Ian Gregor, FAA spokesperson, said. "So we created this new category of aircraft -- Light Sport Aircraft."

As breath-taking as the view is, calling it a tour flight would be a violation. The FAA only permits LSA pilots to receive money for flight instruction or to tow a glider.

"We're not allowed to do tours or sightseeing trips," Sanders said. "You'll find that nowhere on our web site."

Those in the industry are saddened by Tuesday's crash off Kauai.

"It's definitely tragic," Sanders said. "It's very unfortunate that two people lost their lives yesterday."

But she maintains that the powered hang gliders are sturdy and have a good safety record.

"It doesn't deter us at all from the safety we feel in the aircraft and the love that we have for flying," Sanders said.

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