LSA companies expanding in two directions

New models range from single seaters to four-place planes

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

An amazing thing happened on the way to AERO 2011, Europe’s very popular show in the south of Germany. Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) companies — a large and growing flock of 83 manufacturers that have provided an astounding 115 new aircraft models in the last six years — took off in two new directions. Companies known to build the flock of more than 2,000 Special LSAs in the USA are now beginning to offer four-seat (or larger) aircraft, while others are testing the market for single seaters.

A little more than six years ago, when the FAA released its paradigm-shifting Sport Pilot/LSA rules, everyone thought we would see a fleet of modestly priced ($50,000-$60,000) two-seat aircraft that were relatively simple in design and operation. Since then, we’ve seen incredible development of every kind of aircraft one can imagine. Some meet, or even better, that goal of low-cost aircraft. But the industry also has created a group of very capable LSAs with glass screens, autopilots, airframe parachutes, and strong performance while still using much less fuel and making far less noise. Not bad, most observers agree.

Such innovative energy cannot be contained, thus the larger — and smaller — models coming to market. Tecnam, one of the clear LSA leaders, certified a dual Rotax-powered twin and have done well with it. At AERO 2011 it introduced a new four seater, the P2010, as well as an 11-seat regional airliner, the P2012. This high tempo company also offered a new Lycoming-powered LSA at the event.

Tecnam 2010 mockup at AERO. Photo by Dan Johnson

Flight Design, the LSA market leader, showed a full-size mockup of its C4, a four-seat variation of its best selling CT series of LSA. Another high-tech company and flight efficiency leader, Pipistrel, plans a sleek and fast four seater called the Panthera.

Panthera. Illustration courtesy Pipistrel

On the small and fly-for-fun end, AERO visitors saw the single-place SkyLeader 100, an all metal low wing from a proven producer of LSA; the Atec Solo, a composite low wing from a well established European producer of somewhat larger LSA types; and the Merlin, a new high wing entry using mixed materials.

And, as many now know, a veritable explosion of electric powered aircraft are emerging from multiple sources in the light aircraft community.

So, just in case you were wondering, light aviation may be beaten up by the same economy troubling general aviation manufacturers, but the proliferation of new concepts and ideas in aviation has never been stronger.

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