Light Sport Aircraft entered the world with high–probably absurd–expectations. These lighter weight, lower cost airplanes allow pilots to fly without a medical certificate, and were supposed to introduce a new generation to the glories of personal aviation. Flight schools could finally buy fresh airplanes and new pilots could finally afford to own an airplane, we were told.
Cessna’s launch of the model 162 Skycatcher in 2006 seemed to be the tipping point for this movement: if the 70-year old manufacturer thought enough of the LSA market to launch its own design, surely a revolution was afoot. Indeed, the buzz at Oshkosh that year was almost palpable and Cessna took hundreds of orders.
But eight years later the Skycatcher is dead, a minor footnote in the long history of Cessna, and both Cirrus and Piper have abandoned LSA programs. The LSA market as a whole has not reached takeoff speed: between 2009 and 2012, total LSA deliveries averaged just 255 per year. That may not be disastrous, but considering there are nearly 50 companies producing LSAs, it’s not good. For comparison, Cirrus alone delivered 276 of its (vastly more expensive) SR20 and SR22 airplanes last year.
What happened? And what does it say about the future of LSAs?
The Skycatcher suffered from a number of self-inflicted errors, including a torturous manufacturing strategy and a constantly rising price. But the problems for the LSA industry go deeper than one botched product, and Cessna’s experience has lessons for all of us. Fundamentally, these airplanes don’t give the target customer what he wants.
That does not mean LSAs are bad airplanes. I’ve flown three of the most popular models (the Skycatcher, Legend Cub and Van’s RV-12) and they are very likable: fun, affordable to operate and well made. The RV-12, for example, offers a faster cruise speed and lower fuel burn than a new Cessna 172–all for $250,000 less.
And in spite of some early concerns, most LSAs have held up well in flight training applications. We have two Skycatchers at Sporty’s flight school, and they have been reliable trainers. Even after a few of those inevitable student pilot scrapes, repairs can be made quickly and affordably. We rent the Skycatcher at $99/hour–a savings of more than $50/hour over a late model 172–and we make money doing it.
Some critics argue that, while the airplanes themselves aren’t bad, the prices are. True, the $75,000 LSA never happened (who promised it would anyway?) but these airplanes are still 50-80% less expensive than new Skyhawks and Archers. That $150,000 Skycatcher may sound crazy, but compared to a $400,000 Skyhawk, it’s quite a savings.
The real failure has not been technological or financial, but in matching a new class of airplanes to a new generation of pilots. The Light Sport/Sport Pilot rule hasn’t inspired a wave of aviation enthusiasts or airplane owners—not even close. Rather, it’s given older pilots a way to keep flying later in life. That’s no bad thing, and I welcome pilots of all ages, but it’s hardly a bold strategy for growing general aviation.
The numbers clearly show that the current LSA designs are not what new pilots want, and it’s about much more than price. Most beginning pilots buy airplanes to go places and take people with them, whether it’s family on a vacation or colleagues on a business trip. Even if a lot of flights are Saturday afternoon hamburger runs, the occasional (or even potential) use of the airplane for transportation is a huge draw. LSAs essentially cap the performance and number of seats–permanently. You’ll never take your family of four to the beach if you buy an LSA, no matter how many hours you log.
It’s also a major mismatch with our industry’s marketing. Learning to fly is all about freedom, we say, yet LSAs severely limit that freedom. I love low and slow flying, and it may be just what a retired airline captain is looking for, but it’s not enough to draw a new person into aviation. After all, most successful people with the money to afford a pilot’s license don’t lust after sub-compact cars.
So while the airplanes themselves haven’t been a failure, I believe the overall Light Sport rule has. LSAs have turned out to be an exit path, not an entry path.
Is there any good news to be found? Maybe.
The Light Sport rule was a risk for the FAA: relaxing regulations, however modestly, is not something they do well. The past decade has proven, though, that looser standards for airplane certification and pilot medical self-certification does not lead to a massive increase in accidents. While the LSA safety record isn’t great, it’s not dramatically different from general aviation as a whole. In the end, the FAA took a risk and didn’t get burned by it.
That matters, because AOPA, EAA and GAMA are now encouraging the FAA to fundamentally reconsider how personal aviation is regulated in the US—not just LSAs. From a major reform of Part 23 aircraft certification standards to the elimination of the third class medical, there are some fairly dramatic ideas being suggested. But instead of just offering utopian visions, these organizations now have data to cite. A decade of experience with LSAs gives the FAA some cover, and maybe even the justification, to take another risk.
This is clearly the new strategy. The general aviation industry seems to have accepted that LSAs will never be more than a niche, so they’re using it as a test bed for new ideas in the larger world of certified airplanes. There’s a long way to go on this effort, but some of the proposed reforms could radically change how we design, build and certify new Skyhawks and SR22s.
We could end up with safer, more capable—and also less expensive—four seat airplanes that can be used for transportation. We could also end up with fewer medical limitations for private pilots. I’ll believe it when I see it, but even a skeptic like me has to admit that we’re closer to those goals now than we’ve been in a long time.
That would be a rich legacy for LSAs, and it would be real progress for general aviation.
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You obviously aren’t considering the thousands of pilots who are flying amature-built experimental aircraft that qualify as LSA, in addition to the certified aircraft that meet LSA requirements. For those, LSA is a smashing hit. I’m not saying that the new proposed rule isn’t infinitely better, I’m just pointing out the short sightedness of only looking at the LSA manufacturing side of the rule before calling it a failure. Additionally, Piper and Cyrus didn’t bother to make their own S-LSA like Cessna did, they simply rebadged an existing european design. Cessna shot themselves in the foot by outsourcing jobs to China and Piper also shot themselves in the foot by partnering with the Czech rip-off of the ill-fated Zenith CH601XL.
The Piper LSA was based on the Czech Sport Cruiser which is not the same design or manufacturer as a Zenith 601XL. Also, the 601XL was not ill-fated but there were structural failures that led to the -B mods in both the 601 and 650 airframes.
The LSA rules are fine for the homebuilder, but I have recently built my own Experimental AB, but finding someone to give me lessons let alone finding an LSA to rent for lessons is nearly impossible. Three flight schools in our local area that advertised Light Sport lessons have all sold their LSA’s for lack of business. I’m going to have to have a licensed pilot fly off my 40 hour phase one testing in my aircraft so I can take lessons in it.
It seems that the comments are coming from those already a part of the GA community.
I have wanted to fly since I was 16. But, I can’t pass a physical because I am color blind. So in my opinion the Sport Pilot license is great. It doesn’t give me a path to make piloting my career. But, at least I have a path to fly.
My problem is financial. So, I could go the ultralight route. However, I am 6′ 5″ tall and 260lbs.. I need to put a larger engine in an ultralight. But, it put’s the plane over the weight limit. And only 5 gallons of fuel, get real. My only choice is to go experimental LSA. But, then I have to build the plane. In my mind this is the sticking point. I don’t have the time, room or the desire to take 2 year’s to build and airplane. Which plane do you think would be better one build by the factory or me. We need built planes available in the 20 to 40 thousand dollar range. There are lots of small plane manufacturers that can do it. If the law would allow. Then we might start seeing more pilots being certified and planes being purchased.
Europe does LSA right. No question about it. They have the weight limit and that is all. No speed restrictions, no rg restrictions, no ifr restrictions. Mandatory ballistic chutes. They fly fast and sip fuel. They also sell aircraft. The Blackwing from Sweden flying 325mph on less than 10gph full ifr is a plane that people want. All the lsa manufacturers are European because they are selling planes. They just turd them out for the US market and sell a few. RG is a non issue with current technology and glass panels. Garmin Gertrude will chew your leg off if you approach with gear up. Antiquated standards, are absolutely not necessary. I would fly lsa if it was European standard, even as a private pilot. The savings and self maintenance open avionics make it a no brainer.
You article is somewhat limited in points of view…….like yours only. Not good. Cessna died because they moved production to China and kept raising the price out of the LSA intended range. The other LSA designs are great planes, BUT, still are being priced out of the base market most were conceived and intended for in the first place. I can buy a brand new six passenger SUV for a lot less than most LSA companies want for an aircraft designed for two people and limited scope. However, if most of these lightsport aircraft were to reduce their prices dramatically, you and I will see a dramatic increase in sales and acceptance………keep it below $75K and the numbers would jump almost immediately. LSA’s were never intended to compete and or outsell the Cadillac lines of aircraft with soup to nuts everything included.
I think what the LSA market proves, though, is that a $75,000 LSA just isn’t possible. At least not with current regulations and current technology. Dozens of companies have tried to get the cost down, but every time the price creeps up. And it’s not because the manufacturers are making lots of money–most of them barely get by.
But the title of your article says, “The Skycatcher’s death proves the LSA rule is a failure.” There is a LOT more to the LSA rule than selling planes. I can buy today at least 4-5 LSA qualified aircraft for a TOTAL of $75,000. And then there’s the used S-LSA market where dozens can be had for under $75k. The important part about the LSA rule that is in fact very successful is the driver’s license proof of medical fitness that has allowed countless individuals to renter the sport or continue without additional proof of fitness. And… the Skycatcher’s death only proved that Cessna made poor choices, including bailing out. Had they done it right, they could have owned the market.
all these points are mostly correct.i however just retired from aerospace .apx 40 years too long.piper made the big mistake.$148,000.00for their aircraft.they used the glass panel to up the cost to bs everyone.then they moved to china to try to break the IAM union.i retired as a journeyman in the iam.i all so have my a and p licence.yes the faa says licence not certification.it says mechanic not technication.but I’m old and drifting .I worked for the former owners of cesnna.GENERAL DYNAMICS.i tried to guide them as best as I could.but this is not a hobby or art form for big bussines its about the bottom line.i could work over this program.get the out the door price down to about 15k no problem at all.and it would be made in the usa ,at cesnna ,buy union labor.to show my support for LSA.im going to go get my LSA ticket.SKY KING OUT>
How may I ask, are you proposing to build a $15k S-LSA with union labor when the approved engines cost nearly twice that?
What engine are you proposing to use to power a 1,320 pound (gross weight) two-person aircraft?
your $75K LSA http://www.aerosportplanes.com/cheetahslsa
I wonder if you can take a second look and write (another) article about the light sport category–not from the perspective of a single aircraft–but rather, in the general sense, now that more technically advanced aircraft are entering the LSA market, albeit with higher price tags. However, there are also homegrown STOL aircraft that fits into the light sport category with the $80K (or less) price tag. I would look forward reading it. Thanks.
I believe the problem with the LSA rule is that the airplanes were not only more expensive than originally anticipated, but they were artificially crippled. The speed limits, weight limits, operating limits (day VFR only, etc) were all based on arbitrary numbers generated by the FAA. There’s nothing magical about 1320 pounds, 120 knots, or two seats.
I agree 100%. Seems like the move is now to fix Part 23 instead of trying to expand LSA limits.
Ron: Bingo! I agree fully with both you and John on this topic.
The LSA rule IS a failure at attracting large numbers of new pilots to the pilot fraternity. People don’t want to spend the money and time and effort to learn to fly only to be limited to what, in the minds of many of us, is the equivalent of a Geo Metro in the world of aviation.
The LSA rule is really the “old pilots trying to keep flying til they go west” rule, and does very little if anything to create a new generation of pilots who are quite capable of passing the 3rd class medical.
As one commnenter stated, perhaps lots of homebuilders are buying the LSA kitplanes. But few aspiring pilots start out by building a plane, and then learning to fly it.
And of course, most of the kit built planes are built by the same guys who are most likely to have trouble passing a 3rd class medical – old guys. Who else but a retired guy has time to build an airplane and get it done in less than 5 years? The proposed new law to eliminate the 3rd class medical altogether is going to keep far more pilots flying than ever will the LSAs.
At least the old spam cans – still far cheaper to buy than the cheapest LSAs – can still take you places and haul your friends and family. Many of the LSAs are so incapable of practical flight that for a lot of normal sized guys, going with a full fuel tank means you practically have to fly solo or go over gross!
The real progress will happen when the major FAR Part 23 rewrite is done to deregulate most of the burden that is now imposed on the aviation manufacturing, modification, and avionics upgrade industries. The result of that change should be a major reduction in the cost of flying. That will do far more than the LSA rule could ever possibly do to spur more people to learn to fly.
I just want to address this myth: Who else but a retired guy has time to build an airplane and get it done in less than 5 years?
Me. Working a 45 hour week at my day job, I finished an RV-12 which, by the way, is an extremely fine example of a $75k LSA, in 3 years of evenings and weekends. First time builder.
These come from European standards – 600 kg (1320 lbs)given their more extensive experience with LSA type aircraft.. Yes arbitrary – what would you suggest? – also arbitrary. Or have no standards?
If you want to get around these standards, then the logical step is a private pilot certificate which is still a very basic certificate.
Ron is correct. These numbers are all conversions from the metric system, and are the Europe numbers. The U.S. could have done our oun numbers and included aircraft such as C-120, C-140, C150, Pa-28, …
Let’s get behind the push for in Congres for fixed gear,fixed pitch prop, four place, 180 hp, etc.
The “magic” was creating a European based category and sub-class. The USA WAS that leader in aviation, the word followed America.
Now America follows the world because our red-tape Bureaucrats think the EU and their rules are the way to go.
90% of the pilots in the USA have no desire to ever fly to Mexico, let alone Europe.
If there is any think lacking, the LSA, J-3 Cub pattern, is not allowed intentional spins which means it is not a sole use airplane for full CFI training and flight testing, so a school needs two airplanes.
Most of the LSA airplanes are being bought by old pilots who want to fly alone for fun and play with glass cockpits.
[made up number] 85% of pilots, from PVT to ATP don’t know how to land straight, so the do a controlled crash with a constant left crab, they don’t follow through with the flare at touchdown and thus the nosewheel tire always wears out on the right tread and sidewall. Next time you are on a ramp, look at the tires on the CE 172, BE35 and BE C90 and you’ll seethe wear pattern.
A good course in a Cub or a CE 172 from a qualified CFI could solve the problem, but most pilots are trained to tune radios and collect TFRs. My first purchase after I win the lottery will be a Cubcrafter’s Carbon Cub SS with G3x Touch panel. It is twice as fast a car. Now if they would just do what is needed to put Intentionalspins, hammerheads and rolls on the approved limitations list.
The LSA concept is good. The price is not so good. Some mention a $75K airplane and make it sound like a good deal, which it is compared to the several hundred thousand dollar planes commonly available. However, I for one can’t afford a $75K airplane. What I can afford, and do own, is a certified aircraft, 2 seats, 90HP but which I still have to have a medical to fly due to the GTW being over 1320 pounds. My plane can be bought for 1/3 of that $75K and will offer performance comparable with any of them.
My thoughts on GA survival are not in the type of aircraft we have access to, regardless of pricing, but rather the limitations placed on the pilots of those aircraft like the medical issue. Get rid of the requirement for the 3rd class medical for recreational flying, which is what most of GA pilots do anyway, and in my opinion you will see many “old” pilots return to GA as well as a new crop of beginning pilots.
Ron Bland – the new pilots are for the most part not in the least concerned with the third class medical … that is a concern almost entirely limited to old pilots trying to keep flying. Those pilots will inevitably eventually have to give up flying due to health reasons, and will die off. The issue is, how do we create a new generation of pilots?
The FAR Part 23 rewrite is not just an issue for new aircraft manufacture – it also directly and dramatically affects the cost to keep old spam cans flying. The airframes of old aircraft are capable of lasting for many times the flight hours that most of them have. The issue is, how do we keep those aircraft flying with updated engine and avionics technology?
We’ll likely never again see the heyday of aircraft manufacturing back in the 70s. That’s OK … but we will also see the premature retirement of tens of thousands of our old airplanes unless we make the regulatory framework much simpler and much less burdensome. The same framework of lower regulation will also reduce the cost of new manufacture aircraft … but at far lower production rates than in the so-called “golden age” of GA.
Wow. What an absolutely age-centric response. A ‘new’ generation of pilots does not mean “all you 20-somethings, grab the yoke and throw the throttle forward”, it means just that – a new generation of pilots – folks who have not flown before. ‘New’ does not refer to the age, it refers to the entrance into the sport. I have held many airman certificates for many years, have taught many types of pilots for many different certificates, and I was even one of those guys with the oxygen mask and the green suit. When I worked as a CFI, none of my new students was younger than 40. Mostly, and sadly, because of the expense of the sport. The ‘new’ generation of pilots we are looking for will mostly come from folks who can afford it, and that is not going to be a 20-something fresh out of liberal arts college living in momma’s basement looking for his first $22,000/year job as a dish washer in the local restaurant.
I second your opinion. I’m 52 and would like to learn to fly. Why now? I’ve waited for three decades for a private aircraft that inspires and excites, and is affordable meaning no more than 100k which can be cost shared among multiple buyers. At age 16, I lost interest after six hours of lessons in a 152. Ears would ring after lessons. Thought it wiser to save my hearing. Over the years, the occasional sightseeing flight I chartered reminded me of the vast discrepancy between the dream of flying and the archaic reality. Quiet flight simulators with high tech EFIS displays were much more satisfying than the museum steam gauges in today’s trainer fleet. The experimental class is the hopeful class for fresh ideas, but it may be a dream to expect a breakthrough while we’re still young. But I keep hoping and being optimistic. Kudos to all the men and women putting up great time, money and energy in trying to bring new exciting aircraft to the market (Rapture, Seawind, Icon, Wave, S-Ray 007, Lillium, etc). Oh, and the 2 seat restriction of LSA? Bad, bad…
To Duane just remember in time you will also be an old pilot trying to pass a physical, I promise you if you live long enough you will know what it is like to be old!!!
Private sector general aviation will return to prosperity the moment a brand new, well equipped, certified ASEL is available for $25,000 or less.
And gas costs 10 cents/gallon, beer is free and minimum wage hits $50/hour. You’re dreaming! It’s hard to buy a new car for that price these days.
Eddie, That’s funny, good humor.
Nothing wrong with dreaming of a better future that I know of. I remember 90 cents a gallon… I like Rainier beer (not too expensive), I bought by F150 for $24,000…
I feel like a well equipped ASEL could be available for that price if all of the testing / litigation costs could be reduced…
Even that won’t help much if the US economy stays in the toilet and fuel prices keep escalating above $6 per gallon. What really caused the “failure of LSA” is the economy.
In other words, ‘never’. Sad, but true. I have watched over the years as GA airport after GA airport has closed, shortly thereafter to be paved-over for an office park or housing development. I would like to say that we can resurrect GA, but its death certificate was written decades ago by the constant red-tape of the FAA and law suits by the greedy. I have been to many FIRCs, and 9 out of every 10 CFIs in each of them no longer teaches – no one is willing to risk the inevitable court battle when one of their former students crashes into an apartment complex despite excellent instruction. Stuff happens, but unfortunately, any goodwill that existed between the CFI and the student died with the student – his family is full of sadness and in that sadness, they will take everyone associated with the process of getting their deceased son/daughter/granddaughter/father/mother/cousin into the air. I worked in an engine rebuild shop while instructing, factory reman of a simple horizontal-6 engine was $25,000. You can buy a comparable new car engine for less than $5,000. GA is dead, has been for decades, and the insurance industry and the FAA could care less.
yes suit happy society is one problem, the other is the cockpits are all electronic and most new pilots dont know rudder control or how to fly without computers doing all the work. it makes for lazy pilots. had a new pilot with me, dash had no artificial horizon or digital units. he asked me how it was without it, response ‘look out the window’ training from the 60s and 70s was so much more educational. heck just look at vor. removal of so gps units can take over.
The whole analysis is falling apart the moment we observe that Cessna is blowing all piston singles, not just Skycatcher. If the problem laid with the LSA, if would not be happening, but Skyhawk is clearly one leg in the grave. As new entrants such as C4 emerge to undercut its price, Cessna is going to raise the price until nobody buys 172 anymore, at which point the Textron regime will blame market conditions. The new and hot TTX sells 1 airplane for 12 Cirruses, too.
All the observe here is that a bloated corporate bureaucracy cannot compete in a market that does not provide it with enough margin. This has nothing to do with LSA whatsoever.
Price and China killed the 162. I will not eat China’s chicken much less fly their airplanes. Are you crazy?
The LSA concept isn’t dead, its just another option for pilots. Sales weren’t great because pilot population is declining, so there is a surplus of used planes, which puts pressure on prices.
It always seemed to me that the major LSA failure was marketing. Cessna almost made it with indications of reviving the Cessna Pilot Centers using new Skycatchers as the foundation. Flight schools were lining up to embrace that idea. With Cessna’s heft, as opposed the the 100 or so garage/shop operations, it seemed to have credibility. Thus, the quick 1000 airplane backlog. But the plan all seemed to fall apart after the early euphoria. There were never any “Discover Flying” advertisements or magazine pictures of new pilots floating amongst the clouds or standing next to a fishing stream with the fishcatcher in the foreground and a Skycatcher in the background (that was some old corn that the manufacturer’s used to do). When the new Cessna CEO bumped the price up about 40%, that was the end; everyone backed out.
The airplane itself, while maybe not ideal, was a pretty good attempt. Probably at least as good as what Boeing would come up with if they were to try and build a light plane at a low price.
People, please, stop beating the horse. It’s dead! No matter how much anyone wishes for (take your pick . . . ) more student pilots completing initial training going on to purchase a reasonably priced and minimally capable airplane; lower fuel prices; fewer accidents and fatalities; lower insurance and product liability costs; lower maintenance costs; reasonably priced parts — or any of a dozen or more initiatives that would actually make personal aviation more interesting and accessible to the general public, it’s not going to happen! To think that any of the proposals now being bandied about is going to result in a resurrection of the industry is delusional! Those still involved with personal aviation have been relegated to the homebuilt market and to keeping the GA fleet that was built decades ago in airworthy condition at continually escalating costs to say nothing of ruinously high prices for fuel. If the industry can’t stop the loss of already certificated pilots, those who are well aware of the costs and benefits of GA, why would there be expectations that enough newbies could be enticed to participate to replace those who’ve quit flying?
Textron wants how much for a Skyhawk, >$250,000? How many would you like at that price? And a couple hundred Cirrus’ with parachutes is inconsequential. Mooney says they have new Asian financing that will permit resumption of production and the new models will be offered at prices ranging from $650,000 to $695,000 — are they joking? Would you like a parachute with that? I’d like to meet the person who sold that notion to the Asians!
If anyone wants a quick example of how completely FUBAR the personal GA market has become, compare a new C-172 @$250,000 or so with a new Bentley for around $200,000, or better yet with a new Interstate Airstream that’s available for $110,000 and change. The differences in quality, substance and amenities are astounding! The Bentley will also outrun the C-172 and get better fuel mileage. The Interstate Airstream is powered by a 180 HP turbo diesel that gets 18 mpg. Yes, I know they’re in different markets, but all three are personal recreational vehicles, handcrafted and produced in very limited numbers. I’ll take the automotive vehicles every time!
The business and corporate side of GA are surviving in this environment and this is reflected in current and backlogged sales figures because airplanes and components sold into this segment of the market are often revenue generating and costs of operation and maintenance are partially recoverable through tax deductions and depreciation allowances. Uncle Sam is your silent partner, and he never wants to fly the airplane! It’s not as good as it once was, but it works for those who need an aircraft for business purposes.
The personal side of GA is like the proverbial Jackass in a hailstorm — there is nowhere to go for relief from the onslaught — just stand there and Bray loudly if it makes you feel better, but the reality is no one outside of your tight little community cares how badly you’re getting beat up or whether you survive.
The economic forces pushing personal GA toward the exit gathered strength years ago with the advent of the plaintiffs bar’s success in extracting huge settlements for product liability, often regardless of whether a given manufacturer’s products were defective. Huge cost pools were added to virtually all manufacturers resulting in higher prices. Then along came the Reagan revolution which took away many of the tax shelters of aircraft ownership resulting in a huge drop in sales and another big jump in prices. The product liability issues combined with the drop in sales of the lower end of the market led Cessna to cease piston production as a way to stop the hemorrhaging. These forces pushed both Cessna and Beech into the arms of Textron and Raytheon who had deeper pockets and presumably better defenses against the ravenous tort lawyers. Then Wall Street and big banks arrived to sort through the carnage and extract their pound of flesh, first by deregulating the trading of oil futures contracts sending oil prices steadily higher and financing the hedge funds and other entities who buy the vast majority of oil futures. It is painful to recall that a barrel of oil was trading for $25 (and 100LL was selling for $2.00 and change) when our boy genius President from Texas, acting upon God’s instruction, invaded Iraq setting off more than a decade of mayhem, death and destruction in the Middle East that is not over yet. And along the way, Goldman Sachs and a partner arranged a leveraged buyout of Beech Aircraft that ultimately resulted in bankruptcy and a fire sale to Textron. One good thing coming out of that debacle that warms my heart is that Goldman et al apparently lost a good portion of their investment although I’m sure they figured out how to stick somebody else with at least part of it.
All of this notwithstanding, the major manufacturers are now firmly in the hands of large public corporations or Asian financial interests and their pathway to profitability and recovery of their investments lies in selling to the corporate and business market. The few products that are of interest to personal GA will be ridiculously priced so that only a few wealthy folks will be able or interested in purchasing them.
I wish there was better news, but there isn’t. If you were lucky enough to have been involved in personal GA over the last 30 years or so, savor the memories. And if you’re fortunate enough to have an airplane now that you can afford to operate and maintain, count your blessings! Except for the homebuilt market and the aging GA fleet, most will not be able to break into aviation at any reasonable price point.
John’s right about the LSA rules and the Skycatcher — they were doomed from the start. Personal GA in the USA in the future may start to resemble the Cuban automotive fleet — lots of ’51 Chevys still in use as taxicabs and personal cars.
Actually all it shows is that the “old school” mainstream US plane makers are clueless about building and marketing LSA-class planes.
There are dozens of manufacturers all over the world (most of which the average American has never heard of) that are doing quite well out making LSAs. Mainly because that is all they do – their attention is not diverted by their bizjet division or airliner and military plane component contracts.
Most of the successful LSA makers started out making ultralights (and still do). They are not building stripped and dumbed down conventional (Part 23) light planes – many of the most successful LSAs are actually “upgraded” ultralights.
Cessna’s Skycatcher is a great reprentation of LSA as a whole. The LSA rule has not lived up to what was advertised. The new and affordable airplanes obviously have not happened, most LSA’s (even used ones) are well north of $100k. The $75k airplane mentioned above is a joke, it’s like an aviation equivilant of the Reliant Robin. Also, the idea that new generation of pilots would be attracted to fly a little sub-100HP bug smasher Cub or Sport Cruiser hasn’t come to fruition either. And of course the pilot population continues to decline. So yes, LSA has failed in two ways, not producing less expensive airplanes; and not producing the next generation of recreational pilots.
The LSA numbers haven’t helped either. Meaning, two seats, less than 120kts, and the big one: 1,320lbs MGW. Those numbers rendered most of the new designs limited in their load carrying ability with two normal-sized people onboard . For example, one LSA model can be certified FAF with a 1,320 lbs gross weight or a E-AB gross weight of 1,540 lbs. This shows they can carry more, they are just limited by an unessesary number. The old taildraggers were always limited in useful load to begin with. Additionally the readily available C150 and other trainers were ruled out entirely. This forced potential LSA pilots to either find an old J-3 or a $150k new Tecnam to rent/buy.
Really the only thing LSA has done in 10 years is keeping retired/old pilots flying a few more years, one only has to go to the Sebring expo to see this. I agree with the above commenter that said this is the source of a lot of the E-LSA’s out there, the above 50 demographic is the mostly the only one that has time and money to build an airplane.
Zimmerman states “The LSA market as a whole has not reached takeoff speed: between 2009 and 2012, total LSA deliveries averaged just 255 per year.” OK, so that was during the recovery from one of the worst recessions this country has ever seen. But forget the volume of aircraft, what about the fact that there are now 50 manufacturers putting out (mostly) new designs for the LSA market? I would hardly call that a failure, especially because these new manufacturers were also able to survive the recession. The LSA market may not have inspired a tidal wave of new pilots as some unrealistically hoped, but it did inspire a tidal wave of new aircraft and designs. All of which are substantially cheaper than new aircraft from the traditional manufacturers. That can’t be a bad thing for general aviation, and it makes me wonder how many fewer new pilots there would be without it.
The problem is the tidal wave of new designs don’t have any customers who want them. I like choice and small companies innovating, but the end product just doesn’t resonate.
If what you say was true, there wouldn’t be 50 manufacturers still in business. They would all be gone by now. Clearly someone is buying their products.
John is correct. Most of those makers only sell a few aircraft per year, there are four or five that sell a reasonable number in the US, I don’t know what keeps the rest going.
just bought a quicksilver s-2 brand new—slow but will 1100 lbs useful load —300 FOOT TAKEOFF WITH A 912-UL
The Recreational and Sports Pilot programs are failures. 4600 Sports pilots in about 9 years and less than 400 Recreational pilots in twice as many years do not justify investments. The market potential was and still is being exaggerated. Good intentions do not always return good results. There are too many limitations and disincentives.
The LSA concept failed to achieve its goal. Simply, it is just too expensive and limited. To revitalize GA and to increase air traffic operations and to augment new pilot starts bring back the C152s and establish no third class medical.
It’s interesting to read these comment mainly from USA. The LSA market is important and getting better. I think one problem with the Cessna LSA was not just the price but also the delay due to accident and problem during the development plus the spin trouble. Thus resulting in huge delay for delivery and loss of confidence in the Skycatcher. Furthermore it was designed purely for the USA market and their regulation. Cessna had a good book of order from other parts of the world and thought they would easely be recognised outside without further test. This proved to be wrong as the certification is tighter in many other place. By not complying with european regulation they have lost a big market. Many school were waiting for their delivey. Others company like Tecnam have took over the sale with excelent certified aircraft and great support with their range of plane at cheaper price and low engine consumption. Yes at nearly 3 euro the litre of 100LL (well over 15$ the gallon) and a high price maintenance this is no wonder Cessna has had problems.
Companies like Evektor, Sportaircraft, Tecnam are selling well in many places and schools, including USA with their LSA good priced and affordable maintenance with engines using mogas 95. If you look at the global sale of the major LSA manufacturer, you will be astonished at how many planes they have sold last year. Further more Cessna beeing such a mamooth, their spare parts are usualy high price due to their cost of bureaucracy and handling which is reflected in the maintenance cost of the plane. The GA need a well design, simple build well equiped cockpit with an economic engine aircraft mass produced like a car to see the price going down under the 75000E for a certified aircraft to attract a new generation of pilot / owner.
Have a nice flight and great landing.
LSA was a way for the aircraft manufacturer to circumvent regulation with a cheap, subpar product while lowering the standards of competency required to crowd the airspace. All this talk about how it is a great training platform ignores the fact that you can’t do instrument training in them, nor can you reliably fly cross-country for commercial training. How much commercial sense does it make to purchase such an impractical tool? What it does allow is for instructors to sign off on a student whom wouldn’t pass muster as a private pilot with a ticket to kill himself and threaten the safety of others. I wouldn’t trust flying near an LSA knowing the lower standards required, and I’ve seen my share of LSAs balled up by overly eager and confident but incompetent student pilots. LSA was a joke and a failed scheme that maNY owners and proponents tout the same way MG owners tout their automobile. What’s even more sad is that flying publications continue to bend to aircraft markers by yielding print space to showcase LSA aircraft. Give it a rest already. No one, at least not the majority of the flying community cares.
I’m not sure where you got the idea that S-LSA can’t be used for IFR training, nor are they “reliable” for cross country training, but it’s just wrong.
I’ve flown dozens of cross country flights in factory-built S-LSA as well as night flights, and if properly equipped and certificated, they absolutely CAN be flown in IMC.
Several sheriff and other law enforcement organizations have adopted S-LSA for low-cost subservience use with none of the superstitions issues you are concerned with.
I have switched to LSA because I do not want to be involved with the FAA medical thingy where somebody at a desk in Oklahoma City feels they know more about my body than my personal physicians who work on the same parts day in and day out and have for 25+ years. Their demands for tests that my personal doc does not feel are necessary have just forced me into LSA. So with that, I’ve flown the Skycatcher and the PiperSport enough to make comparisons to the Cherokees and Skyhawks, and Skylanes that I previously flew. Any of the LSA’s will get me where I want to go at about the same speed as the certified planes I flew, and use less fuel. But if I had one passenger, that is not so as I’ll have a few extra fuel stops with the LSA’s in order to stay within the GTW limits. The Skycatcher is extremely sensitive to crosswinds when compared to the PiperSport which behaves just like any regular Piper or Cessna. The glass panels on the Catcher and Sport are nice, but don’t give any more info to me than steam gages and an iPad.
True salvation will come in the form of the Congressional Pilot Protection Act that will allow us to fly single engine aircraft without a medical. I do hope that they realize there is no difference in flying IFR when the time comes, but we’ll have to wait and see on that. If that does come, I’ll feel a lot safer flying those planes with which I have gobs of experience, and which, with a little extra weight, are not as much affected by gusts and crosswinds.
Why does this industry persist in trying to convince us the prices for LSAs are acceptable? They are not!
The problem isn’t the regulatory basis for LSA designs, or even the cost of LSA aircraft. The problem is the significant erosion of the middle class that had discretionary funds to spend on reasonably priced toys. I bought my first airplane in 1985. It was a 12 year old Grumman Traveler (AA-5). It represented 28% of my annual income. I kept that plane for 5 years and then sold it to buy a plane that reflected my changed passions – an 11 year old Pitts S2A. The Pitts represented 35% of my annual income. Last year I bought a 12 year old Maule and it represented 70% of my annual income. I’m one of the lucky ones that has seen real income growth (more than the rate of inflation) for the specialized technical work I do. Most of what used to be the middle class in America have seen declines in their discretionary income over that same 27 year period. Wages and salaries haven’t come close to keeping up with the rate of inflation for most of American workers over that time frame. The lower end of GA is a recreational luxury expense, not a business write-off. If you accept that statement then you also have to accept that no new entry level aircraft design is going to make headway until we restore a robust middle class. Until then, the only segment of GA that will thrive is the high end turbo props, jets and a very a few top end piston aircraft. Markets need money to operate, and the cost of entry level aircraft that can’t be written off has become an unsustainable luxury in today’s American economy. Restore a robust middle class with discretionary income and many industries become viable, including the entry level GA aircraft business.
Bingo! Gary, now you are talking.
For me, a (now former) dealer for a popular LSA, the phone quit ringing regularly literally the same week AOPA submitted the 3rd class medical waiver request to FAA. Draw your own conclusion.
But if that’s the only thing keeping LSAs going, that’s not a good sign. There needs to be more.
The reason the skycatcher was a failure was two fold. One being it was made in China, not that their work was not up to par but just the fact that it gives a bad taste from past junk we have gotten from there. The other reason, actually two reasons was the cost of the airplane and the samenus of it to a 150. i.e. Nothing new or exciting about it. $130,000 for nothing more than a fancy version of a 150 was more than most pilots could stomach besides it was made in China which should have made it much cheaper or else why make it there and ship it all the way back here. The fancy looking ships from Chek republic and Austrailia are in the same price range yet are so much more sexy and exotic and are selling well here. Why buy a $130,000 copy when you can get the real deal on E-bay for around $25,000. Might not be an LSA but you get basically the the same performance. Stupid of the FAA to write the regulation on LSA purposely to exclude the 150. The 150 is a perfect example of a light sport aircraft and thousands of pilots learned to fly in them. 150’s are not really cross country airplanes but fun to tool around the local area in just as the LSA was designed to do. The really big issue that needs to be addressed here is the cost of this class of airplanes if we all want to keep them coming.
One major problem here is the apples to oranges comparison of new vs. used. The value you can find in a used airplane is fantastic, but I think a 150 certified new today would be well over $200,000. Wait until a Skycatcher hits 15 years old and 5000 hours and maybe the price will be more in line with late-70s 152s and 172s.
…good point about the 150. I teach in a 1959,1964 150 and a 1978 152. All good trainers costing under 20k.
The Skycatcher’s death proves that an inferior, over-priced product won’t sell, even if you have the best name recognition in the industry. Its failure says nothing about the rest of the LSA industry which has shown you can build better airframes for less money with cheaper, better, more advanced avionics than are available in certified, 50 year old designs built with the strictures and legacy of all the FAA has hung on them. Of course there’s a massive shakeout coming among LSA makers, all infant industries go through that stage and LSA’s won’t escape it. Compare a new 172 vs a top line LSA and you’ll get similar performance for 60-70% less from the LSA. Piper and Cessna could learn much from LSA makers but they would have to wean themselves from the huge historical burden they bear.
I was going to go get a checkout flight in a SkyCatcher once. After I saw the flight instructor, I immediately questioned if we were too heavy. At first he dismissed it and said, “we will be fine!” Once in the cockpit, prior to engine start, with me still questioning our weight, we put in our weights in the onboard computer to compute weight and balance and display it graphically. And what do you know? We were over.
I really am impressed with the onboard avionics and that they thought to add weight and ballance into the avionics software. But I never again had a desire to get checked out in a SkyCatcher again because of such a low usefull load. Too bad…
And last comment, they aren’t that much less to rent than a full on older C-172 with far more useful load because being new, they reant at a premium rate.
Wow, I could not even get through this article past the yellow airplane. You sound just so elitist it is not worth me wasting my time on a Blog. LSA is perfect for two things, people who just want to get up in the air and High School Students who NO ONE is capturing as a class. Flying is just WAY too expensive. The $8 to $10K to learn to fly is fine but a quarter million dollars and up for a new plane and $2500 per year for a hanger (what I Pay) not including over priced gasoline. Be a pilot and hold your nose in the air, that’s what this sounds like.
Craig, I am not trying to be elitist at all. I just think we shouldn’t kid ourselves here – LSAs have not delivered a new generation of pilots. I think there are a number of good debates to have have about why, but that’s pretty much a fact.
As I said at the end of the article, the good news is that LSAs may lead to real reform: lower prices for new airplanes as a whole and lower prices for retrofit avionics. That would do more for cost than anything.
As others have noted, the article completely overlooks the E-A/B class of LSA’s. There is an ELSA which requires as little as 10% construction by the new owner, or you can go the 51% rule and build whatever you want. Note that under the 10% rule your ELSA must conform to the ATSM standards to which the A/C was originally certificated.
Pick-up a copy of “Kitplanes” and/or “Sport Aviation” and do a little exploring. You will find you can build a Sonex as a tricycle or tail dragger for under $50,000.
I love some of the things happening in the world of E-AB and E-LSA aircraft. It’s one of the few good news stories about general aviation in recent years. But I just don’t think this is the mass market answer for the next generation. It’s something we should talk about, but I most new people I talk to are incredibly intimidated by the though of building an airplane, even partially.
I wouldn’t agree that the failure of the Skycatcher proves that the LSA rule is a failure. The Skycatcher failed for two reasons, its lack of useful load, and that a large company like Cessna is going to have too high of a cost structure to sell a small volume of a relatively low cost aircraft. There are plenty of LSAs that can carry full tanks and two 200 lb people, the Skycatcher is not among them.
I don’t think that there is a boom in private aviation’s future, but I don’t think it’s going away either. However, I am certain that should we expect the aircraft built in the 70’s and 80’s to be the backbone of the fleet for the next 10 years, I can almost guarantee you’ll see the pilot population decline. We can’t keep offering new pilots aircraft older than they are. I’m hoping that the RV-12 becomes a popular aircraft on many rental flight lines. After all, that’s where most two seaters are sold, to rental operators.
What the LSA rule may very well also do is to provide a framework for simplified certification of four seat aircraft. I’d expect these new four seaters will sell for around $250,000 – still a lot of money, but much less than a Skyhawk or an Archer.
John, excellent article. The positives are especially true and encouraging. It is sad that the third class drivers license medical if enacted will put the final nail in the coffin of the LSAs. Us old guys won’t have to change airplanes to continue on once the medical process becomes too burdensome. I’m not sure what was the biggest contributor to the failure, the LSA size and performance, or just the general decline in general aviation. Let’s hope the sacrifice has not been in vain.
What is missing and perhaps beyond the scope of the article, we need to go beyond LSA – as in aircraft. We also need to look at the “Sport Pilot certificate” as an entry certificate for new pilots.
Given traffic / airspace realities in many parts of the country, the Sport Pilot certificate (airplane) is practically useless. We already experimented with the Recreational Pilot certificate and it was not very successful due to its inherent limitations.
Personally I have witnessed problems with LSA aircraft. crashes, student training problems and poor support from manufactures are just a few.
I have always believed the FAA should have raised the weight of the LSA category to 2500 lbs. This would have allowed our legacy aircraft to be used for training and truly would have lowered the cost of flying.
Richard, I agree, the FAA missed the mark by limiting the weight of a LSA. Should have been at least 2200 lbs. I have a Tecnam Sierra that I love, but I miss not being able to take more than one passenger. I have to say Think the low mass of a 1320 lb aircraft makes it a little more difficult to fly in the landing configuration. I enjoy the economy of operation and fun to fly aspect, but I miss the flexibility of a heavier aircraft.I also think the 120 knot limitation on LSA limits the performance potential. At cruise I get 115 to 117 knots but when I look at all the drag built into the plane I think of all the things that could have been done. Bottom line, why do it when confronting the 120 knot speed limit.Low drag equals better fuel economy. MPG is not much less than the Mooney MK 21 I used to own. That being said, I still love my Tecnam.
The headline is enormously misleading. Are you just trying to stir people up?
Barrie Strachan, Sport Pilot
I honestly think that most people just aren’t interested in flying anymore, cars, bikes, snow mobiles, jet skis, anything with a motor really has gotten a lot more affordable and also a lot faster since the hey day of GA flying.
Flying is just too many hoops to get to the end result, when I was learning to fly I met a lot of retired pilots and now after 3 years, I haven’t any interest in go flying but still interested in aviation.
John, I am a light sport pilot and I love flying. No, that’s said. I cannot agree with you that the sport pilot rule is a failure. I purchased a new airplane in 2005 and paid $64,000.00 for the airplane. It is an Allegro 2000. I have put over 850 hours on the airplane and it has been trouble free. It is very economical to fly using 3.6 gal per hour average with a speed of 90+ knots. I have flown from my home near Freeport,IL to Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma and most states in between. It is a great cross country airplane, and, although a little slow by some standards, it generally cuts driving time by one half.
With an equivalent mileage of about 30 mpg compared to a car, it is very cheap to fly.
My argument? I don’t feel the sport pilot rule is a failure by any means. The failure came from the manufacturers, such as Cessna who were greedy and made a substandard aircraft. Why would you make an airplane that was as expensive as they made it and then put the wrong engine on the airplane and made the airplane so heavy that it could take only one passenger with full fuel and in some cases, with a heavier pilot, could not even carry full fuel. I am a heavier pilot and my airplane will carry full fuel(3 hours) with me at 225lbs flying weight and a passenger that weighs 265 flying weight and my airplane is legally loaded. Now that’s an airplane.
My point is, if other manufacturers had followed the lead of the Allegro, perhaps they would have had better success and more sales. Even today, a new Allegro sells for $99,000.00, and that is nicely equipped. The airplane flies well and is trouble free, what more could you ask for?
Again, I feel the problems are from the manufacturer, not the sport pilot rule. Yes, I am an older fellow and I love to fly. I came from ultralights and now I have a cost effective way to fly. What a great opportunity for the new pilot to start out with an economical to operate airplane and to step up as he can afford the more expensive to buy and operate 4 place aircraft.
Sorry, John, I can’t agree with your analysis.
Interesting article. I comment from my experience as an ab initio LSA/microlight pilot from New Zealand.
I have not spent the time reading all replies nor do I have data about this from the industry. I learned to fly in a RANS S6S taildragger under equivalent LSA rules in New Zealand, with a club 10 minutes away from my house. I could have learned in a 172 training for a PPL or GA licence, from a club 30 minutes away.
I decided to take the route I did, as I did not expect to take family, may be one passenger was ok, VFR flight only (beautiful country is New Zealand) and it was half the cost of GA.
I do not see how the demise of one mark of LSA represents a failure of LSA as a whole – clearly this is not so as ” there are nearly 50 companies producing LSAs” (John Zimmerman). This would appear to be a contradiction.
I would expect a considerable number of LSA’s to be sold overseas.
The only drawback I can see of the LSA category or microlight category in New Zealand (<600Kg)is the limitation in transferring hours experience to GA or commercial training. In New Zealand this is limited to 10 solo hours. This I cannot understand, as these aircraft give good stick and rudder experience.
This is where I do agree with John, that LSA/microlight category aircraft can restrict development for the ab initio pilot. They are therefore more suited to the already experienced pilot or the ab initio trainee who has no wish to develop their flying interest beyond 2-seat craft.
The problem is that nearly 50 companies are producing LSAs, but almost none of them are selling more than a handful per year. So I admire the optimism of these companies, but most of them are offering a product that the customer doesn’t want.
Again, I have not complaint with many of these airplanes. They are fine machines (at least the ones I’ve flown), but that does not make this rule a success.
John, just curious — what would it take, in your judgment, to declare the LSA rule a success and how would it be determined?
I’d like to see the majority of LSA pilots be new to aviation – not existing pilots stepping down. I’d like to see younger faces flying them.
The goal of LSA isn’t to build good airplanes, it’s to introduce new people to aviation. So it’s about the people, not the machines.
So if it’s not about the machines, why does the demise of the Skycatcher represent failure of LSA? Personally I think your focus is flawed and the headline misleading. Are the numbers you quote those registered in the USA, or produced by USA based companies for World-wide distribution or what? Please clarify. Do you think the same can be said of the market in the UK, Europe or Australasia?
New pilots rock on up to a club or training establishment to learn to fly, they do not go out and buy an airplane for their own ab initio training.
Except for established microlight or LSA clubs, I would hypothesize that most training establishments train on the GA stalwarts such as the 172 and Cherokee or Archer, not new LSAs.
The low-momentum tail-dragger configured LSA is arguably more tricky to master than the heavier tricycle under-carriaged 172, making the latter an easier platform to learn on.
In NZ, the rules present a potential hurdle for the LSA/microlight being used as an introductory platform if your goal is GA/Commercial licensing in the future, as there is a limit to the number of hours you can cross-credit. This is bonkers.
I think it is for the above reasons people are still ab initio training, by and large, on GA. It is understandable therefore that the LSA is the choice of the established pilot, rather than the rookie and the older pilot is more likely to have liquidity to purchase one rather than save for family needs and university fees etc.
This is all conjecture, as I have no access to audit data.Would be interesting to know the figures if you do have the data, and get it referenced.
There are 134 approved LSAs.
“I’d like to see the majority of LSA pilots be new to aviation – not existing pilots stepping down. I’d like to see younger faces flying them.” And I agree.
The LSA – great concept; WRONG – VERY wrong (target) market!
Just what was the original motivation for the LSA when pioneered – a VERY small, almost “ZIP” (LTCV) life time customer value – I’ll explain.
A little summary here; you can read a more detailed take, if Paul of AvWeb publishes it, my conclusion WHY the LSA may have failed, that said, a few excerpts are presented here.
The EAA folks convinced at FAA that an aircraft, that of the LSA design and MSRP (retail) price in the $75K range, would enable “older” pilot, to continue flying less the 3RD class medical required by the ‘private” pilot – NO medical – just a valid USA drivers license would do! The question is; just how MAMY of the aging (AARP? members would benefit from the LSA program – a few hundred, a few thousand?
Given, however, the LSA birds had one major limitation; that of NOT exceeding a gross TOW of 1,320 lbs.
Was the “motivation”, however well meaning intended, a bit bias to THEIR own cause? Just how MANY of the aging pilots would trade I or sell the A-39, Arrow, or Skylane (downgrade)to a 110 or so knt LSA, and that ultimately sells(now -2014) for MORE than the value of their former bird?
The biggest “beef” is HOW do we, the GA community get MORE people into GA; recreational or business? Could the LSA have been the answer – you bet it could – IF properly SOLD and marketed!
Are the readers here aware that Cessna ,you remember them, build 31K variants of the C-150/152 from 1959-85?
Was there ANY effort to replace the aging 150/152 or fill tis gap – NO!
One smart and visionary marketing researcher might ask; WHY did the C-172 become the “trainer of choice” for the last 20+ years or so; comfort, higher gross capability, faster, etc? BUT wait; also HIGHER operating and capital (investment) cost – hence the cost (retail) of obtaining license goes up – a trade off here?
As Rafael stated in his post of May 16th; “I’d like to see MORE new pilots come from the ranks of being LSA trained” – why not – lower cost to license AND can be completed in as little as 30 days – just the thing required of the “instant gratification” generation of today!
Sounds like a “case” for how ineffective the LSA marketing was – for more on this “screw up” – stay turned for a detailed explanation of how miss marketing the LSA was on guest blog at AvWeb in s few weeks – was this possibly the last “bastone” for GA – perhaps?
Great article. I was so exited when the LSA rule was put in place. I have had many minor health
Issues the last few years, that has kept me from finishing my Private ticket. Mainly cost that involves many constant tests. So, as I began to search around, I found there were virtually
No one In the Tulsa Ok area, that was renting a newer LSA. One company would only let you rent IF you took ALL your training in their plane. This has been so frustrating. I certainly hope the
push for the 3rd class medical exemption will go through. I have to rent a C152 with an instructor to even fly at all.
Interesting article and I agree with almost all the comments and replies. Design, economy, age, cost, decision of Cessna management to outsource the C-162 to China and the engine change (big mistake). But what was trying to be accomplished with the LSA rule? Was it to attract new, young faces to aviation or to extend the flying life of older pilots (EAA)? Maybe both? I returned to aviation after fifty years. When the kids came along my career in aerospace design and raising a family took priority over flying. So now I had the time and some money and I took my old Steele’s log book to a flight school and took lessons. I was immediately struck by the cost and changes in aircraft such as the LSA I took my training in. This little aircraft was twitchy and light and if there was a crosswind I had my hands full. But I stuck with it and after a while I actually liked the little airplane. But as I said, you had to fly it especially on landing, it was not forgiving to “ham handing” the stick or stuffing a foot into the rudder pedals. The DPE who gave my check ride was my age and he loved the LSA I trained in. “It makes you really fly it, and I like that”, was one of his comments. Drawbacks? Yes, as was pointed out, you better dip the tanks and measure the fuel if there are two people onboard and when you turn base to final look at the runway sock and screen and fly it down to the runway, slip it and fly it.
So why does the LSA perform as it does and why the cost? There is a thing called “design intent” as was also pointed out. If I say that the aircraft (or spacecraft) has the following limitations (whatever I am told by my customer) then this determines many things, wing loading, airfoil, engine, construction etc.. In a spacecraft it even determines what launch vehicle you must use and the fairing and thousands of other factors; and so it is with the LSA. As was pointed out when they limited the GTW to 1320# (600Kg) with a maximum speed of 120 kts they created a “box” that the aircraft had to fit into as well as the cost of manufacture. If I’m limited to 100hp and 1320 pounds and two seats then I have to make sure that every pound of the aircraft that is in the structure is carefully calculated, hence some LSA’s are composite and expensive. Even the engine that many use(the Rotax 912UL) is an expensive component. There are homebuilt engine manufacturers that are offering engines for less than the $25K for the Rotax but then there’s the stigma that accompanies using anything other than a “real aircraft engine”. I’ve been warned by other pilots that any engine other than a “real” aircraft engine will hurt the resale value of the RV-12 I’m building.
We need to get together and take back aviation from the FAA or at least convince them that GA is living, changing animal. The bureaucratic stranglehold the FAA has on this industry has discouraged modern aircraft and engines from being developed and thus we still have 1938-1952 designed pushrod carbureted engines that require leaded 100 octane gasoline. If we only took, for instance, the design of a 110-120hp piston engine for GA and made that our priority we could improve GA greatly. And if it sold for even twice the price of an automobile engine that would be an astonishing accomplishment, overhead cams, fuel injection, dual ECU’s and modern manufacture. This would be a start. I was watching a mechanic rebuild a 550cu in engine. It had an antiquated mechanical fuel injected engine with external pushrods, tapered Iron cylinders and Iron piston rings and was installed in a $250,000 composite airframe…huh? Why not a 280 cubic inch DGI engine that develops the same horsepower and the rings won’t rust?
The aircraft structure, composites/metallic and design need to be revisited. Why not 1500-1800# GTW? Why not an actual modern aircraft engine? Why not four seats? Is killing one passenger better than killing four, is 130kts more dangerous than 120kts? Is 42kts really necessary for the landing speed of an aircraft? Why create a design “box” for an aircraft and then blame the industry?
Just my opinion but in the end I bought an RV-12 kit because I could afford it and could build it. It will have a “aeronized” automobile engine and it will be experimental because the FAA says I can only build a “certified” LSA if I follow the exact build even though I might actually end up with a better airplane. I asked Vans tech support if anyone had “dimpled” the skins and used flush “pulled” rivets? I was told, “why? the FAA limits the speed under the LSA rule so why reduce the drag?” And there is part of the answer, “why not?”.
It is my sincere hope that younger thinking people involved in aviation come to the fore and create aircraft that the general public would want to fly and can afford. But I am not optimistic that it will necessarily happen soon enough.
Thank you Bud! Right on. We need a brave new “Henry Ford” type Guy to offer a modern, simple, capable aircraft to the average person. The younger generation isn’t going to spend 5 to 10 years building an aircraft, & their not going to spend $100k’s of dollars to buy one… There are just too many other toys that cost a lot less.
Everyone talks about “the next generation”. Well, being in my thirties having had my kids young and about to be an empty nester, I believe I can speak as part of that target generation they are attempting to capture. As someone coming into GA, let me tell you what I have observed and where I see the problems as well as accolades.
First, 18k to become a proficient and safe pilot equipped to deal with most emergencies that may happen. This includes a PPL + IR. By comparison I just spent slightly more than that on my new Audi. A tool I use every day is worth that cost of entry, a tool I use for fun on occasion is not. Sure, I could get a PPL for 8k less, but i want to be the best and most knowledgeable pilot I can be before I load my family into an aircraft under my command.
Now, Aircraft ownership, I do not mind an entry level price of $100k. It’s a years salary and I suspect the plane will last me a good long time to ensure me an ROI. What kills me is the cost of ownership AFTER making that investment. When an annual can ground me by total surprise with a 5k bill that I have to pay before I can fly, that is a scary prospect and an extreme deterrent. The fact that I need to pay an A&P to do the work as opposed to doing it myself is even worse.
Now enter E-lsa……I can buy used for half of the $100k entry price, I can do my own maintenance and annuals. I can fly out of the lake in my backyard and hangar in my own garage. (I am strongly considering a Searey)
The death of GA is not going to be solved by allowing older pilots to keep flying while relaxing safety standards, GA will only be saved by giving new pilots ways to mitigate costs by becoming more involved in GA even if it’s only on an individual level. Allow PPL’s to be covered by student loans and issue credits towards a B.S. for them. They do it with military training so why not? Allow owners to do their own annuals and maintenance. Build more aircraft that allow use of autofuel and then require airports to carry it. It’s ok to have a high cost of entry but a high cost of everything will kill any industry for all but the elite.
So how do you feel about joining a club or entering into a plane share relationship?
…..Look, the FAA did not include the C150/152 into the light sport category,because of political pressure from the Light Aircraft Manufacturing Association. 150k is not cheap and these new LSA’s are built pretty poorly. I have personally watched a few of them fall apart on a hard student landings? What did the LSA Manufacturers do to fix the problem?….all they did was advise flight schools not to us them for student training!
FAA has to make the decision to include our legacy aircraft into the LSA category. It is that simple. However knowing the FAA the way I do, all I can say is don’t hold your breath.
I was also the “next generation” of pilots everyone speaks of. I had some discretionary income and was ready to “buy in” when I found out about LSA. It had been on the books for about 5 years at that time. Plenty of time to work out the initial confusion and kinks. I even had gotten a spot in a small group to fly an Aircoupe at about $50/hr wet. I then worked through the LSA online resources to find the contact list of local instructors claiming to offer LSA instruction. A couple of which were at the same field I had the Aircoupe at.
However, it turned out that not a single one of them actually knew the LSA process, and futhermore, had not interest in learning it. In a bait-and-switch type style, they all either recommended or demanded that I do my training with them in a non-lsa aircraft, and that I really needed to focus on private pilot.
In summary: They had registered themselves as LSA instructors to get leads and contacts. But when offered the opportunity, every single one of them was really not interested in LSA students.
Its a shame. Because LSA would have been just what I was looking for, and we have just the kind of airspace around here to really enjoy it.
It’s not the equipment that killing GA. It’s the people.
Look in the mirror and ask if you really want a next generation of pilots. I don’t think you do. I left it behind, and eventually exited the Aircoupe opportunity because of having no instructor to train me.
Jordan, I had the same issue when I was learning to fly.
I called two local flight schools that advertised Sport Pilot instruction. Upon meeting people at both schools however, they had absolutely no interest in training me unless I was willing to do their PPL program. Even after explaining that I was a textbook example of why the Sport Pilot rating was created, they wanted nothing to do with Sport Pilot training.
I agree, the older guys in general aviation are part of the problem. “Aviation snobbery” is a real thing, and I eventually had to speak with a half-dozen “Sport Pilot Instructors” before finding one who would actually take me through the Sport Pilot process.
Had the same experience here in Indy. Flight schools offered light sport pilot training just to push private pilot training on me. Also, the C-162 Skycatchers were the only available LSAs. For the same amount of money, I may go and take my sport pilot training on a technologically advanced aircraft (TAA) Bristell in Florida or the (late model) Sport Cruiser in Arizona…hopefully, very soon!
The Light Sport rule has made possible for me to realize my dream of flying, as I was fortunate to get my hands on a light sport compliant Ercoupe. However, I think I am in a minority and agree with the author, that the rule has not created, by far, the expected impact.
Relaxing 3rd class medical requirements for PP should help revitalizing GA. I urge everyone here to write their senators and congress representatives to support the Pilot’s Bill of Rights Part 2. Even if you are bulletproof and guaranteed to pass the medical, others are not. Adding, and/or keeping, all those pilots in the flying population helps keep facilities open and aviation affordable for all, even those who don’t need relaxation of the medical requirements. Please support the Pilot’s Bill of Rights 2. requirements.
We jumped on the LSA bandwagon when it first came out. We flew a Skycatcher over a 1000 hours in 10 months. The owner took it elsewhere because we were flying it more than he anticipated. We quickly discovered that there just were not enough light sport students to make it pay so we did mostly private pilots in the C162. It was a great little plane. Fast easy to fly very easy for maintenance and very well constructed.
Having said that it’s still cheaper to make pilots using the C150.
Everyone assumes money is the number one reason why aviation is declining. AOPA already proved in their flight training initiative that isn’t the case. Is flying expensive! Yes no question about it. Is boating expensive? Yes again. We need to take our case to the young people. A good example is at Lakeland FL. Take a look at the Central Florida Aviation Academy. These kids are getting their license while in school. I’ve already hired a number of them as CFI’s. Aviation doesn’t have to be dead. But LSA isn’t the answer. I wish I was smart enough to figure out what to recommend for so many flightschools. Perhaps the flight school owners should take a look at the Flight School Association of North America. They have some good ideas.
Taking a more holistic view, I would not say that LSA has been a total failure. At the same time, it’s true that it has not met its goal of opening up flight to more people.
The biggest problem here, however, isn’t LSA itself. The problem is the overall cost of flying ANYTHING (except an ultralight). Way back in the day, an “Average Joe” could reasonably afford to take lessons, get a license and either rent, co-own or outright buy an airplane. Today however, whether we’re talking LSA or General Aviation, flying is mostly the domain of the well-healed. Or at least, those doing well enough to afford the $5,000-$10,000 it cost just to get a license, and hourly rental fees that START at $100 and only go up from there.
It’s also no secret that the middle-class has been squeezed in the last 30 years, such that the entire concept of having discretionary income for non-essential, expensive hobbies is itself in trouble. I think these two factors (the expense of ALL flying and fewer people able to afford it) have crippled both GA and LSA more than anything inherently wrong with the aircraft in both those respective categories.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems with LSA. There are, including:
1. While LSA aircraft are certainly cheaper than GA airplanes, they are still not inexpensive by most peoples’ standards of inexpensive. There are about a dozen LSA aircraft in the sub-$75K arena (including some very fun and capable aircraft), but the average selling price these days is well north of $100K.
2. Even if you can afford an LSA aircraft, just owning it will cost a lot of money. Hangers (when you can find one), insurance, maintenance, fuel, training, etc. Again, flying has become a hobby of well-healed people.
3. The LSA movement itself (manufacturers and professional organizations) hasn’t done enough outreach to a new generation of flyers. I.e., the marketing of LSA hasn’t been impressive. This is partially understandable due to, again, expense. But I’d love to see a well-funded, expansive campaign to get more young people interested in flying.
4. Not really the fault of LSA, but “aviation snobbery” is alive and well. Too many GA pilots and FBO’s are not just unwelcoming to LSA, they are outright rude about it. E.g., I called one of my local small airports in February to inquire about hanger space for a N-numbered, LSA-certified Quicksilver Sport 2S, and was flat-out told “We don’t allow those types of planes here.” I asked the gentleman, “What do you mean by ‘those types’, seeing as how the plane is FAA-registered and certified.” His bizarre non-answer? “We just don’t want those things around here.” Unfortunately I’ve seen that type of attitude play out in a host of different situations.
5. LSA have to compete with sub-$25,000 152’s and the like. I’m certain a lot of people would LIKE to have some of the great airplanes currently being sold in the LSA class, but once again…money is an issue.
6. LSA aircraft also have to compete with…other LSA Aircraft. Right now there are over 130 certified LSA options, and the Pareto Principle is at play here. 20% of these companies sell 80% of all LSA. I don’t see how all these companies can remain viable. There still needs to be a large shakeout.
7. LSA are subject to certain arbitrary FAA standards, the worst of which is the 1320lb. weight limit. Bumping that up even to only 1,600lbs. would make a huge difference. 2000lbs. would be even better. (The counterpoint to this might be that microlights in Europe aren’t even allowed 1320lbs., and they sell fine.) BTW, such arbitrary rule-making is part of what has killed ultralighting. A Part 103 ultralight can only weigh 254 lbs. Those aircraft would be MUCH safer if FAA would grant them even a 20% (about 50lbs.) weight increase.
But on the positive side:
1. Aside from ultralights, LSA still presents the cheapest route to ownership of an aircraft that isn’t 25+ years old. As expensive as they are, LSA are still far cheaper than GA.
2. Most of the registered LSA options are good aircraft. In many cases, they’re better than they get credit for. In some cases, much better. All LSA have to be designed, tested and built to ASTM standards; a point some GA pilots seem to forget.
3. LSA gives lots of options for types of aircraft. There are all kinds of standard fix-winged aircraft, weight-shift (trikes), single-place, ultralight-like open-air models, powered gliders, powered parachutes, etc. FAR more variety in LSA than GA.
4. Not everyone wants to fly the entire family 1,000 miles away on vacation. In fact, I read that 80%+ of LSA flights are single-person flights only. So I don’t really buy the argument that being two-place and limited to 120 knots is a great barrier for LSA. The types of people that have a real, pressing need to fly more than two people faster than 120 knots are not really part of the LSA market segment anyway, IMO.
5. Technologically speaking, several LSA are increasingly coming with features that aren’t even found in lower-end GA airplanes. Vertical Power, for example, makes a product that will actually land your LSA airplane by itself in the event of an emergency. I know of no such product in any GA aircraft (due to Part 23 certification requirements).
6. The LSA equivalent in Europe (“microlights”) is not only surviving, but doing well! This tells me that, contrary to the popular notion expressed in many of these comments, there fundamentally IS a market for these types of airplanes and this type of flying. We just need to learn what Europe is getting right, that we aren’t. Then we need to act on it.
Now as for the Skycatcher, and as others have pointed out, that plane was a failure not because of LSA, but because of several poor decisions by Cessna. E.g., for some unknown reason Cessna chose to use THE heaviest engine available in the LSA class, and otherwise designed the airplane such that with full fuel, the plane could carry no more than 280lbs. worth of human. Uh, yeah…that’s a slight problem. I have no idea what genius at Cessna said, “Yeah, let’s make a LSA aimed at the training market, that can’t reasonably carry two people! We’ll sell millions!” Add in all the other problems (the dramatic post-intro price increase, safety issues in testing, Chinese production that no one trust, etc.), and the Skycatcher failure is easily explained without saying a word about LSA.
Great Article. Thanks for the info, super helpful. Does anyone know where I can find a blank “2007 CA FL-150, [Jan 2007]” to fill out?
The FAA was ignorant in not allowing two of the best, quite affordable candidates for LSA aircraft; Cessnas 150 and 152. For want of a couple hundred extra pounds, these two aircraft do not meet the LSA criteria. I am a private rated glider pilot, having owned two aircraft. My goal was to assemble a small group and purchase an affordable LSA and take instruction in that aircraft. After seeing the cost of the aircraft that the FAA approves, I have shelved this idea. In short, the FAA has actively discouraged me from getting into powered flight. Very short sighted and arrogant program. Almost smells of favoritism towards all the costly offshore made planes at the cost of some venerable domestic models.
HAY FAA guys,smartin up.with out pilots the feds wont need you.be good lads think of a reasonable way out of this.you could retire from the FAA like my dad did.a great retirement.travel the world.but remember what the man said.no bucks no buck Rodgers.i spent 40 years in aerospace with big defence.have my a/p licence.will start sport pilot training soon.i shure would like to fly a dehavaland beaver .or at least a swift.but the swift has retract gear,just don’t forget to lower the gear.HAY FORD MOTOR CO.you built b24 liberators in ww2.start up river rudge again.mass produce lite sport planes,for under 20 thousand,finance thru ford motor credit.its win,win.there is plenty of money to be made if no one gets gready.
I am not sure it is all doom for the LSA category. As someone mentioned it is far wider than the traditional GA in terms of interesting aircraft such as the Icon A5 or Revo Trike. The future of LSA belongs not so much to old pilots who want to keep flying although they will be a factor, rather the future of LSA belongs to manufacturers who will innovate spectacular aircraft that offers a unique experience – water landing, open cockpit etc. Call it adventure sport – a category where you will find other “experience” toys such as Touring/offroad motorcycle hybrids, jet skis and super capable ATV’s.
Yes – the young generation so sought after wont be so young, instead we will see well to do upper middleclass folks in their 40’ties and 50’ties. This notion that an aircraft has to carry the whole family and fly 125kt is old school GA mindset.
At least here is one LSA manufacturer that has hopes for the future:
1600 orders taken sofar, 100 deliveries expected in 2015 and 400 in 2016
Cheers and happy landings everyone.
It would appear that all the folks that think that the LSA rule is a failure, must all be pretty young. Maybe you will agree with yourselves, when you turn 65 or so. After having to pass a class II medical every year, for some 35 years, I find this rule great!! I was a controller, and I haven’t flown, in 35 years, but, my wife and I are shopping for a plane…all because of this rule. I don’t want to deal with a medical ever again (and yes, I can still pass it).
I find it very short sided, to think that everyone has to fit in the same category…and the pass the medical or get out philosophy is downright ignorant.
Hmm. I can personally count several young pilots thanks to LSA. This article is based on beliefs. Very little fact. Cessna had no idea how to make an LSA, but Cessna’s failure has nothing to do with LSA. BTW, you CAN buy a $75K LSA. Go buy a base package Allegro.
Well, simply LSA aircraft do not hold up under student training. They are built poorly and maintenance support is not there.
Trying suing these companies in the event of a fatal crash that is their fault!
This statement by me in fact from personal observations. My background is that of a CFI and an A&P IA.
“Built poorly”? I would direct you to the AeroPro EuroFox, Rotax engine. It is hardly “built poorly”. It is an excellent and safe airplane.
There’s a lot going on in the LSA industry and manufacturers are finally getting the products to the market that will make this class of aircraft successful. At Copper State Flyin I talked with both the Garmin and Dynon reps and they are making LSA type avionics that are affordable and safe. The FAA in all it’s wisdom chose to make ADS-B mandatory and so I had to spend another $3000 to make sure my RV-12 is 2020 compliant. Even so, where there’s a market ambitious entrepreneurs see an opportunity and there will be successful products and that is what we are seeing with Zenith, Viking, Vans, Icon and many other small companies. Although Cessna makes million dollar biz jets it could not make a simple LSA even with it’s heritage of being the flagship of US general aviation. Executives making too much money, no experience in small aircraft, it really doesn’t matter at this point as other “lean dogs” have taken up the chase. As far as LSA’s being unsafe I disagree completely. I have flown a Flight Design CTLS for the past three years and it’s about as safe an aircraft as you could hope to fly. It’s very sturdy and impossible to get into an unsafe situation (E-60 airfoil) with unless you make a serious mistake such as base to final stall and even then at 50 Kts it might be recoverable. It is very predictable, stalls are gentle and performs much better than a C-150 ever hoped to. As the CFI told me, you have to fly it and that’s what I do. As far as it being fragile, the landing gear are about the only issue with that aircraft that I have heard about. It was a student who stalled one at 12 feet above the runway (an airport in California) and cracked the bulkhead-landing gear structure. What would you expect? The flight service where I rent it has had great service from theirs and it’s difficult to get time in the CTLS. The LSA market is going to grow and the new pilots (and old pilots like me) will be flying these aircraft for decades to come. You’re right, who needs to carry four people and a dog, 150 pounds of luggage for a family trip? That’s not the type of flying pilots are doing. 115 Kts cruise, 400 nm range, 5 gal/hr burn, two adults and 50 pounds of stuff…what’s not to like about the LSA’s.
I can tell you what I care about. I’m new aND looking to get my either my ppl or SPL. The sports license however has me very interested because of cost and less medical red tape.
But, I find the limits on LSA planes to be rediculous.
As a family man in my 30s, I want to be able to take my family up. I want to be able to make small trips.
Why can’t I get an affordable Sport aircraft the average American could afford, same price point as a minivan, and load at least 4 people with decent fuel and range capacity?
You want cheaper planes? Get rid of the arbitrary standards, and this will open up a great more amount of qualified aircraft that can serve the community of SLA pilots.
The limits are keeping the cost high.
Oh, and the elitist snobbery toward Sports aviation doesn’t help.
LSA problem is that they are a very poor aircrafts, the whole standard is all big failure. It should cover a/c like Cessna 152, and be more about ease to fly not the weight.
Let’s compare C-152 and C-162
C-152 – easy to fly, Easier then C-172. Good doors with windows, easy to use yoke, easy to taxy front wheel, easy to taxy in strong wind. Easy to make cold in summer. Easy to start. Very reliable standard 6 pack instruments.
C-162 – difficult to fly, too light; can not taxy in 22+ winds (hello, C83 airport!), free castor wheel makes it difficult to taxy and control on runway, doors easy to lost in flight (we lost 2 , TWO, doors), very unstable on approach, no windows (can not make pictures) and so on.
C-152 – IFR plane. You can train IFR in it (yes, it is not good idea but YOU CAN), it is IFR certified.
C-162 – VFR only. And who need these fancy avionics in VFR? I need it for IFR not VFR. I can not fly real cross conuntry on C162 – no IFR, too light, too fragile. Power is not bad but only if you overweight it – as posted maximum weight is lower then it can really carry.
C-152 – reliable. Electric system + Vacuum system. No failures like ‘how to land C162 without electric power so you can not see speed and can not trim’. It is IFR plane, remember?
C-162 – all glass (but no IFR), electric trim (brr!), push flaps control (why can not they make it the same way as in C-152 or C-172). Why it need flaps at all? Citabria fly much easier without any flaps, C162 could be without them too (it is absolutely useless thing on it). Glass instruments are useless except they allows to prepare for G1000 and other real things. CFI can not see speed on this glass, btw, in sun shine. They (CFI) hate C162 and love C152 and C172.
Acrobatics. C152 acrobatics is really LIGHT SPORT plane, you can make loops, spins, aeleron rolls in it. C162… nothing… Poor and easy to break plane. Citabria is even better then C152… and it simple and easy to fly vs 162.
So what a surprise! Schools need C-152NG and not C162. New pilots – aged ones can fly C-172 but can not fly C-162 (it is WAY MORE DIFFICULT vs C-172); young ones want C-172 with 4 seats (why so primitive aircraft cost $250K – it is all crazy… and this is a problem! Cost must be decreased by any means). So who need C162? No one!
In addition, takes Technams. They have all line of birds, they have LSA with RG and fixed RPM prop (a huge advantage), they are easy to taxy, more reliable (rotax can work on AutoGas), they have twins, they have more options. Cessna.. sorry but now Cessna is very different from those great company which created C-172N, C-177, C-182RG, TR-182RG – all great planes… they lost engineers (but get more sales) and more lawyers (say, why C182 now has crosswind 15knots while older C182 had it 17 knots, why new C182 has lower landing weight! Is it better or worst then before?? No, it is all just ‘lawyers recommend to decrease it because of liability.. dumb!)
What to do – I think increase LSA requirements, allow fixed RPM prop, allow IFR certifications, allow 120 horse power engines and weight to cover C152 and Citabria into the category (yes, citabria is way much better then C162, which is boring very light plane). We need C152NG not C162. No matter WHO will do it.
And work on price; industry can not survive with simple aircraft price in $500K as it is now. And understand that Cessna is over, as a brand, it lost in’s engineering skills and is not ab le to create good aircraft anymore – and THIS is the reason for C162 failure, not sales or marketing – it is BAD aircraft, first of all.
Enjoyed reading both the article and all the comments over the last year. Found both to be somewhat extreme at times. Its a complicated topic as one could honestly say the Sport rules have been good and not so good for aviation depending on the issue. Certainly the lack of new pilots in aviation was never going to be fixed with the Sport pilot regs. Foolish to believe that promise in the beginning. But the availability of so many more choices in aircraft, both S-LSA and E-LSA/AB and the explosion of avionics improvements have been undervalued in my opinion.
I fly an RV-12 E-LSA that has an autopilot and full ADS-B weather/traffic with EFIS. Yes, I have $80K invested in her, but she is so much more enjoyable to fly with all those bells and whistles than all the 172s and 182s I’ve previously flown in. In one two day period last summer I flew back and forth between NJ and N.Carolina one day and then back and forth to Canada from NJ the next. All at <5 gal/hour togas and with traffic & weather information at my finger tips that rivals the airlines. I submit we're in a new golden age of aviation and don't even realize it yet. Yes it would be great if more young people got involved in aviation, but even if the costs were more modest, we'd have to ban the X-BOX and a whole lot of other competitive distractions to reverse long standing trends. Unlikely. Recreational aviation (which is what many of us practice in GA) is likely to remain an older man's pastime for some time to come. Let's not blame or credit the Sport pilot/LSA regs for that.
many hours in flying anvils.
Done the speed thing, coming out of cessna 310. 200+ mph is fun and has its uses, but the expense. (fuel alone runs around 25 gph)
done the family thing, now just me and my wife, more then one passenger is always a pain and more liability, someone sick, bath room breaks, someone always complaining about something.
now building ch750.
But, let’s think. If you have a chance to get
– LSA C162 – no IFR, cross wind 12, max wind 22, landing speed 45 (so it is very bumpy), free castor (difficult to control on taxiway)
– Renewed C-152 – IFR, spin certified, easy to taxy, easy to fly, no big problems if alternator die, mechanic trim, autopilot available, windows can be opened.
What will be your choice? 152, for sure.
LSA concept was not bad, but the standard is too low to make planes safe, and it became a great failure. Most LSA aircrafts are more difficult and less safe to fly, vs plain simple C-172N and even old and easy to fly C-152.
They should make standard little higher – add 200 lb to the max weight, add 15 hp to engine, add 10 knots to the speeds, allow constant RPM prop and allow IFR certification And they could have a great planes.
Aside of this, C-162 is a failure because Cessna lost good engineers, and it has so many design flaws (door design is an excellent example) that I even do not know, what to say.
I’ve flown both – originally trained on a 152. For me it’s no question at all – I’d take the RV-12 all day, every day. It’s roomier. It has better visibility – by far. It has better handling – by far. It has a much higher rate of climb. It has a better engine. It can be relatively easily retrofitted with the latest advances in avionics. And it’s sturdy enough for flight school use.
The 152 has the edge on flap effectiveness for coming down – the -12 is a bit limited there, and possibly on range with full fuel.
Truly, for fun flying, it’s no contest.
P.S. – if your RV-12 is ELSA, and you equip it properly, you can fly it IFR all you want, as far as I’m aware. Of course, it’s a light airplane with the same wing loading as a C152, so you don’t want to fly it in IMC where you wouldn’t fly a C152 – which basically means anything other than transitioning through a thin stratus layer.
I just spend a little over +100K on an LSA aircraft. I did consider buying a used C-172 (I cant do C152 – they are too cramped). The reason I did not buy a new C-172 is obviously the price that have reached ridiculous levels. But even an older C-172 that’s affordable is still pretty old. It will burn 7-8 Gal of 100LL at cruise making each hour at least $35-40 just in fuel, now add in maintenance of which you can do nothing yourself. Then of course with an old aircraft there is always the risk of some unexpected repairs coming due $$$
Realistically I would rarely fly with more than a friend and I wouldn’t fly to get to places in a Cessna anyway, for that driving a comfortable SUV or flying far cheaper commercial would be the choice.
I fly for the excitement, I fly for the enjoyment of commanding a beautifully sculpted craft made with 21st century materials, avionics, fuel efficiency and a parachute for good measure.
So LSA is not about range, speed, occupants – for most, it has opened a door to acquire something brand new at a reasonable price as well as cost to own. The offerings here are many: Sleek two seater fixed wings that will match an old C-172 in speed and climb, Gyro copter anyone, or how about a float plane or even a Trike aka airborne motorcycle.
So when declaring LSA a failure you have to carefully define on which merits that is. If you find the FAA restrictions a failure – well, fair enough – but to declare it a failure on all accounts is simply too early. At least for me, LSA was the ticket to become airborne again in a very beautiful aircraft – The Revo from Evolution trikes.
Holy cow ! the FAA just approved an1,800 pound aircraft to be flown under LSA rules (the flying car just got an exemption)… what is going on here?!?!?? So remind me why the FAA decided Cessna 150’s can’t be flown under LSA? This is unreal. The FAA is losing it. Really. Totally illiogical. And giving away taxpayer money to ADS-B installers later this year.. what? I’m really starting to feel like I’m living in bizarro world… please somebody help me…
This ‘LSA is a failure’, or ‘it’s not working out’ point of view does not seem very accurate to someone new to the piloting world, and only because of the Sport provision. I’m a 55 year old who is finally able to pursue my dream of flying, and my wife, who is several years younger than I am, has jumped in the cockpit as well. The combination of time, affordability and access to convenient training to finally get into the air was never going to align completely and my wife and I made the decision to go for it, anyway–and couldn’t be happier with our decision.
We chose to start with a Sport certification and perhaps will transition to full private down the road. Why Sport? Two reasons: it is a more affordable certification to achieve and it aligns with the kind of flying we want to do. The reality is, everything one does to get a Sport license is the same as a private to the point of training for night VFR or basic instrument, so that amount of training time–and it’s cost–gets lopped off this initial certification. So–back to why Sport works for us–we have no desire to fly at night, nor do we want to fly in IFR type conditions. Day/evening VFR, pleasant weather is quite acceptable for what we want to do, and the Sport license is the most direct method of achieving our ‘driver’s license’ to do that kind of flying. Down the road, yes, maybe, night VFR, IFR conditions, and heavier weather flying could become things we want to learn and will become needed skills we will utilize, but for now, they are not.
I’ve read the back and forth on the GA/LSA aircraft conversation; as a new member to the pilot’s community I have no pre-conceived notions. Two seat? Six seat? 130 kts cruise, 160 kts cruise, all point to the multitude of capabilities and the delightful options that owning and flying a private plane can offer. The ability to absolutely meet a seldom used or unneeded criteria should not, however, be the reason to make other utilizations (such as clear weather, daytime VFR pleasure flying) impossible. For my wife and I, all we care to do is enjoy flying for the sake of flying. To do that we want a ‘real’ airplane that offers reliability, safety, state of the art communications and aids that enhance situational and navigational capabilities. And we need both cost of entry and operating cost affordability. A Tecnam or CT offers that and is achievable with a low hour well maintained used model, still staying under $90,000. Yes, I can find a very narrow cabin 1960’s Cessna or Piper with a million hours, two engine rebuilds, bad upholstery, and steam gauges for under $40,000– but that isn’t what I personally like–although I love to look at those kinds of planes when we gather somewhere for a Sunday burger–awesome! Just not our preference. At $2.79 for premium unleaded I can fill the 34 gallon tank of the CT I currently rent for $95, and fly seven hours plus at a burn rate of 4.5 gph. 7 hours in a 172 will cost me $225 if I keep my fuel burn to only 7 GPH at $4.55 a gallon for 100LL. So, the quick math makes it pretty apparent that my in-flight operating costs are about half with the CT. That’s a lot more affordable. For others, who want an Ultra, or a simple as they come, or a Gyro, the needs and costs are even less. And the whole idea, regardless of the price tag, is to ENJOY flying! To have fun!
Aviation is expensive for any type of aircraft. So is having a sports car or great big over the road mobile motor home. It is all relative to what one is going to do with it. For people like me and my wife, who are looking for the sheer joy of flying as our reason for doing this, the road of how LSA and Sport came into being with the FAA is not really important to us. But, the costs for qualifying in and subsequently operating a LSA are significantly less than a 172, etc. The expenses of securing a Sport license and subsequent training and proficiency hours have been about half of what I would have spent for a full Private. Yes, I give up a few things–two more people in the back is the one thing I wish was different, but outside of that, we can go wherever we desire–weather and day VFR permitting–in a well equipped, fun to fly, safe airplane. As our goals don’t currently go beyond that requirement, and since the affordability of both the plane and the true costs of flying–and they are still expensive–do align with what our personal finances will allow, the Sport license/LSA route is a good one for us!
Thanks for taking the time to put your thinking “on paper” in this thread. As a lifelong “airplane nut” who’s mostly scratched my love of flight via soaring, sad to say many’s been the time when the thought has come unbidden to mind that “We’re our own worst enemies,” when it comes to expressing our minor gripes and grumps necessarily associated with our individual “ideal vision of a perfect flying world.” The “Great LSA Debate” is an example. Soaring is (arguably) the least practical method of gaining flight time yet invented; certainly – soaring FBO’s notwithstanding – the only reason to do it is “for sport aviating.” Practical it ain’t. Yet – like LSA – it’s an option for getting into the air, and if there’s a truism universally applicable in the flying world it’s this: options are good! Had LSA been an option when I got into flying, and soaring not, even with it’s restrictions (compared to a “real SEL rating”) I’d have jumped into LSA wholeheartedly for all the reasons important to you. Flying is expensive. “Making it pay” isn’t what every day-VFR sport pilot wants to do. Perfection is never an option. Those expressing their dissatisfaction with the warts inherent to “the LSA version we have” who do so with vehemence and venom aren’t – IMO – doing “aviation in general” any favors. It’s one thing to point out the pros and cons inherent to LSA while simultaneously respecting the intelligence and decisionmaking processes of one’s audience, and quite another to state one’s opinion as if it is right, and everyone else’s is somehow wrong for failing to match one’s own. May you and your wife have years of flying fun in degree far beyond your fondest imaginings to-date!
True. I will work towards my sport license, but I’m not investing in a plane until I can get my ppl. So until the 3rd class medical nonsense is eliminated, and I can carry my family somewhere, I’m not buying. I have no issue paying for training, such as instrument, which to me is a safety necessity. But for the space and lack of use, I’ll invest in an SUV, instead of an LSA.
After reading many of your comments on this subject it seems that a common thread is the failure to get new pilots into aviation. It seems that very few young people are now interested in aviation as compared to say 40 years ago. Most young people today are more interested in Video Games, music or other entertainment. However I have grand-kids that are trying to determine how they can have a rewarding career like my UAL Captain son. It has become so difficult and expensive to get there that few even consider it a possibility. Our government has subsidized almost everything except flight training. Maybe the industry needs a good shot in the arm. Comments?
I’d say let the market sort that out. Back in the late 80’ties my then employer Scandinavian Airlines subsidized pilot training because they had too. Fast forward a decade and there were so many young pilots competing that the only way for an airline job was to sponsor your own 737 rating, adding a good 30-40K to your existing debt.
Since then and partly because of that the entry of new pilots has diminished to the point where the industry is about to face a massive shortage. I dont see why the major airlines, finally doing well cannot, by efficiency in numbers, begin to train and subsidize ab initio. They will have to.
Agreed on all your points Tom
Just buy one of the hundreds of C-150/152, 172’s or Cherokees out there for, < $50K. And get a real PPL. Problem solved.
I was doing research on the topic of LSA and found this blog article. Even though it is 2017 now, I think that a review of the original article published should be taken. The outgrowth of hang gliding into ultralights into LSA is a natural evolution of flying and was bound to happen regardless. Technology is pushing boundaries like never before. Who would have thought 15 years ago sailplanes would sport their own power take offs! Technology is pushing changes, especially in the use of electric airplanes. Granted Cessna with all of its background really didn’t carefully look at how to succeed with the LSA designation and shot themselves in the foot. Costs will eventually go down. I love the design of the Bristell LSA planes, just absolutely gorgeous. And now is a good time to enter into the LSA as a new pilot which is what I am planning to do. if anything, failure is a teacher of the path that we chose to take when we don’t consider the unintended consequences of our choices. Mitigating those unintended consequences takes its toll on everyone but we learn and then take the next step up to achieve higher consciousness in what we attempt to do.
The answer to this and all of General Aviation is to get the FAA out of it completely! The FAA should be restricted to commercial airlines only, and probably only the larger ones at that. That means no private pilot licensing by the FAA, no certification process for manufacturers, no accident investigations for General Aviation and no Rules to follow and enforce.
Why we have allowed our elected officials to do this to us is beyond me. That doesn’t mean there won’t be licenses, rules, or accident investigations, it just means it won’t be the FAA! The Federal Government doesn’t investigate every car crash and they don’t issue drivers licenses. Eliminate the FAA, and a new Cirrus SR20 will be under $100K within 10 years (in today’s dollars).
Very late into this discussion but have thought about LSAs for a number of years. For me the most serious problem is the light wing loading baked into the LSA formula.
That will make the aircraft more of a handful in any turbulence and increase the possibility of landing accidents.
Transition from older SEL 4 place A/C to a LSA might be more difficult than starting as a new pilot in a LSA.
I only flew a Skycatcher for about 1.5 hours. I just hate any glass cockpit. I switched to a AeroPro Eurofox without the glass cockpit. I had a about 35 hours in a Cessna 152, with an instructor who liked to take joy rides and not let me practice landings and doing the pattern, milking my wallet. So I didn’t get to solo it.
The EuroFox, while much more difficult than the 152, I was solo endorsed in 11.4 hours, and I had a lot of fun soloing it. I would love to solo the 152, but I am not going to get into the spider-web of the Medical. I feel that mastering the Light Sport Airplane is a great way to step up to an easier plane like the 152.
I have no desire to fly at night, or in IFR conditions. I just want to fly. Period. Why the FAA can’t classify the 152 as a LSA, just makes no sense to me.
Just my .02 cents as an older guy.
I owned an Evektor sport star for years. And, yes, I am one of those older guys who did not want to fight over a medical. First, you are right that these light sport aircraft are generally over priced. But, compared to certified aircraft? Not really. Secondly, the Cessna was a bad aircraft and it became one they day that Cessna for political reasons went to the the O-200. It was too heavy of an engine and compromised the whole aircraft.
Thirdly, times have changed. People do want more than a Light sports aircraft. The pieces are there. Rotax now has a bigger engine that is still light. Raise the weight limit from 600 Kg to say 700 Kg and use the bigger engine. You would have the potential for an airplane that could do 140 Kts or more. I think that would sell very well
I still don’t understand why more GA pilots, all GA pilots don’t rise up against the FAA. I earned my Light Sport license in an Allegro aircraft. This thing had bicycle levers and cables for brakes and throttle. a piece of fabric stretched over a frame for a seat, plexiglass windows that did’t open and a flimsy fiberglass shell. Because of the FAA this go kart with wings of an airplane which should cost maybe $20,000 at the most, is $120,000! We should not let the government get away with this. Understand, they are doing what the do on purpose. They don’t want tens of thousands of new airplanes and new pilots in the skies, which is what would happen if we got the FAA out of GA altogether. That Allegro that I learned to fly would come down to $20K and a new Cirrus SR20 would top out at may $100K.
I took the time to read this article and most of your responses and feedback. At the young age of 63 with both steam gauge and glass time between the military and civilian worlds I find myself ‘Shopping for my 1st Airplane’. Twice Retired, Dual ATPs/CFII, bored, and ready to simply enjoy my passion once or twice a week/month… So, many hours of research later I find myself torn between the LSA Birds and a C172 with a souped up engine and mods. However, I have NEVER flown an LSA Bird. Ever…
Y’all want to really know what my search has really boiled down to? The simple fact that 90% of ALL the LSA and SEL Birds For Sale today are NOT ADS-B In/Out Compliant. However, at least half of the Glass Cockpit Birds are ADS-B Compliant with the majority being LSA with Glass Cockpits. 20 Months to go Gentlemen BEFORE the majority of GA Airplanes For Sale today (April 2018) are NOT going to be legal to fly in Controlled Airspace on 1/1/2020. And seeing that many of these ‘Replies’ are from 2014++ I can assure you that the prices are MUCH higher than some of your posted ‘numbers’.
However, in the end I think that so many of us ‘Return to what we know…’ My Civilian Training was mostly in Cessna/Piper equipment, both Day/Night VFR/IFR. So, a 2 Seat LSA restricted to 120kts, Day VFR, and 3-5x the price tag will not motivate a man like me no matter how much I admire and appreciate the LSA Technology and Efficiency Choices available today. A 200 knot 1997 Glasair Experimental? Tempting but once again $230K+++? I can buy a lot of gas for $200,000 in a VG Condition Older IFR C172 Skyhawk today doing 110kts that NEEDS the $10-20K Cockpit Update for ADS-B In/Out Compliance.
I will however wager a cup of coffee that one year from now we will all see a Fire Sale of Used Airplanes that are Non ADS-B Compliant.
I’d like to see the LSA (US) & AULA (Canada) standards harmonized. I wonder if that is something they could agree to under NAFTA if they are renegotiating it anyway. Might make it simpler for people on both sides of the boarder to fly & buy aircraft?
Why is the Government allowing the UNREGULATED USE if Marijuana, but is against allowing a retractable gear LSA. (Note the U.S Surgeon General took numerous DECADES and tens-of-thousands Tobacco-Related Deaths before mandating a warning label on Tobacco products).
My prediction is that the U.S. will have tens-of-thousands of Deaths related to the UNREGULATED USE of marjuana, (Including Marijuana DUI Deaths) vs Deaths related to LSAs and LSA-RGs.
My point is;
Our Government is Bi-Polar.
LSA isnt a failure. And this article sounds like it was written by someone who’s parents left them a LOT of money…
I’m technically upper middle class and single. And theres no way in hell i can afford $100-200k plus probably 30k a year to hangar something i may or may not have time to fly ever (i work 6 days a week.. hence the uppe middle class thing). I’m frankly not even interested in a $20,000 cherokee i’ll have to put 3-5k a year in >just to have it sit tied down< and another 5k if i fly it 50-100 hours. $200 a week for something that, realistically.. im liable to fly an hour a week or less? And the reason for that expense is the upper class history of aviation.. just as with sailing. The difference with sailing is that all that extra expense is optional.. you can get a nice liveaboard for 20 – 40k . hell you can build one for 10-20. You can also put 2 million in the same sized boat. up to you.
With a PPL that isnt so. You have to hand 1-3k a year to a mechanic to disassemble and reassemble your airplane. Hangar prices are Hillarious. Airplane engine prices are Ridiculous. I can buy a new , high tech, complex 350hp motor brand new for my mustang gt for <10k. But a small, simple 100hp rotax is 20k? a KIT plane is 40k (Unassembled)? And a kit plane is usually a few cnc'd components and some aluminum tubing.
The idea behind experimental and lsa wasnt "something new for Cessna/et al to make big bucks on". It was "make flying affordable and doable by average people". People with 9 or 10 figures in the bank arent average people.LSA means you can buy/build an aircraft, trailer it and store it at your home and it costs you $0 when youre not flying it. It means you can do your own annual for the cost of parts. And that you probably wont NEED one because youre likely replacing things as they need it. It means you dont have to pay $$ for a freaking light because it's "original" "certified" etc … It means if you want to make your own carbon fiber cowling.. you just do it.
There are 10's of t housands of middle class people sailing 33-50 foot sailboats, living on them now. .because the classism in yachting is being decimated. LSA is a step in the right direction for flying. Im personally probably going to buy an old kitfox, store it in my driveway covered and fly it when i have time. And this articles writer likely pays about as much in fixed costs every 2 years as that kitfox will cost me. You dont democratise flying by limiting it to those who can drop 6 figures on a hobby.
I owned an LSA after owning a turbo Arrow IV. They cost the same! Yes the Arrow was a 1984 but with only 1400 hours TT. The LSA new was almost identical in price. Both were around $120K. Yup the operational costs were very much lower. The problems start with an LSA right after you get into the air. Touchy little things, with only 1320 max gross little puffs of wind blow your butt around way too much, very low wing loading. They are slooooow. The usual bubble canopy is nice but the greenhouse effect is a dilly. Have to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses. Believe it or not, the tower people treat you different when you drive an LSA versus a Turbo Arrow T Tailed IV. They assume you are a teenager that knows nothing. Least they sound that way. Then my brand new LSA sport plane was grounded by the FAA due to two separate wing separations in flight. Not enough metal to make it safe to meet the 1320 pound gross weight limitation. I sold it immediately after installation of the wing kit. On the whole, LSA’s are only airplane shaped tinker toy paper weights, not a safe airplane especially on a choppy or windy days especially landing in a crosswind. I now own another Arrow IV. Much better.
I think the biggest issue facing General Aviation today is the cost – regardless of LSA regs being good or bad, the Skycatcher being a success or failure, etc. My local FBO charges $125 an hour to rent a beat up old Cessna 152 or a Skycatcher. Add $55 an hour for instruction and you are looking at $180 an hour just to get in the cockpit. I don’t know too many young people fresh out of high school or college who have that kind of money laying around. Blame it on the insurance industry, union workers, whatever. GA is slowly dying and will continue to do so until the costs come down to where it’s attainable for a wider demographic.
If the FAA wants to rescue GA change class 3 medical to a basic medical or even better just use a drivers license.
LSA is still a great option for those who do not have a desire to carry 4 people. My wife will not fly, so Just me and my friend go up. Being over 55, the LSA is a great option to assist in strict medical requirements and allows me to enjoy flying.