LSA Pilots Could Spoil a Good Thing

By Scott Spangler on March 20th, 2008

Pilots are a contentious bunch, but if there’s one thing they agree on it is that flying is too expensive. Naturally, they blame the companies that sell them the stuff they want.

EuroFoxAffordability was a  primary selling point of sport pilot/light-sport aircraft. Everyone trumpeted the coming of new fixed-wing flying machines for fewer than six figures. But Dan Johnson, who knows the light aircraft industry better than most, pointed out in his SPLOG that prices are on the rise.

What’s surprising, but shouldn’t be, is that the pilots who are buying LSAs are the ones ringing up the total price. As Dan says, the weak dollar and a strong Euro account for a good part of the increase but, hey, options like dual glass, a full capability GPS nav/comm, and an airframe parachute are not free.

If pilots want these goodies and they have the money, I say go for it. Get what you want. And they are. Most of the pilots buying these tricked-out LSAs are “retiring” from larger, heavier, all-purpose GA aircraft. My question is this: Why?

Yes, I hear all the arguments for technology’s salvation when inadvertently straying from VFR into IMC, but I don’t buy it. Light-sport aircraft were never intended or designed for this. They are fair-weather, sunny-day fun flyers. Period. 

If pilots are looking for IFR-capable transportation, they should stick with their Cessnas, Pipers, and aircraft like them. Trying to do it on the cheap in an LSA is an invitation to spoil a good thing, what many consider general aviation’s last hope of survival.

An old business aphorism says, “The customer is always right.” You can’t blame manufacturers for giving customers what they want. I just wish pilots would think about their wants and needs, what they are asking for. And I sure wish they would stop whining about the high prices of light-sport aircraft. 

Fortunately, Dan pointed out that there are a number of affordable new LSAs available for less than $100K and gave four examples: the ready-to-fly X-Air LS for $46,000, the Sport Hornet for $49,000, the EuroFox for $55,000, or the SportCruiser for $79,000.

So there you have it — choice — and the pilots who buy LSAs make it. And in making their choices, they will decide the future of sport pilot and light-sport aircraft. Will it be as intended, affordable VFR flying for fun, or private pilot light, with all of its associated problems? Time will tell. — Scott Spangler

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12 Responses to “LSA Pilots Could Spoil a Good Thing”

  1. Dale Kettring Says:

    Wait till the FAA institutes it’s NEXGEN system. It will cost the sport flier thousands of dollars to comply with new requirements. And, as I am hearing it, this will happen two or three times before NEXGEN is fully implemented since early iterations of NEXGEN will be incompatible with later ones. I can see it doubling the cost of owning an LSA.

  2. Owen Says:

    Where I agree with you is that we’re not yet seeing the expected explosion in the low-and-slow recreational category that we expected to see with SP/LSA. I think this will eventually become very very big, but there’s simply no large company (yet) who has any interest in pushing this segment. So it will be a slow process of basically word-of-mouth expansion until it reaches a critical mass.

    But I still think you’re missing a big part of the issue.

    The guy that flies high-performance 4/6 seaters in heavy IFR won’t be impressed, but if your mission requirements can be satisfied by any FAR 23 2-seater, then there are high-end S/LSAs that can satisfy that same mission.

    To a PPSEL there is no operational regulatory difference between a 152/Skipper/Tomahawk and a CTLS/162. It’s not “retiring”, it’s actually an upgrade because of the performance, comfort, safety features, and modern avionics.

    And if the PPSEL wants to operate IFR, there are S/LSAs that are just as capable as any 152/Skipper/Tomahawk. No 2-seater is really a good mount for serious IFR, but that isn’t news either.

    Now if you decide (or are forced) to “retire” to SP, you can still fly all the same 2-seat missions as you did PPSEL, except at night or in IFR conditions. There are lots of pilots out there that never fly night or IFR anyway.

    The fast, cross-country touring segment of LSA is always going to be strong, just because more people will buy a vehicle that’s fun and occasionally useful than a pure toy, if only to rationalize it to the spouse.

  3. Scott Spangler Says:

    If you want to use an airplane, LSA or otherwise, for transportation, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    NextGen will most affect commercial and general aviation aircraft that are, for the most part, bound for one of the roughly 500 airports with a control tower. That leaves roughly 4,700 nontower public-use airports for recreational flight, just as long as the FAA does not do away with visual flight rules and uncontrolled airspace.

    My guess is that NextGen will follow the existing model: if a pilot wants to fly in specific airspace, like Class B, the aircraft must have the required equipment.

    The question is ADS-B. If we’re lucky it will follow the example of Mode-C transponders. If you want to fly under the “veil” you must have one.

    Then again, ADS-B pays the greatest dividends in IFR conditions, weather in which LSAs and sport pilots are not permitted to operate.

    But weather does not change one of the greatest problems with the new technology (read: glass cockpits): pilots–no matter what they are flying–don’t look outside because they are too busy playing with the real life video game on the instrument panel.

    Becauuse NextGen is all about efficient transportation, my greatest fear it that it will squeeze recreational out and the National Airspace System or confine it to remote locations where fun flyers won’t get in the way of people going places.

  4. Dale Kettring Says:

    One small fallacy that I see is that the FAA is proposing to eliminate primary radar (1940’s basic technology updated to 1990’s equipment with the advent of ASR-11) and transponders/secondary radar (1950’s basic technology modified to 1980’s monopulse technology and 1990’s equipment with ATCBI-6) in favor of NEXGEN.

    That means that without NEXGEN equipment (ADS-B is a part of NEXGEN) nobody can see you. The only way NEXGEN will work is if EVERYONE has it. Otherwise, we have a bunch of unseen, untracked aircraft, who knows where. Very dangerous situation.

    Unfortuanatly, it is very similar to the situation that existed on 9/11, with the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania. The FAA had already proposed eliminating the long range primary radars, and using only transponders/secondary radars. The pilot of that ill-fated aircraft knew enough about the system to turn the transponder off and become almost invisible. Except for primary radar which is not dependant on a transponder reply for tracking. The only way that air traffic control knew where that aircraft was, was through the long range primary radar.

    NEXGEN could be much the same. When fully implemented, we will be dependant upon information generated by the aircraft for tracking. If someone knows enough about our system, and the aircraft they are flying, they could shut off the NEXGEN equipment, and become invisible.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think that NEXGEN can be a wonderful tool (ADS-B has worked well in Alaska) for the pilot, and for air traffic control, but it is not the be-all and do-all that the US needs for the National Air Space. There is little security in the space based resources. The FAA needs to do more thinking on this one.

  5. Dale Kettring Says:

    Incidently, I was the one who advised the FAA against eliminating long range primary radars before 9/11 occured, and I was the one who got to say, “I told you so.” after 9/11.

    I am a retired FAA radar/automation technician who was working in DC with the Radar Program Office as a field liaison. This opportunity was provided through my union, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS), and the FAA, jointly.

    If you ever have any questions about FAA radar, please send me an e-mail.

  6. Jess Sightler Says:

    If ADS-B is mandated for LSAs within the class B veils as Mode C is now, then most pilots of LSAs will have to have GPS receivers and ADS-B anyway, so why not put a screen on it?

    I don’t really see how people choosing to get 152 style airplanes for prices that are less than the new part-23 “152”s is a bad thing for the market.

    The nicest thing about the LSA market to me is that there is so much choice. :)

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  8. Andrew Says:

    I think these are all good points, but one point that is missing: operating costs. While the aircrafts may be pricier than many had hoped, they still run at far lower operating costs– making plane ownership far less expensive. On average, many LSAs burn 4 gph. Insurance is cheaper as well.

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  10. Woody Weaver Says:

    Simple. Raise the weight limit to make the Cessna 150 light sport. Done.

  11. Alan Larson Says:

    The FAA has proposed to require instrument training for sport pilots for the faster light sport aircraft. However, many of these same aircraft do not have any gyro instruments (or simulated ones). It is easy to understand why the pilots who formerly flew larger aircraft want the comfort of something that will give them attitude and heading information in an emergency.
    One possibility that remains in the LSA market is non-gyroscopic instruments, simpler than the fancy glass panels, that may well prove to be more reliable than mechanical gyros, as well as lots less expensive.
    Unfortunately, cost of ownership includes capital cost, and with a used C-150 1/4 the cost (or less) of an LSA, both the purchase and insurance come out a lot cheaper.

  12. Jeff Says:

    Not sure I agree with your article’s premise. What I see as a new (Private) pilot is the difference between NOT being able to afford a used gass-guzzling 100LL Cessna and being able to afford a new or slightly used, loaded, efficient mogas (or 100LL) burning LSA. Gas along would be a 50% savings per gallon @ $1.80 -vs- $4.00 (current in NC), not to mention gph savings! Insurance is cheaper too, and overhauls are half the cost or less every 1,500 hours on the planes I would consider.

    As for advanced avionics, let there be options, ALWAYS. It’s up to the manufacturer as to what upgrades that can and want to offer on each type of aircraft they sell. I personally would opt for ALL the latest glass cockpit gadgets because that’s the kind of guy I am on the ground (multiple GPS, PDA, Iphone, laptops, etc). However, as Alan Larson mentioned, I would NEVER buy a plane that did not also have some type of gyroscope and a pitot tube for analog instuments as a backup.

    The reason prices are rising on quality LSA’s is because of demand! Pilots are seeing a viable alternative to renting and/or owning traditional piston aircraft with their 10gph. Economic yet fast (120knots+) fun flying is what many private pilots want, so until the manufacturers exceed demand, prices will remain high. All the more reason to pick one up on the used market after a couple years.

    As for LSA’s hurting the GA market, don’t count on it. Remember these things are limited to 2-seats and verry little cargo weight. I won’t be taking my family of five on vacation anytime soon! Besides, the more aircraft switch away from 100LL, the more supply will increase and thus the price will decrease.

    Fly on!

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