Too many LSAs?

Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, is an expert on Light Sport Aircraft.

How many is too many? As the Light-Sport Aircraft industry has now reached 114 FAA approved models, some have started to say, “Enough!”

True, a small number have already left the roster, but even those may not be permanent losses because a new importer can pick up where a failed business stumbled and even a bankrupt manufacturer can be bought by someone else, or their workers form a new company and make a similar model.

We are much less used to this scrappy type of entrepreneurship in the general aviation industry. A high level of regulations present a high barrier to entry…for airframe manufacturers, for Part 141 schools, and for FAA repair stations.

Still, not all current LSA players will survive into the distant future. My own expectation is that most of the current biggest companies — the top dozen or so — will continue to log the most sales. And I also believe many of the smaller, so-called niche players that have developed a following will survive, albeit with smaller sales volumes than the big guys. Pilots who love seaplanes, motorgliders, weight-shift trikes, and powered parachutes are likely to continue buying those flying machine alternatives. Those at greatest jeopardy may be the “me-too” companies building something familiar but who hope to sell in larger quantities. A classic squeeze play might make business difficult for some of them, just as in countless industries before.

As part of its self-governing mandate, the industry is gearing up to support even brands which may disappear — the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association is at work now on its website (still in development), a resource that intends to maintain service records and more for all brands. This is no panacea, but if you like an LSA and have researched it and the company behind it, you may be at no more risk of continued operation than in other segments of aviation. Just think of the Eclipse very light jet. The company succumbed but an owner group picked up the service.

So, how many is too many? The riddle has no answer unless you’d like to have your choices limited. I say that if a new company wants to offer you a neat, new flying machine, you should do your homework of checking it out, but having done so, enjoy the wide number of choices the LSA industry can provide.

After all, who has a crystal ball to know the next one isn’t going to be a big success story? Me? I like choices…lots of them, and the LSA industry has something for nearly everyone.

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  1. Hugh says

    There cannot be too many LSAs! Let the market determine which ones survive. Heck, I think that all single engine, piston/electric aircraft with four seats or less and under 200 hp should be “light sport aircraft.” Please do not let me digress!

  2. says

    There’s one simple economic rule that will determine to many LSA’s:
    SUPPLY and DEMAND! The industry doesn’t now, or will it ever, have a demand for 100+ “choices” of Light Sport Aircraft. Here’s my “crystal ball” on LSA; 1. Much like the “Big Three Auto Makers”, acturally the Big Six; to include Toyota, Honda and Nissian, you’ll have the top SIX LSA’s DEPENDING who has a auto dealer like infrastructure, and the financial staying power to be in the game for at least 10 years.
    2.Old resurrected designs, Legends Cub, CubCrafters and other “J-3+” clones, will drop from site in 8-10 years; nostalgia buyers will wane
    and the “youth” market will view these well intended but dated designs
    as something regulated to museums and classic aircraft buffs.3. Since the “capital” investment is high for “single” person ownership, some marketing aggressive LSA manufactures will promote a fractional ownership alternative to make flying “afforable”,once again? – to the middle classes.4. One LSA manufacture will focus almost all of there marketing and sales efforts toward the flight training market, taking up where Cessna left off when they dropped the “150/152” lines that produced 31K+ birds in a 26 year run.5. Athought the “Icon” LSA amphibian looked good on paper, it fails to “get out of the water”. After several rounds of “re-financing”, they declare “Chapter 11” in 2015.

  3. says

    The Fed will certify all LSA’s that qualify. Shouldn’t they? The US is a free capitalist country. Is it not? There is a parallel in the drug industry and the FDA. The agency recently withdrew it’s approval for a cancer drug that in their opinion was causing more serious trouble than benefit. Big Pharma howled. Their argument was that the difficulties were no worse than some cancer drugs already approved. There is a point here. Something to think about.

    William S Lyons MD
    Falls Church VA

  4. Kent Misegades says

    Too many LSAs? That’s like too much fun, Dan, it doesn’t exist. Let’s be happy that there are so many, a reflection of what happens when we find a simpler, less costly means to certify aircraft. The big news is why we still part with the FAA’s antiquated Part 23 certification rules since ASTM certification is clearly superior. From what I read in the press, each time the FAA decides to find the Bogeyman in LSA aircraft and manufacturers, they are forced to conclude that they are generally well-designed, well-made aircraft that are safe to fly. One story that needs to be told is how many of these small companies have revolutionized design, testing and fabrication in order to survive on just a few dozen sales annually. Look at the tooling and CAD/CAM used at companies like Van’s, Breezer, Tecnam and a few others. It is state-of-the-art, allowing rapid design and incredibly accurate parts. Anyone who has built an RV-12 will attest to this. No, there are not too many LSAs, but there are too few options in engines, the most expensive part of these planes.

  5. says

    No worries on the number of LSA industry, and the choices available for the consumer. The more manufacturers there are, the more exposure and availability there will be. There are only a few of these companies that are profitable, and the designs are starting to look very similar. However, the manufacturer with the best business plan to market and set up a strong distributor with SUPPORT, will survive.

    I remember the days when the ultra-light movement was the rage. A lot of manufacturers were in the market, some were terrible designs and not that practical, they were the first to go. Competition drives the industry to a better product, safer, and the best operating efficiencies. It is a win for the consumer!

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