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Sport Pilot & Powered Paragliding

We get this question a lot: Do powered paragliders fall under sport pilot? What about the tandem exemption? Here are some answers to these questions along with interpretation of rules that are being defined. As of Feb 1, 2008 the exemptions have expired. We are working with the FAA to remedy the situation.

What is NOT included in Sport Pilot
Nov 27, 2006, Revised Feb 1, 2008 | FAA contents and links current as of this date

We’ve lost a valuable training tool for powered paraglider instruction. Fortunately, the FAA has indicated a willingness to redress the issue to prevent our sport from becoming less safe. But they cannot exempt anything that falls under the Sport Pilot (SP) rule.

Single-place powered paragliders do not fall under SP. As long as the unit qualifies as an ultralight, which any solo PPG does easily, it’s FAR 103 legal. Same with solo wheeled units as long as they meet Part 103 requirements.

Two-place foot-launched powered paragliders are also not part of Sport Pilot (SP) and can only be flown under an exemption. That is the exemption we seek. A foot launched tandem clearly has no “fuselage” nor are there any landing gear. So it clearly doesn’t meet the definition of a powered parachute (see below) and is therefore excluded from SP.

For two-place wheel-launched operations, things get more complex. It’s safe to say that any craft having a frame onto which the motor and wing mounts qualifies as a Powered Parachute under SP. But what about those craft where the pilot uses the paramotor harness and a cart attachment? Does sport pilot include them?

Here’s the FAA’s definition of a Powered Parachute:

A “Powered parachute means a powered aircraft comprised of a flexible or semi-rigid wing connected to a fuselage so that the wing is not in position for flight until the aircraft is in motion. The fuselage of a powered parachute contains the aircraft engine, a seat for each occupant and is attached to the aircraft’s landing gear.”

Many of the existing units do have a frame with their own seats. These fall under SP. But those where the pilot sits in the paramotor’s own seat using a harness would seem NOT to fall under sport pilot. Or if the wing attaches to the harness rather than a frame. Also, if the wheels are not integral to the craft it further distances itself from sport pilot. The original sport pilot issuance on July 27, 2004 explained:

“As stated in the proposed rule, the FAA specifically intended to exclude from consideration as light sport aircraft configurations in which the engine and/or wing is mounted on the person operating the aircraft, rather than a fuselage.”


Q: I’ve got a legitimate tandem powered paraglider trike. How do I fly it legally?

A: At this point there is no way to do so. Even provided we do get the exemption, there will be no allowance for “recreational” tandem.

Q: I don’t want to instruct or become an instructor. Is there another way?

A: Yes, you can get a machine certified as a Light Sport Aircraft and earn the FAA Sport Pilot License. We are not involved in that process and suggest you contact the USUA for more information.

Q: I want to instruct with my Tandem Trike, what do I have to do?

A: Hopefully, if and when we get the exemption, you can go through the USPPA Instructor then Tandem program. It takes significant experience to do this as you must first be a skilled pilot with demonstrated skills.

Telling the Difference between PPC and PPG
Nov 27, 2006, Revised Feb 3, 2008

When wheels are added it isn’t black and white, it’s shades of gray where black is “Powered Parachute” and white is ” Powered Paraglider”. If it is a bona-fide powered paraglider, than we want our instructors to be able to teach tandem. It is a valuable tool and is why we are seeking a new exemption.

Here are some things that make a 2-place unit more like a powered paraglider than a powered parachute.

1. (reg) The paramotor used has it’s own harness which is used even in tandem operations.

2. (reg) The wing is attached to the harness, not the frame.

3. If the frame failed in any way, the wing would continue to support the weight of the occupants and motor through the harness. This means that any rigid portions are acting as a spreader bar (like a foot launched tandem).

4. The paramotor is commonly flown in foot-launched operations and, whether solo or tandem, uses the same pilot harness.

5. The paramotor/harness easily comes off of the wheeled portion and can then be flown as a foot-launched unit.

Other criteria could be added to help insure it remains only powered paragliders. The current cart attachments for tandems can easily weigh less than 50 pounds. The current heaviest foot-launched motors, without fuel, weigh about 80 pounds. So a weight limit of 130 pounds easily limit the potential growth. A reserve parachute of the size used for tandem foot launchers weighs up to 10 pounds. So even with that a maximum weight of 140 pounds would cover it.

Also, other definitions could insure that only powered paragliders are included. Such as:

1. The craft must be foot launchable by an average sized pilot in a wind less than 5 mph on level terrain with only the cart unit removed.

2. The cart must not be integral to the use of the paramotor.

Does this qualify?

PPGTrikeCloseupPPGTrike800This is what we’re working on to determine. If it falls under the FAR part 1 definition of a powered parachute, then it will not be included in our exemption. This commonconfiguration meets all the listed items except 2. Because the frame is acting as a “spreader,” an essential function of even foot-launched tandem units (see below), it may.

This LaMouette paramotor was used for years as a foot-launched machine is still is flown by a few. The paramotor detaches easily and becomes foot-launchable again. Although “foot-launched” is not in the definition, it is what they wanted to exclude from sport pilot.


These spreader systems are employed on nearly all tandem systems including those used for free flight (middle picture).

How Long with the Exemptions Last?
Nov 27, 2006, Revised Feb 1, 2008

In the rule’s issuance the FAA excludes tandem powered paragliding training and states that exemptions will be renewed until a final rule that has yet to be done. An effort was underway but has fallen by the wayside. We are currently in limbo.We have been assured that an exemption will be issued and can only hope they keep their word as stated in the final¬†Sport Pilot Rule:¬†

III.5.B. Future Rulemaking on Ultralight Vehicles

The NPRM did not address, nor does the final rule address, the use of hangliders, paragliders and powered paragliders in tandem operations and training. There is a need to address these issues, but the FAA did not examine questions in this area for this rule. Rather than delay this rule to include these issues, the FAA intends to initiate a separate rulemaking action. Until that can be completed, the FAA intends to maintain the status quo for these operations by continuing or reissuing training exemptions as necessary.


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