Activity in the light sport aircraft (LSA) arena is heating up, with more pilots trying the many modern aircraft spawned by this new category which was enacted by the FAA in 2004. While LSAs include a variety of aircraft types such as fixed-wing airplanes, powered parachutes, weight-shift-control aircraft, balloons, gliders, airships and gyroplanes, much of the LSA development has focused on the basic two-seat light sport airplane.
The idea behind the LSA movement was to create a simpler regulatory framework for manufacturers to develop new lower-cost aircraft and a faster way to earn a pilot certificate. LSA airplane pilots need just 20 hours of training and just 10 in LSA gliders, while numbers vary for other aircraft types. The big difference between light sport pilots and pilots with other FAA certificates , such as recreational and private, is that light sport pilots can fly without obtaining an FAA aeromedical certificate. A light sport pilot needs just a valid U.S. driver’s license as proof of medical eligibility, but that pilot cannot have had an aeromedical certificate denied, revoked or suspended.
As a bonus, hours flown in a light sport airplane toward a light sport pilot certificate count toward a private certificate. Progressive training organizations such as Sporty’s Academy in Batavia, Ohio, take advantage of this by offering students a stepping-stone path to the private certificate. Sporty’s trainees can start by obtaining the light sport certificate, then add the recreational followed by private, each time adding more capability and added privileges.
The manufacturing side of LSAs eliminates certification under FAA Part 23 regulations, instead allowing manufacturers to comply with industry consensus standards administered by ASTM International. These standards cover design and manufacturing quality, but there is no formal FAA oversight of these processes as there is with normal certification and production procedures.
These simplified, but still stringent, LSA standards have led to a relatively large new market for small sport aircraft that cost far less than traditionally certified aircraft. Many high-end two-seat LSAs, for example, sell for approximately $150,000 or more, which while expensive, is about half to one-third of the cost of today’s basic four-seat general aviation airplane. While the only changes seen to typical four-seaters today are avionics upgrades, LSAs are pushing the technological envelope with low-cost glass cockpits–many equipped with angle-of-attack systems–all-composite construction, ballistic parachutes, sophisticated engine instrumentation and a variety of configurations. A key advantage to LSAs is that manufacturers can install avionics that do not need to meet FAA Technical Standard Order requirements. This means that LSA instrument panels often are equipped with more sophisticated avionics than many certified aircraft, including low-cost but powerful autopilots, synthetic vision displays and moving maps, among others.
For fixed-wing airplanes, the LSA rules include maximum weight of 1,320 pounds or 1,430 pounds for seaplanes, one or two seats, maximum stall speed of 45 knots, maximum cruise of 120 knots, fixed landing gear and one engine.
There are privileges and limitations for sport pilots, but existing recreational, private and above pilots can fly LSAs. If, say, a private pilot were not to renew her medical certificate, she could then fly as a sport pilot, but she would be bound by the sport pilot limitations. A private pilot with current medical can fly an LSA and isn’t limited to the sport pilot privileges, although the LSA limitations apply to the particular aircraft being flown.
Sport pilots can fly LSAs and carry one passenger, who is allowed to share expenses. They can fly only during daytime hours under VFR up to 10,000 feet msl or 2,000 feet agl, whichever is higher. LSAs can be rented, which helps ensure that light sport pilots or pilots flying LSAs obtain proper training.
Some LSA limitations include no flight in Class A airspace (above 18,000 feet); logbook endorsement required for flight into Class B, C or D airspace; no towing of objects; no flights carrying passengers or property for compensation or hire; and no flying in furtherance of a business. These are sport pilot limitations, so a private pilot flying an LSA could fly on business, for example.
While LSAs have been slow to enter the rental market, they are appearing at more airports as an alternative to more expensive airplanes. LSAs burn less fuel and many can run on autogas, which may encourage more airports to allow autogas pumps to be installed as a way to cut down on avgas lead pollution.
The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (Hangar D, 4100 and 4101) has more than 100 members, many of which are LSA manufacturers. According to LAMA president Dan Johnson, 2,471 light sport airplanes were registered in the U.S. as of the end of 2012. During 2012, there were 259 FAA registrations of light sport airplanes; however, some manufacturers register their airplanes, but not all were delivered to buyers. The top five light sport airplane manufacturers last year were Flight Design, Cessna, CubCrafters, Czech Sport Aircraft and American Legend.