One of your Airmail contributors mentioned options for a retiree to gain a licence, and another complained of recent rule changes that led to him losing his ability to self-certify medical fitness. My suggestion to both of these, and to many others of limited means or other difficulties, is to try microlight aircraft. Training costs are between £100 and £130 per hour, depending on location (my club charges £120 to train in the superb Ikarus C42), and the minimum hours required are fifteen for a licence with limitations (eight miles from the airfield, return to takeoff airfield, no passenger) and 25 for a licence without limitations. As ever, it will take most people considerably longer (maybe forty to fifty hours without limitations), but someone who has significant previous flying experience should be able to complete in minimum hours. Medical is by self-declaration.
Age is not a limit here – our club’s oldest pilot is 97, and he flies with a second pilot for insurance reasons. He passed his microlight GST at the age of 93, having flown in WWII and held a PPL since 1955.
My own aircraft is a Skyranger (G-NIXX), built this century and with less than eighty airframe hours, which cost me around £24,000 with my added upgrades of transponder and nav lights/strobes. It has the superb, reliable and economical Rotax 912 engine, which burns eleven litres per hour of mogas at 80mph airspeed, so costs about £15 per hour in fuel. It can take me and a passenger to the Isle of Wight from my home airfield near Stansted, land at Sandown, take off and fly for a tour round the island, and return home without refuelling for around £60. It costs me about £3,000 a year in hangarage, insurance, permit and maintenance, and holds its value well. One of my club colleagues bought a two- seat flexwing microlight for £1,500, and another a single-seat fixed-wing Sluka for £2,500, and of course there’s the option of syndicates for those who are more financially constrained.
My Skyranger looks pretty poor compared with the SR22S and RV-8S lined up at typical airfields, but it offers similar performance to a Cessna 152, has more room inside, and flies at less cost than taxying many EASA aircraft. It handles beautifully and is very responsive, and operates comfortably from 350 metre grass runways, giving many more options. But please don’t take my word for it – go out and try one! If you don’t like it, you haven’t even lost much.
Incidentally, for those who want to progress to commercial flying, microlights are not the way to go. Having decided just too late to extend my licence privileges (I missed the SSEA to LAPL upgrade window), I decided to do the full PPL. My 300 hours as P1 in microlights, including 130 hours P1 on my Skyranger, apparently count for nothing and I have to do the full 45 hours and nine exams. Whatever the rule makers are taking, they need help. Ray Wilkinson, Hatfield
Ray Wilkinson’s Skyranger