Politics and LSA

Since the beginning of aviation (or at least since near the beginning) government has approved any aircraft the public may buy and fly. A newly designed model, after proving its airworthiness to company engineers and management, had to gain government approval before sales could begin. The cost curve has been steeply upward.

Cirrus Design is a company whose emergence I watched very closely when I worked for BRS Parachutes some years ago. We were deeply involved with Cirrus in the certification of a parachute system for the SR20. My front-row seat gave an intimate look into the approval process. Cirrus reported it cost many tens of millions of dollars to get a Part 23 Type and Production Certificate.

Then came LSA. It was, to use a term associated with the computer industry, a disruptive influence…one that is increasingly affecting aviation worldwide. Assuming the promise of industry-standards certification isn’t squelched by overly-protective bureaucrats (in any country), this movement is just getting started.

Consider the following: Stephen Pope, in a story for the Flying Magazine e-newsletter, wrote: “Conceding that the certification process for light general aviation airplanes has become a complicated and counter-productive morass of rules and restrictions, the FAA has formed a committee whose responsibility will focus on modernizing the design and manufacturing of entry-level Part 23 airplanes.” What is truly amazing is that Sport Pilot/LSA is showing the way for the heavyweights of aviation.

LSA has been instrumental in proving the industry can certify airplanes far more efficiently than government. Perhaps transport and business aviation requires the firm hand of government oversight, but light aircraft development can be stifled under such control. It inhibits innovation, creates market entry barriers, and does not necessarily ensure higher safety (other factors at work to assure safety include legal liability, insurance approval, media reviews, and customer trust).

Though I admit a bias and I’m an eternal optimist, to my view, aviation’s most interesting days remain ahead of us.

For more on Sport Pilot and LSA: ByDanJohnson.com


  1. Ewatson7 says

    The LSA approach IS the American way. We know the costs associated with certifying an aircraft to Part 23 are extreeeeemly high. That is why the kit aircraft ‘production’ out strips Piper, Cessna and Beech. As one involved with ‘heavy’ airliners for over 10 years in the development and certification thereof it is no small (read cheap) task to certify to Part 121 either. We seem to have an absolute aversion to ANY problems with any machine. At high speeds the T-33 will “tuck”, i.e. the pitch forces will reverse. To counter this same tendency in a commercial airliner we introduce an artificial mechanism to fool the aircraft so the pilot never is aware of or taught to counter the ‘normal’ flight chararistic of the plane. The T-33 driver is taught what the plane naturally will do at high Mach and how to deal with it the ‘heavy driver’ is not. It is not magic. How many lives do we have to lose to learn this lesson. Pilots are not dumb automons, just teach them the plane they fly and they will fly it.

  2. Kent Misegades says

    Good comments Dan. Given what the FAA has done to kill the UL community, and its repeated attempts to gain control over E-AB and LSA, I’d be vary wary of any of their new proposals. The best would be to remove government entirely from the picture and allow the industry to self-police. Free markets do this very well when unencumbered – companies that build airplanes that do not meet promises or are perceived to be unsafe do not stay in business very long. We can all think of dozens of examples. It is no wonder that nearly all aircraft innovation is to be found in the E-AB sector, shielded from the tentacles of regulators. Van’s, Sonex, Dynon and hundreds of other successful companies figured this out decades ago.

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