30 Oct 2015 – Copyright © David Eyre, additional information by Andrew Cotterell.
If you want fun, affordable flying, or want to start a flying career, then Recreational Aviation may be for you.
Recreational aviation is perhaps a less understood and under appreciated sector of the aviation community.
To reduce costs such as landing fees and hangarage, as well as eliminating the hassles of controlled airspace (restricted airspace, waiting times and permission to take off or land), most Recreational Aviation operators are based at regional airfields.
Aircraft and pilots are regulated by Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus), on behalf of CASA. Recreational Aviation Australia (RA-Aus) is Australia’s largest sport aviation organisation and is the peak body in Australia responsible for administering ultralight, recreational and Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) operations. There are over 10,000 members and 3,500 registered aircraft.
Many people immediately associate recreational aviation with ultralights. ‘Ultralight’ is broad term, conjuring up images of basic frame and sailcloth aircraft, powered by a lawn mower engine. Though these are still available and can be a lot of fun to fly, technology has advanced significantly, to include state-of-the-art composite aircraft with highly-efficient aerodynamics, engines and avionics.
Back in the pioneering days, there were unrealistic regulations placed on recreational flying and aircraft. For example, flight above 500 feet was not permitted (providing little chance to recover in the event of engine failure) and aircraft had only one seat, so there was no second seat for an instructor.
Today, RA-Aus aircraft are amongst the safest forms of transport available. Safety is placed above all else.
RA-Aus Pilot Training: How long and how much?
Recreational Pilot training is similar to that for a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), but less intense. There are a couple of exams to pass before your first solo flight.
There are a number of RA training providers in Western Australia:
To qualify for an RA-Aus pilot certificate, you simply need to be medically fit enough to hold a motor vehicle license – there is no special, costly CASA medical.
Aviation Security Identification Cards (ASICs) only apply if going airside at RPT airports, but most RAAus pilots avoid RPT airports and therefore don’t require an ASIC.
Andrew Cotterell of White Gum Air Park, near York in Western Australia, says that for someone with no piloting experience to gain a Recreational Aviation Certificate, a minimum of 20-30 hours flying is required, including 5 hours’ solo flying, but it depends on the student’s ability and consolidation time. All flights must be recorded in the pilot’s log-book.
Cotterell advises prospective pilots to allow about $6000.00 to gain a pilot certificate. “Even with the instructor aboard during training, you will still enjoy flying the aeroplane,” he said.
For a student wishing to further their flying, the training will be tailored to suit. Hours done at the recreational level can count towards further training, such as a Private Pilot Licence or Commercial Pilot Licence.
Recreational Pilot Certificates are issued according to the category of aircraft your training was completed on, e.g. 3 Axis, Weight Shift or Powered Parachute.
You can then progress to endorsements (e.g. Passenger Carrying, Cross Country, Tail Wheel, Floats, Low Level, Retractable Undercarriage, Formation and Glider Towing). Radio Operator endorsement is also covered with your training. This is a system developed especially towards recreational pilots that wish to achieve standards associated with their requirements. There is no instrument or controlled airspace rating for an RA-Aus registered aircraft – as mentioned earlier, RA-Aus aircraft are required to fly daylight VFR and remain outside control areas.
The minimum requirement to ensure RA-Aus pilots stay current is a bi-annual flight review with an instructor, which is an opportunity to polish your skills. However, it is safer and wiser to always have a check flight with an instructor if there has been a significant time since your last flight (cheap insurance).
Where are RA-Aus aircraft allowed to fly?
Cotterell says that RAAus pilots generally abide by the same set of air navigation rules and regulations as other aircraft, but there are other restrictions placed on RA-Aus aircraft and pilots.
RA-Aus aircraft cannot fly into controlled airspace and must remain OCTA [Outside Controlled Area]. They must not fly below 500 feet and are limited to a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet, which reduces to 9,500 feet when flying hemispherical headings. They must be able to glide clear of any built-up area or water and must fly in daylight VFR [Visual Flight Rules] conditions.
Can RA-Aus pilots take passengers?
RA-Aus pilots will need to have done three landings in the past nine months before they take a passenger flying. RA-Aus aircraft are limited to one passenger.
Can RA-Aus pilots be paid to fly?
Only RA-Aus Instructors can be paid and only for Instruction Flight Reviews and Trial Introduction Flights (TIF’s). Otherwise, you need a Commercial Pilot Licence from CASA.
Recreational Aviation aircraft
The current fleet of about 3,500 RA-Aus aircraft represent some of the youngest aircraft in Australia. Aircraft can range from powered parachutes to weight shift aircraft, to light aircraft such as the Vans RV12, Carbon Cub or Cessna 152.
There are a number of requirements to qualify for RAAus registration, the major ones include a maximum take of weight of 600kg, or 650kg for a float plane, a maximum stall speed of 45 knots and a maximum number of two seats on board (four-seat aircraft must have the additional seats removed).
Aircraft are maintained by the owners, who hold a Level 1 maintainers endorsement, or by a higher qualified person. Maintenance by a LAME is not required. All aircraft must have an airworthiness certificate, issued by an engineer, to be registered by RA-Aus.
How much does it cost to buy/hire and operate an RA-Aus aircraft?
The most simple form of aircraft, a Powered Parachute, may cost up to $10,000.00.
A good second hand weight shift (Microlight Trike) perhaps $40,000.00.
A brand new top-of-the-range 3-axis 120 knots (222 k/hr) aircraft $150,000 plus, plus, plus, with every bell and whistle you can imagine.
You may even choose to build your own from plans or from a kit. Some General Aviation aircraft (e.g. Cessna 152) can also be registered in the RA-Aus register. In other words, there are aircraft to suit your budget, and you get what you pay for.
Operating costs are probably less than an average car. Most RA-Aus aircraft use Premium Unleaded Fuel (95 Octane or higher), which is available at your local petrol station.
Andrew Cotterell operates Aeroprakt Foxbats. “Our Foxbats burn around 16 to 20 litres an hour. Our recorded average fuel burn for the training school works out at 10 litres/hour but we do a lot of circuits.”
“Aircraft maintenance may be performed by any competent aircraft owner provided they have a maintainers endorsement or by a higher-qualified person. Aircraft insurance is not mandatory, but I believe the price is getting better. RA-Aus membership includes a comprehensive third party insurance policy.
Aircraft Registration is approximately $130.00 per year and RA-Aus membership is $210.00. There are no fees for air navigation. Some registered airports do charge a nominal landing fee but these are rare for our type of flying.”
Cotterell says “At White Gum (YWGM), we currently we have one weight shift and two 3 axis aircraft in the school for training purposes. Both of the 3 axis aircraft (A22 Foxbats) are available for wet hire, cost is $140.00 hour (inc GST).”
RA-Aus aircraft registrations
RA-Aus aircraft use a different aircraft register to CASA’s VH- register, with a two-digit prefix and four digit individual number. For example: 10-0357, 28-0830, 55-0976, 32-5432, E23-8733, 24-3611.
The two-digit prefix numbers relate to the build type and which Civil Aviation Order it is regulated under:
- E – Experimental LSA (Light Sport Aircraft)
- 10- Amateur Built (under CAO 95.10)
- 17 – Experimental LSA (under CAO 95.32 OR 95.55)
- 18 – Amateur Built Weight Shift & Powered Parachute (under CAO 95.32)
- 19 – Amateur Built (CAO 95.55)
- 23 – LSA – Factory Built (CAO 95.32 OR 95.55)
- 24 – Factory Built – Certified (CAO 95.55)
- 25 – Early Ultralight Aeroplanes – 1985 era (Under CAO 95.25 – SUPERSEDED)
- 26 – G.A. Type Certified (CAO 95.55)
- 28 – Early Amateur Built (CAO 101.28)
- 32 – Factory Built Weight Shift or Powered Parachute (CAO 95.32 W/S OR PPC)
- 55 – Factory Built Aeroplane (CAO 101.55)
Since the Civil Aviation Regulations 1988 don’t regulate this class of aircraft or activities, RAAus operates via exemptions and delegations. Recreational Aviation Australia is responsible for the development and promotion of flying safety standards and for advocating on behalf of 10,000 members, with the benefits being lower cost and less bureaucracy.
Andrew Cotterell’s story:
“Before I started flying, anything to do with aircraft excited me. I once offered to sweep the Perth Airport runways, if they would let me!
Like a lot of people who I meet and talk with about aviation, flying an aircraft myself seemed so far off the radar that it wasn’t even a dream.
One night at a party, I met a guy who had flown around Australia with his wife and flew from his own property, in a thing called a ‘Trike’. We discussed flying all night.
Twelve months later in 2003, I took a Trial Instructional Flight in a microlight. WOW! These were fun!
I was flying and it was affordable.
I eventually gained my Weight Shift Microlight Certificate at Murray Field, near Mandurah.
Once I had purchased my own Trike, I found a shared spot in a hangar at Northam. Not long after, White Gum farm became available and we were one of the first to rent hangar space there.
White Gum grew to three hangars and we added a weekender.
I wanted to give three axis flying a go, so I purchased a Skyfox from Port Lincoln in South Australia. I flew this back to WA with my instructor.
Learning to fly a tail dragger was difficult enough, but for an ex-Trike pilot, I needed to rewire my brain, as the ground handling controls are opposite. I chased a few snakes off the side of the runways.
I have been a recreational flyer for over 10 years now, and recently purchased an extension to the aviation facilities at White Gum Air Park in York, Western Australia.
Today, my wife and I fly Aeroprakt A22 Foxbats from White Gum. We enjoy just casually flying in the local area with the occasional trip further a field.
Flying and aviation has become our life theme. Aviation has given us good times, great friends any many social occasions.
I encourage anyone with an interest in aviation to seek out the Recreational Aviation alternative. It’s a life changing experience and more affordable than you may think. Don’t wait as long as I did!”
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The author would like to thank Andrew Cotterell for his kind assistance with this article.