Flying into the Future

By Robert Mark on January 13th, 2007

It’s late Friday, the end of a second truly exciting day at Sebring Florida Airport, site of the U.S. Sport Aviation Association Expo. If you’re not familiar with this event, it looks very much to me like the future of learning to fly.

 

Honestly, I haven’t really paid that much attention to LSA – Light Sport Aircraft – over the past few years since the category was established until now. I assumed it related to experimental airplanes tossed together as a way to fly less  

 

expensively than flying around in an old Warrior or 172.

Was I ever wrong.

Not only does the LSA category represent the potential for thousands of new people to learn to fly and keep flying once they’ve won a license, but LSAs represent some of the latest aerodynamic technologies, as well as the digital cockpit instruments that make these solid flying machines. These are admitedly smaller aircraft – think Cessna 150 size – but they are absolutely the most incredible flying machines I’ve seen in decades.New LSAs sell for a fraction of the cost of a traditional new aircraft built by the regular manufacturers -$75,000 to $100,000, yet they’re capable of carrying two people at speeds of up to 125 mph. Your next question is probably the same as mine and thousands of other folks who see LSAs for the first time. “How safe are they?” In a word, “very.” LSAs are certified through a system called a consensus standards, which essentially means the builder certifies the aircraft meets the original production drawings.You might be wondering the same thing I was … “How did they ever get this idea past FAA?” Dan Johnson, current chairman of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA) explained at a Friday morning meeting that the concept of LSAs really began with FAA over what it viewed as its own misguided control of the first iteration of light aircraft … ultralights. There is simply nothing even remotely the same between ultralights and LSAs however.

Cessna sees enough of a market potential that they’ve jumped in and recently debuted their own LSA with an official go-ahead expected soon. But there is is plenty of competition, aircraft you can take a look at through the LAMA website. Officials at the show claimed yesterday that 44 aircraft have been certified in the past 18 months with growth now climbin at 10 percent per month … that’s month, not year.

One of the best parts of the LSA movement are the astounding operating economics. Many of these airplanes are powered by the Austrian built Rotax engines or the Australina Jakaroo. The Rotax, for example, tick over at higher RPMs than most pilots are familiar with – 4,000 to 5,000 typically – but also provide more power per pound of motor than anything else around. Pull the power back in cruise on a Rotax and you’ll easily see fuel flows in the 3-4 gallon per hour range. Most will also run on either auto or 100LL fuel. I’ve unsuccessfully been hounding a few of my friends to form a partnership to buy an old Cessna 150. After this weekend, I have a new concept to work on. And I think selling them on a new LSA is going to be a whole heck of a lot easier.The tough part is going to be trying to choose which airplane to buy although both of the ones pictured here looked pretty awesome upo close. But that’s why I’m off to the rest of the show to see all of the current models in one place. This auto mall kind of showroom at Sebring is great venue for buyers. LAMA and EAA have gotten together to build the same kind of LSA mall at AirVenture, so don’t miss it.A good resource to get started with LSAs is EAA’s website Sportpilot.org.

Let me know what you think.

 

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5 Responses to “Flying into the Future”

  1. Eric Says:

    Yeah, LSA is a very exciting field, and companies like Cessna getting into it validates what you’re saying. The new regulations finally open up aviation to thousands of new pilots, very probably getting them flying faster than ever before.

    Have you checked the LSA section in the 2006 or 2007 FARs? If you haven’t, take a look at 61 subpart J – it’s safe to say that it’s the first to be written in plain english (61.307 – What tests do I have to take to obtain a sport pilot certificate?)! If this is where the FAA is going with their regulations, I’m all for it.

  2. Drake Ferruzzi Says:

    I was just wondering when you said 3-4 hour range which could be used for traveling is their room for baggage also?

  3. rob Says:

    Actually, I was referring to the 3-4 gallons of fuel these engines burn per hour Drake.

    When you consider that many will burn auto gas which often runs $1.50 a gallon less than 100LL, the operating costs differences with LSAs can be pretty significant.

  4. rob Says:

    And that’s a great comment Eric, but that must be some kind of mistake. I think there’s some sort of rule somewhere that says the Feds are not allowed to make anything easy.

    I’ll let you know what I think after I read it too.

  5. Eric Says:

    Haha, I was surprised too – some friends and I noticed it when studying for our CFI course, and it was totally unexpected. I have a feeling it’s a combination of factors – the AOPA’s involvement, for one, and the fact that LSA in general is targeted at a broader swath of the public than a private or recreational rating. After all, there were less than 600 recreational licenses ever issued, so perhaps the FAA realized that for the program to be a success it needed to be more accessible.

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