In 2014, I stirred up a hornet’s nest by proclaiming “the LSA rule is a failure.” My argument was that the new breed of airplanes were moderately successful in keeping older pilots flying, but they had done nothing to inspire a new generation of aviation enthusiasts. Many readers (well over 100 at last check) considered this sacrilege and weren’t afraid to tell me how wrong I was. Others thought it was outrageous to try to draw conclusions so early.
Six years later, some readers have asked for an update to that article. Have Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) taken off in popularity since then? Are Sport Pilot certificates more common now that the economy is stronger? At the risk of provoking another argument, my review of the data suggests no. The Light Sport world is still alive, but it’s a niche industry with few breakout winners. That’s not just a function of youth, either: the original Light Sport Aircraft rule has been with us for over 15 years now, plenty of time to get a read on things.
First, though, let’s be precise about what we’re measuring. Discussions about “light sport” flying include both LSAs as an airplane category and the Sport Pilot as a pilot certificate level. These are related ideas but separate; a commercial pilot can fly an LSA, but a Sport Pilot cannot fly a Cirrus.
As a certificate, the Sport Pilot certainly hasn’t set the world on fire. Less than 200 were added to the FAA rolls in 2019, compared to 27,000 Private Pilots. That statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, since many more pilots are flying under Sport Pilot privileges with a higher level certificate (for example as a Private Pilot “downgrading” to the looser medical standards). For those older pilots the new certificate is certainly welcome, but calling that a win feels like moving the goalposts: a key aim of the new rule was to welcome new pilots to the industry with lower training requirements. That’s simply not happening. In a typical year, a busy Florida flight school can add more pilots than the entire Sport Pilot training industry.
As a type of airplane, Light Sport Aircraft have been a little more successful. Just under 700 LSAs were registered last year, according to the always-interesting Dan Johnson website. That leaves the total LSA fleet at about 8,800, which sounds impressive. The footnotes matter, though. These numbers include “Sport Pilot kit aircraft,” a broad term that includes experimental airplanes that can be flown by a Sport Pilot—not true LSAs.
In fact, these kit aircraft account for the vast majority of LSA registrations last year. For “factory built” LSAs, the numbers are pretty small: only 41 Icon A5s, 60 Tecnam LSAs, and 63 Flight Design CTs were delivered last year. I’m not cherry-picking statistics; these are the best-selling models. The closing of the Sport Aviation Expo last year certainly isn’t a positive sign, either.
For comparison, Cirrus, Cessna, Piper and Diamond delivered over 900 piston singles last year. Curse those expensive SR22s and Skyhawks if you like, but they are selling much better than most factory-built LSAs. Heck, even Robinson helicopters sell better than most LSAs (142 piston model R22s and R44s were sold last year).
Why have LSA sales been so anemic? There are plenty of reasons, but three stand out. Most notably, prices have stayed stubbornly high, removing one of the key benefits the category was supposed to offer. The Icon A5 seaplane is the most dramatic example, with a price that has exploded from under $150,000 at launch to more than $380,000 today, but it’s not the only one. That sexy Carbon Cub SS can easily top $250,000 with popular options. Even utilitarian models typically cost more than $150,000 with standard equipment.
Are LSA manufacturers simply ripping off customers? It sure doesn’t seem like it: these are not high margin businesses, and most are small companies that struggle to break even. The typical complaints about product liability, low volume production, and regulation apply here, but another cause of high prices is that owners simply want these airplanes to do more than they were designed to do. “Needle, ball, and airspeed” makes a great catchphrase, but most buyers prefer “glass cockpits, datalink weather, and autopilots.”
Whether an airplane is a good value or not depends on what you compare it to. While a $250,000 LSA represents a significant savings over a brand new Cessna, that’s not the real competition. A prospective airplane owner is more likely to compare an LSA to a used Part 23 airplane, like a Piper Archer. A quick search finds some attractive models available for less than $70,000—and remember these are four place airplanes with modern IFR avionics. Yes, the airframes are older, but for the money invested they still offer a much better value.
Another reason for weak sales is flight schools, a key target for LSAs in the early days, since they were supposedly hungry for a new type of training airplane. Unfortunately, that market hasn’t really materialized. Some schools have found success with airplanes like the RV-12, and Sport Pilot-only training centers do exist. The current boom in pilot training, however, is powered by Cessna and Piper. In fact, Skyhawks are so popular right now that prices of used ones have skyrocketed (if you own a 172S, you should answer the phone!). Piper even introduced new training versions of their most popular airplane, years after cancelling a short-lived LSA program.
One final frustration relates to maintaining and upgrading LSAs, which has proven to be trickier than expected. Because the airplane manufacturer must approve most upgrades, owners are very much dependent on the factory for support. Many LSA owners have learned this lesson the hard way with ADS-B Out, a relatively minor upgrade that has required serious paperwork changes for some owners. So an airplane category that was supposed to offer flexibility has, in some cases, been harder to maintain than a 50-year old Beech.
The new cool kids
In a practical sense, the ultimate verdict comes from customer attention and business investment. In both cases, the industry has moved on from LSAs and Sport Pilots. Electric airplanes and vertical takeoff (VTOL) designs are the hot new ideas, with venture capital flooding into new companies with futuristic designs. The solution for “democratizing aviation” seems to be cheap octocopters and urban heliports, not two-seat sport airplanes. And pilots? The future envisioned by the most starry-eyed tech boosters involves no pilots at all. Don’t get me wrong: I find these proposals to be outlandish and naive. Most of these are probably years off (and many won’t make it at all), but they are where the action is right now.
While we await our Jetsons future, it’s worth recognizing the real winner in personal aviation: experimental aircraft. This is where low cost innovation is taking hold and where general aviation pilots are most excited. You can go a lot faster than 100 knots, you can fly IFR, and you can even carry four people in some models. The most exciting new Cub design isn’t the LSA model, but the souped up Carbon Cub. For traveling, the Van’s RV-10 offers performance similar to a Cirrus but at 1/3rd the price. There are plenty of other options too, from the SubSonex personal jet to the Zenith CH750 bush plane.
Customers are voting with their wallets. More than 10,000 RVs are flying today, a number that has more than doubled since 2008. The LSA registration numbers above show a long list of kits, not factory-built S-LSAs. They are kit airplanes first and foremost, and if they happen to satisfy the LSA rule, so much the better.
A silver lining
It’s not all bad news. One reason LSAs haven’t found momentum is that, like a good football coach at halftime, the rest of the general aviation industry has reacted. In this sense, the Sport Pilot and LSA rules have been successful—because they have inspired meaningful change elsewhere.
BasicMed is the most obvious example. The “driver’s license medical” that comes with the Sport Pilot certificate hasn’t proven to be a major safety risk, so the FAA felt a lot more comfortable extending this concept to Part 23 airplanes in May 2017. No, BasicMed isn’t quite as relaxed as the Sport Pilot rules for medical certification (one reason Sport Pilots will hang around), but it’s a major step in the right direction. AOPA estimates that over 50,000 pilots are flying under BasicMed—impressive adoption for a relatively new rule, and lots of pilots who don’t have any use for a Sport Pilot certificate.
Beyond BasicMed, the looser airplane certification standards also helped usher in a new era of avionics. The concept of industry consensus standards was pioneered by LSAs, and once again the industry provided good evidence to regulators that a new certification approach could lower cost without reducing safety. The steps were tentative at first, but the last five years have seen a flood of new avionics, from affordable primary flight displays to “non-certified autopilots” in certified airplanes. This is real progress for thousands of airplane owners, breathing new life into older airframes.
The LSA industry isn’t dead. A recent Flying magazine edition features an ad for the Colt from Texas Aircraft, a new LSA that looks to be well made and practical. Another newish LSA is the Vashon Ranger, a $100,000 LSA designed by the founder of Dynon Avionics. I had the chance to fly one last year and enjoyed it—it’s fun and well-made, with some innovative design choices. But the Colt still costs well over $150,000, and fewer than 30 Rangers are flying. Hardly revolutionary numbers.
There is some hope for regulatory relief, which might spur a new round of airplane designs. The FAA seems serious about updating the LSA rule to potentially raise the maximum weight, increase the maximum speed, and allow electric powerplants (a critical shortcoming right now for innovative companies). These are desperately needed to prevent LSAs from being passed by traditional certified airplanes in terms of flexibility, but any such change is likely years away from being reality. By the time it comes into force, new Part 23 certification standards themselves might unlock some of the same potential as an LSA—but with fewer restrictions on performance.
In fact, the ultimate goal for industry groups and airplane manufacturers may be to eliminate the clear lines between experimental, LSA, and certified in the first place. The FAA wants to move to “performance- and risk-based divisions for airplanes.” As the airplane goes up in performance or as the type of operation goes up in risk, the requirements for aircraft and pilot certification will tighten, but without today’s arbitrary categories. At that point, LSAs might cease to be called LSAs.
No matter how you look at it, LSAs have not transformed flight training or reinvented recreational aviation. They are and probably always will be a fairly small niche. Likewise, the Sport Pilot certificate has not played much of a role in the growth of student pilots—for that we mostly have the airlines to thank. Apparently a pilot hiring boom is worth a lot more to the industry than a new certificate level.
In spite of all the disappointment, though, there is reason to celebrate. The typical GA pilot has more options for equipment and medical certification than he did ten years ago, and the Light Sport industry deserves some credit for that. US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once called states “laboratories of democracy” for their ability to test out new ideas at a small scale before being adopted at the federal level. Maybe that’s the legacy of LSAs: laboratories for the FAA.
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“Because the airplane manufacturer must approve most upgrades, owners are very much dependent on the factory for support.”
LIGHT-SPORT AIRCRAFT STATEMENT OF COMPLIANCE can also be submitted by any FAA DER.
This is an alternative that is often not known to most owners of any aircraft. Part 23 or SLSA.
“LIGHT-SPORT AIRCRAFT STATEMENT OF COMPLIANCE can also be submitted by any FAA DER.” Try and find one. I had a plane in VT for painting, was after a ferry permit for flight back after annual had a lapsed. Tried to locate a DER on Maine/NH/VT with no luck (FSDO for the region is in Maine), couldn’t even get a call back. Maybe other regions are better.
A friend of mine flies an LSA and was contemplating (back in 2019) adding ADS-B out to meet the 2020 mandate. He figured he would have to contact the manufacturer in the Czech Republic and get a Letter of Authorization (LOA) which is very difficult for many reasons. I was able to locate the current Master Equipment List for his LSA. In the MEL, it listed many different ADS-B avionics packages including the Garmin GDL-82 which is the unit he installed.
LSA has been somewhat of a disappointment because it really is a good fit for most hobbyist flyers needs and so should be successful. This article hits most of the weak points, but I think there are a few others:
1) Salesmanship – Today, a manufacturer’s
idea of selling is to build a website, maybe display at Oshkosh and buy a magazine ad or two. They should read how Mr Piper sold Cubs during the depression. A former boss of mine had posted over his desk; “Nothing happens until somebody sells something”. Yeah.
2) Engines – The nearly universal Rotax is a good unit with one exception; warmup time. Watch how long that takes, then imagine being a student and paying $120/hr for it. Also no new engines should have magnetos or carburetors; it’s too hard for instructors to explain the concept to students born in an age of electronic controls.
3) Weight limit- It is mentioned in the article that it would have been better if the gross weight limit was higher, and it would be. My disappointment was that we seemingly have not improved structural efficiency since the 1930s. Piper and others, could build a two place trainer at about 660 lbs in 1937. And now, the LSA trainers come in at 830 lbs. Yes, we do have starters and radios now, but still.
I owned and put 200 hrs on a Flight Design CTLSi. The Rotax 912iX engine. I now fly a Cirrus SR22T (must Tanis preheated at temps below 40f).
You are not correct. The Flight Design had little to no warmup at all, is FADEC based (all engine and fuel is managed by a computer) and was fuel injected so no carb heat issues. AND the engine runs on auto gas and has a 5gph burn rate. SLSA weight limit still allows to ‘not obese’ men to fly in one. We are talking about 170lb men with full fuel. The Flight Design cruised at 115kts 75% power btw.
Where I live there are two light sport aircraft within 200 miles that are available for training or rental. One is owned by a flight instructor who is so busy doing seaplane training that he no longer uses the light sport airplane. The other is owned by a part 141 flight school that stopped adding names to their waiting list when they got to 18 months out. Therefore, I have to leave my state for a month and take my training in residence knowing that there will be no aircraft rentals available when I get back.
The other issue then arises. How do I get information about Light Sport aircraft. None of the manufacturers update their websites more than every three years.
Check out aerotrek airplanes, lots of information. I trained in a Cessna 150 and finished in the aerotrek. Purchased a new one for under hundred thousand fully equipped and adsb.
I think you hit all the points. I’m 57, instrument rated and licensed since 1981. I’d much rather have a 4 seat, IFR capable plane. I love flying LSA’s for fun but I wouldn’t buy one. For half the money you get more aircraft. A new LSA is pretty but it’s like having a little convertible car for weekend fun, what do I do with my second child or a little luggage?
LSA was never intended to fly in IFR. Sport Pilots are not able to get an instrument rating. Why do people want to compare apples and oranges on this subject?
I have been reading and hearing for the past two years that AOPA, EAA, and the FAA have been working to update the sport pilot regs to a performance based standard. Whenever I contact AOPA or EAA for an update, I am told that the changes are right around the corner and something should happen this ______ (summer, fall, spring – fill in the blank). What is the holdup? Will it EVER happen?
The problem with LSAs is they are not “real” airplanes that are attractive for students that aspire to a career in aviation because they cannot be used for training for those advanced ratings An aircraft needs to be IFR certified, with speed and range that make long cross country trips and IFR with range to get to an alternate practical, even though those capabilities are not needed for basic training. Offering the sport pilot certificate as an initial step for someone who aspires to commercial, instrument, CFI and ATP ratings is not attractive.
Sorry, Barry, but HUH? LSAs are not “real” airplanes? Really?? Of course they are “real” airplanes. A Part 103 Kolb Firefly is a “real” airplane. It has an engine, wings, 3 axis controls and takes off and lands on a runway. Yup, “…it’s a plane”. (Apologies to Superman) If someone is planning a career in aviation, sure, they need to train eventually in high performance aircraft. However, the vast majority of pilots are not IFR and Commercially rated.
Some of us, I’m 76 and have no plans to fly a 777 around the globe, would be quite happy with a 700′ grass strip and a Taylorcraft or Piper Cub (both “real” planes). Let me fly at 1,000′ or less at 50 MPH and actually see the beautiful ground beneath me. Try THAT in IFR in a 777.
Many years ago I was a student pilot in a C-150 and trying to land in a crosswind at a large airport with a huge jet waiting for me and I bopped along about about 40 MPH. I touched down, bounced, weather-cocked into the wind, applied power and did a go-around. I felt bad for the jet pilot waiting for me to get out of the way so he could get his passengers off to Switzerland. My instructor put it in perspective. She said: “Every commercial pilot learned to fly in the seat of a C-150 and did the same thing you just did. It’s OK.” She went on to be an airline pilot and ended her career in aviation as a check pilot for the FAA for other airline pilots. And, by the way, she learned to fly in a C-150.
Well said Rickster. Inadvertent entry into a spin should me more than enough evidence to convince anyone that an LSA is a real aircraft.
Laughing. I owned and put 200 hrs on a Flight Design CTLSi. The Rotax 912iX engine. I now fly a Cirrus SR22T. The FD had a 1000fpm climb, 110kt cruise at 75% and burned 5gph at that cruise using auto gas. The aircraft also had full FADEC. Does your plane have FADEC? My Cirrus doesn’t.
When I was looking for a light Sport Aircraft to rent, the FBO’s i talked to wanting to but the planes were too expensive. They could buy 2 or 3 certified aircraft for what it costs for 1 LSA. Only S-LSA qualifies for flight school use.
Increasing the weight, speed, and power would do wonders for the light sport industry. The only tricycle certified plane that meets LSA rules is an Ercoupe and not all meet the requirements. It’s a nice little plane but it has its own limitations. How much more dangerous would I be in my 2000 pound tri-Pacer over an LSA sea plane.
You’re likely less dangerous in the Tri-Pacer, because it is heavy enough to tolerate more XW. The SLSA I rent [C-162] is so light, at max gross, it is difficult to control in XW.
That is not true there are schools that train in only J3 Cubs, A certified Aircraft.
You can always find an exception to the rule but I still think Leonard’s point is valid. There are disadvantages to flying in such a light plane in cross wind.
Have a look at the Aeroprakt airplanes, wide performance envelope and new custom built to your spec’s for under 90,000 if that’s what you want. But most buyers are ordering glass panel with full feature auto pilot and whole frame parachute. Those sell for a bit over $100,000. I’m selling all I can handle so I say the LSA rule is going strong. Most are going to private pilots, and flight schools who use them for private pilot training. Yes the purchase price is higher than legacy airplanes but the operating costs are significantly lower with new technology and reliability.
As someone who looked very hard at the sport pilot cert, my major drawbacks were availability, cost, and weight limit.
Availability – as many already said, driving an hour further for each lesson is tough for someone that is already fighting time and cost challenges like many people interested in sport pilot.
Cost – hourly rental rates are often higher than your typical 150 or 172 at a school as a new LSA is way more expensive than an ancient Cessna. Again, this was supposed to be the budget option for new pilots.
Weight limit – i can’t be the only 235 lb guy who wants to fly. With the weight limits on most lsas, I’d need a pretty svelte instructor to fly with enough fuel to do the required cross country flights
I think if they opened up the weight restrictions to include more existing certified planes, like the 150 and other small 2-place trainers, it would make a huge difference at least for pilot certs, although it would not help the LSA market, at least initially.
Just my 2 cents, as a guy who was one of the primary demographics targeted for sport pilot (want to get into Pleasure flying on a budget)
How do you expect to fit in a 150 with a normal instructor, and the payload is pathetic, increasing the LSA weight limit won’t change that. The airplane gross weight won’t change because they include legacy planes. An example is Champ’s most still only have a useful load of #300. The Aeroprakt’s are in the 600# useful load range.
A couple of points that I believe you gave short shrift.
First, the Experimental planes you are talking about are things like the Van’s RV-12 and the Zenith 650 & 750 series as well as the Kitfox and a number of others. For some, this is the way to get into flying, for others the S-LSA is a better choice.
Second, another appeal for LSA to me is the ability to work on my plane. I am an LSRM-A so I can to all of my condition inspections and repairs. I have, with the approval of the factory, installed ADS-B and interfaced it with my Dynon panel, changed autopilots, and am in the process of upgrading my nav lights just because I wanted brighter Whelen units. I suspect, for the things I have done, I have saved probably ten thousand dollars over those who fly standard certificated planes.
It fits for me. (So does the plane itself as my CTLS has a wider and more comfortable cabin than a 172.)
The real knock on the Light Sport Certificate is that it was ill-concieved. I have heard different theories of its origin, but if the purpose was to keep pilots flying longer it made absolutely no sense to take someone out of a 172 they had been flying for years and put them in a lighter, plane that takes more attention to fly. I have heard that there was a purposeful effort put into the weight limit to keep many standard certificated planes out of the Light Sport flyable category. Now there seems to be a process at work in the FAA to increase the weight limit for Sport planes, and/or for planes flyable with a Sport certificate. AOPA and others have reported on this but it is not clear when this will happen.
As far as BasicMed… you’re welcome.
Now, if you want to pay us back – 1) get Canada to recognize the Light Sport Certificate, 2) make night flight an endorsement for Light Sport pilots.
You are right. I am finishing up the sport certificate in april and I will be looking forward to buying a new aircraft. My desire is to be able to fly to the Bahamas. I hope that they will open canada up to light sport. While others complain about light sport, I think it is a great way to get into aviation. If the FAA does the rules change correctly, light sport will be the program it was intended to be.
Well done. Don’t see how anyone can be angry at the facts presented.
I think another huge market segment could be added to homebuilts and LSAs and certified trainers if a much less expensive, reliable, auto gas burning engine came on the market. Rotax was the great hope there but look at the price now. $20k + for engine and usually $8 to 10k to install.
Desirable fuel injection/turbo models much more.
I have held a private pilot certificate since 1994. My first airplane was a C150 for 2 years and then a C172 for 9 years. I sold the 172 when life changes (retirement) made affording an airplane (annuals, hangar rent, insurance, etc.) difficult to justify. Not wanting to abandon aviation I began building a CH701SP. During that time I kept up my 3rd class medical. I would take the physical and the AME would issue my certificate. About a month later I would get a certified letter from OKC saying my medical was under review and I could not fly. They didn’t revoke it but held it in limbo for about 6 months. My doctor had to submit letters supporting my ability to fly. It would then come back with no restrictions signed by a doctor at OKC. This happened for 3 cycles and was signed by a different doctor each time. With my build nearly completed and medical due again I let it lapse so I could fly with my drivers license under light sport rules. This has worked well for me and allows me to self assess rather than have the FAA decide whether I am fit to fly. I can’t afford a new lsa but light sport rules have allowed me to continue flying.
As President of EAA Chapter 84 in Snohomish, WA, I have tried to get FBO’s to offer Light Sport license and out of 4 around my area, only one does. Their Evektor is constantly rented but is not robust and often out of service for 2 months waiting for parts. Similarly with a Sting in the area. The Vashon Ranger is a great solution to cost and is designed to be robust for training. At $100K with glass panel and auto-pilot it is the best value in the LSA market, but they have production constraints. They can only produce about 30 a yr right now and are looking to build a new facility with more production capacity. I’m doing a Learn to Fly in May and having a $4,000 cost for Light Sport License will entice more prospective pilots than $12,000. Time to earn ticket is also much shorter. Local FBO’s don’t want to teach Light Sport because a) rather collect $12K than $4K from a customer; b) most LSA aircraft won’t handle student mistakes (Ranger is exception); and c) with no FBO advertising the non-aviation public doesn’t even know LSA category exists. Advertising in aviation media is preaching to the choir; need to get the word out and more FBO’s to each LS license, and more options for cost effective robust aircraft.
While it may be true for some students, especially younger ones, that a Sport certificate can be had for much less money than a Private certificate, I do not believe that that is generally the case. Sport pilots are held to the same standards as Private pilots, and the ones who were training at the same time that I was required essentially the same amount of instruction as they would have for a Private certificate. It takes a certain amount of time to become proficient! The only real difference was the night flight. Instruction for both levels was given in LSAs. We were older, having reached the point in life where we had both time and money, and we all took longer than the FAA minimum times. (Most of us took a fair bit longer than national averages, too.) When I read the ads that quote a big difference in cost between the two certificates, I see misleading advertising.
Take a look at the Aeroprakt for a robust easy to maintain training airplane. It beats the Vashion easily by those comparing them. 4 of my last 6 sales were to flight schools so they are starting to accept the technology.
Then your flying illegal . If you ever held a Med certificate and lost it you can never hold a sport pilot license,,,unless they changed that already..
You can send people over to S95 in Walla Walla. They have a Tecnam P92 echo for $75 hours wet and use it to train at all levels from sport on up.
The stars aligned for me, and I got into flying with a Sport certificate and a Remos. The situation changed and that would not be possible for me now, but thank goodness it was then! I am now in a partnership that owns a Cessna 172RG (Cutlass). Were it not for the Sport, I would not be a pilot now.
I never understood the creation of the LSA cert. It appears as a glorified unlicensed ultralight step-up yet with few advantages. The humongous cost of the craft is a big point made. Another is medical – Why not just move on with Private Pilot – just because a medical seems to be the decision maker? And to increase gross weight limits, why, when this just seems to defeat the reasoning to create the LSA category in the first place?
As we get older, the medical becomes a huge issue. While there may not be anything really wrong with us, the FAA requires us to undergo extra scrutiny and submit more documentation, and to renew every year. BasicMed was huge for me; jump through the hoops once (whew!) and then never again. I started with Sport before BasicMed existed. I could not face the tribulations of an annual special issuance, though the first annual renewal turned out to be easier than BasicMed. I was able to rent LSAs wet for $100/hr, so the cost of an LSA was not an issue.
Several auto conversions are readily available and with a mature development history. I chose the Viking Honda 110 in 2014 and my Zenith stol 750 is a delight with this power plant. I burn auto gasoline and routinely average 3.5 or less gallons per hour at 85-90 mph. My throttle is my only control needed as the ECU manages the engine. Maintenance is minimal and not expensive. My daughter recently ran a similar Honda engine nearly 400,000 miles without an overhaul. This engine is now sold as a 130 hp model for right at $10,000 with all needed parts except the propeller. Far below the cost of the Rotax engine. For the Rotax, the radiator, cabin heater, and exhaust system are additional costs.
Not true, sling flight academy and sebring flight academy are using light sport aircraft to train pilots for the airlines.
Beat me to it. I am a CFII at Sling Pilot Academy in Torrance. While I certainly understand the drawbacks of the Sport Pilot Cert and understand why most would prefer an older 4 place aircraft over a two seater with weight limits — these aircraft are “no brainers” for flight training. Cost of operation using MoGas and burning about 4GPH…not to mention appealing handling and the amazing situation awareness that modern intuitive glass cockpits provide. I’m doing demo flights with other CFIs almost daily. It’s an amazing aircraft.
What is the problem? Bureaucrats. Rules and regs are written by people who typically know nothing, the rest little about aviation. Sorry, but it is is true. Next, if bureaucrats worked with diligence and alacrity, ninety percent of them would be out of work in a year, maybe two. Sorry, this is also true. What needs to be done to fix the class, type or category is rather obvious to those knowledgeable and skilled in the art. Of course that can be said about anything government manages. Don’t hold your breath for ‘anticipated’ and needed change in LSA.
Who wrote this? A cranky old pilot, but honest, knowledgeable and candid.
Based on my experience, I received a lot of negative feedback and discouragement about sport pilot training. These feedbacks even from the very flight schools that offer such training. There were flight school that I talked to here in Indy (home base), in AZ and FL at the outset tried to talked me out of getting a Sport Pilot Certificate. Even those with sport pilot training (and flying the Cessna 162 Skycatcher) were the first ones to highlight the deficiencies of a sport pilot. I had better luck with the flight schools flying the Sport Cruiser (KGEU – AZ), Bristell (KSEF – FL) and GOBOSH (KPGD – FL) LSAs. So for those frustrated about getting a sport pilot certificate, don’t lose hope and patience. Check out those flight schools (the LSA they fly) at the airports I listed above but stay out of Indy; you don’t need the aggravation. I may end up punching a private ticket.
really? they’re idiots. Getting anyone a license and nice Instagram photos will increase the # of customers walking in the door. Why discourage people who want to fly? that’s just stupid.
The real disappointment for many of my colleagues is what aviation seems as “affordable.” The Sling, Bristell and Czech Sportcruiser claim to be the affordable alternative to general aviation. Discussions with students interested in aviation at numerous schools come to a screaming crash when they learn of some of the costs. I know of numerous people that have moved on from their dreams of flying due to cost of getting started flying. Figure $12-15,000 for training, possibly more. Then, an additional $40,000 for a good, mid-time airplane that they won’t need to shell out 20K for an engine rebuild in 3 years. It’s heartbreaking to see a dream crushed, but we’re doing it to ourselves.
I would not be flying today if it weren’t for the light sport catagory license. Three years ago I was clicking on “random article” in Wikipedia and Powered Parachute came up. The article included a description of the light sport license requirements, of particular interest to me since I was already 63 years old at the time. After a thoroughly enjoyable introduction flight, I started to consider the different types of light sport aircraft. I found a weight-shift trike school nearby and enjoyed another introduction flight. Then after that, I struck gold – the gyroplane. For sheer pleasure flying (which at my age, was all I was interested in) nothing else compared to the excitement of open-cockpit gyro flight.
However, unable to match up my schedule with the gyroplane CFI, at his suggestion I started taking lessons in a fixed-wing light sport aircraft. Over time though, I became disenchanted with the f/w aircraft and longed to return to the gyroplane.
Then the stars all aligned and good fortune came my way. Both an aircraft and an instructor that could match my schedule became available. Today I’m a licensed sport pilot with a gyroplane endorsment and couldn’t be happier.
Awesome, Liz!!! :-)
I believe the LSA is rule is very successful and that it has and will continue to have a positive effect for General aviation and in particular Private pilots. I will explain in a minute.
Firstly, I seem to be one of the few commenting, that actually has a sport pilot license and purchased a brand new aircraft at the time of qualifying.
The training for private and sport license at the flying school I attended was identical for ground school and flying other than night flying. I learned in and fly out of very busy class D airport. Training took a little longer, but now there is not an airport that I would be afraid to fly into.
Back to why I believe the SLA rule is successful and will continue to be so. It got me into flying. The main reasons were that the airplanes seemed a lot safer due to fact that they had glass instrumentation that showed traffic and weather and even a voice message warning for terrain. The fact that the plane itself had an air frame parachute system was also a big plus factor.
The reason that I believe that SLA will continue to be good for general aviation, is that it will continue to be a “testing bed” to introduce modern avionics at a far lower cost to GA, using updated testing procedures learnt from LSA’s and medical requirement changes that have already gone into effect for GA pilots. I believe that the future changes that seem to be in the works for LSA regarding increased weight changes and possibly allowing for up to a four seat aircraft to be flown by a sport pilot will help add thousands of new and private pilots who fly small GA aircraft into the fold of a Sport Pilot.
I own the first aircraft in your article (ZK-AST) and love her. I have a full pilots licence and spent a long time looking for an aircraft that suited me, and she fitted the bill perfectly (I have a soft spit for sling and RV aircraft as well).
(And by “soft spit” I obviously mean soft spot. No idea what autocorrect was thinking either that one)
All good points in your article. I would add that I was returning after a long hiatus from flying and after retiring from aerospace I decided to get current. I ended up at a flying school with a CTLS and for many reasons including a modern glass EFIS I enjoyed flying the aircraft. $100/hr was a long way from the $9/hr rate that I had paid in the 60’s but the aircraft performed well and I rented it a few times. The CTLS was always booked for training so I decided I needed to purchase an airplane. The CTLS was too expensive and even the old school C-152’s and 172’s were expensive.
I ended up building an RV-12, selected a UL-260iS engine (full FADEC) a Garmin G3X and was welcomed into the experimental world. I got my Repairmans License and can work on my own build without having to pay an A&P to do the work (which I built). She is a great 110 kt airplane, is stable and forgiving; even in turbulent air, as light as she is I never feel like the aircraft is near the limit. Great simple design and solid tech support from Vans helped building her a pleasure.
I could tell you why the Cessna Skycatcher was a bust, simple management decisions that proved they had lost the skills and internal knowledge to build a small airplane. The FAA compounded the problems with LSA by using the European 600 Kg gross takeoff weight (the “design box” was too small). I don’t have any knowledge of collusion with aircraft manufacturers to keep the C-150’s and other certified aircraft out of the category but if they had set it at say 1,600-1,800 that might have helped. LSA’s are great but it was the wide open spaces of “Experimental” that made the difference with me. With my 3rd class medical I can even build an RV-7,8 or 9.
I started my flight lessons in a 152. Then after a few job changes and pay upgrades, got into and finished my certificate in a 172. Fast forward to today and I fly a 182 RG. My flight instructor said that after I got into the 182, I would never want to go back to a lesser airplane. He was right. I have to laugh when I see big guys flying elbow to elbow in a 152 coming into a fly in event. Makes me wonder if those guys would ride a moped or a scooter to a motorcycle rally.
Well, I fly an airplane big enough that my colleague’s elbow is at a good 2 feet from me at least. And yet, my favorite airplane to this date is still the Cessna152. Although I agree that is not much space, the fun is of comparison. (but I never flew the C182, and taste is always taste, right?)
the Gutless Strutless
A 152 and a light sport are pretty much the same thing. Although Cessna did try, and failed, with the short lived 162. The 152 I used to fly, one could only make the seat go forward and backwards. No tilt, and no up and down movement. Not a fun airplane to fly for any extended period of time. Another issue I ran into were that one could hear the exasperation in the voice of the tower controllers. For they knew how slow I was, trying to make and comply with their instructions. Really bad at busy airports. I suspect light sport pilots will feel the same way as I did flying slow birds.
The FAA screwed the pooch by not surveying and including the most popular 2-seaters already on the registry rolls. ALL Ercoupes, C150/152, Skippers, Tomahawks, AA-1s, Super Cubs, etc. should be LSA eligible. Now, more than a decade later, that may finally happen.
LSAs are a little depressing for many of the reasons listed. I get so excited seeing the *possibilities* and then so few makers follow through. It blows my mind to see Cessna selling 172s for over half a million dollars!
A swiss company makes a LSA style plane that is amazing(maybe it falls under experimental here). It can do 1500 miles on 22 gallons of fuel at 124mph (1.85 gph!) And has a 200mph top speed! I think it was in the 100-150k range. The electronics involved in modern aircraft should be super cheap (the garmin g3x is 10k i think, which is a bargin compared to what you used to pay but still easily twice to 3 times what it shouls *actually* cost). We should be able to buy a kitfox sized 2 seater for 50k or less.
It really seems like if you want anything close to an inexpensive aircraft to fly you really have to go experimental.
It just blows my mind that rental costs on the same beat up old 152s today are 3 times the hourly rates I was paying in 2000! I think it was 40-50$ an hour compared to todays 120$+ per hour. I see to many things today that cost double or more than what they did 20 years ago to really believe the inflation numbers the .gov puts out. Its way worse than what the offical numbers are.
Try buying a E-LSA, trying to save a few bucks on getting your Sport pilot license, and finding someone that will instruct you in it, that knows all the FAR 61 and 91 rules. I live in a city, under Class B and Class C airspace, bought a RV-12 E-LSA and finding a good instructor has been difficult beyond my wildest imagination. Yet there’s 4 million people in my city, 40 million in my state, and we have absolutely the busiest airspace of all 50 states, what with private aircraft and commercial, and military. Where are the CFI’s that teach sport pilot license for RV-12? In Idaho, and in Arizona, maybe 1 in Maryland, too.
The flight schools want to sell you rental plane time at $130 to $150 an hour, and instruction (with the school tacking on probably keystone to what the instructor gets paid) . The schools don’t want to teach Sport pilot license, always feels like the only thing they care about is maximum extraction of money out of the student.
IMHO, it’s the lack of demand for non commercial pilots that has jacked the schools and CSI’s they way they have, towards getting a PPL instead of a Sport pilot license. I can’t be the only old retired guy that wants to learn to fly now that they have the time and money to enjoy the hobby.
CFI’s, made a typo, not CSI’s
The reason that LSA failed to bring new interest in aviation is because it was supposed to aviation and flying more affordable and that did not happened. LSA aircraft were supposed to be affordable as a car. Well not many people can afford a 100k + toy. I won’t matter what changes the rule goes through it won’t spark much interest in flying unless it becomes affordable is bottom line.
Agreed wholeheartedly!!! The cost to get a pilots (PPL or SPL) has exploded. I built two kits for a very good price. 9 years goes by and suddenly, the cost of a kit has almost quadrupled. I don’t wonder why kids don’t get into aviation. Young Eagles is great, but if you told a kid of 10 years old that by the time they were 16/17 years old, that it would cost them well over 70 grand to get a license, I’m guessing most would lose interest pretty quickly. Flying is fun and both of my kids and my wife as well as myself are all sport pilots. We’re building a Zenith CH650B together, but the cost of the kit with engine and avionics will still kick us up to the 80 grand mark to complete an airplane that will only be worth around 60 grand when done.
I thought a lot about this while working on my light sport license over the last year. I went with PPL for several reasons:
1) After getting license, you’re going to have a hard time finding a LSA for rent for reasonable price. If you do, like the one I trained in, it’s 130$ per hour hobbs. For comparison I can join a flying club at same airport and pay 140$ tach time for an Arrow. The 152 price is comically low.
2) License is too restrictive. No flying at night? One of the best times to fly! Only 1 pax? Welp, guess our kids can wait at the hangar. Want to get your IFR so you’re a safer pilot? Hop in the ancient 152 because it can do it — your LSA can’t
3) Frankly, the planes are too cramped. At 230lbs and 6′ I can’t fathom carrying a pax of equal size (even if W&B allowed it). Admittedly 152 not much better, but 172 or Cherokee are. And again, scroll TAP and you’ll see they’re cheaper.
4) The limits are simply arbitrary, and it’s hard not to see that. That’s demotivating. Knowing you’re getting a license/plane with arbitrary restrictions is just frustrating when you know for 20 hours more instruction you can have more freedom to fly what you want, when you want.
Need to upgrade your knowledge. Flying at night and flying IFR are now things you can do in an LSA if properly equipped. My LSA’s (2) are very comfortable and significantly more spacious than a 152. I’m sitting right at 245 and I carry a friend at 235 and we fly just fine. It’s more of a cost issue than anything from a per hour perspective. 4.2 gals per hour or 9.8 gals per hour.
Need to upgrade your knowledge. Flying at night and flying IFR are now things you can do in an LSA if properly equipped. My LSA’s (2) are very comfortable and significantly more spacious than a 152. I’m sitting right at 245 and I carry a friend at 235 and we fly just fine. It’s more of a cost issue than anything from a per hour perspective. 4.2 gals per hour or 9.8 gals per hour.