True for most of aviation, the Light-Sport Aircraft sector may not recall 2013 as a banner year.
However, it was a year of movement in the right direction with a few enterprises doing well. It was also a year when the locus of activity continued a steady pace progressing from European manufacturers to U.S.-based producers.
Of particular note, CubCrafters (pictured above) enjoyed a second record year and iconic kit builder, Van’s Aircraft, made a deeper commitment to a fully built Special LSA with its RV-12 (following delivery of some 250 kit versions). American Legend also bounced back from slower periods to log a number of sales.
Some of the leading non-U.S. producers also had a respectable, if not spectacular, year. Reasonably well-selling LSA models include: Czech Sport Aircraft’s SportCruiser, Tecnam’s P92 and P2008, Pipistrel’s Alpha and Sinus, Flight Design’s CTLS and CTLSi, Aerotrek’s A240 and A220, and Phoenix Air’s LSA motorglider.
The latter, like Flight Design models, surely would have logged even more FAA registrations had not both companies been hobbled by delivery shortfalls.
Other than CubCrafters, no LSA company had a year close to previous levels, but the top companies are well positioned to move forward in the improving economy America seems finally to be enjoying after several difficult years.
Beyond the established players, 2013 appeared to be the year of the Light-Sport seaplane, exemplified by a secondary wave of either clean-sheet designs or upgraded proven amphibians. More than 20 models are either being sold today or in the development pipeline.
Icon’s A5 is leading this charge despite a lengthy period between product announcement and production commencing. However, the sleek airplane has been marketed so successfully that it appears to have inspired competitors from home and abroad.
Industry followers expect several new airplanes to reach customers in 2014 joining aircraft currently on sale, such as SeaRey, SeaMax, and a small flock of floatplanes.
Two more LSA seaplanes, Mermaid and Freedom, have previously won FAA acceptance although company changes have stalled their reentry to the market.
In 2014 the LSA industry will celebrate a milestone birthday.
At AirVenture 2004, FAA finally made its announcement (after two years of thinking it would be that year) signaling the birth of Sport Pilot and Light-Sport Aircraft.
Two absolute certainties were realized following that major change for the agency: (1) A change of regulatory requirements permitted a flowering of new designs like never before with more than 130 models introduced, representing more than a new LSA model every month for all 10 years; and (2) the concept was so sound that it began traveling around the world — a progression still underway — plus it encouraged the FAA to consider industry consensus standards as part of a rewrite of Part 23, the costly regulations governing Type Certified airplanes, which could trigger a rush of new models and new innovations among larger aircraft.
Looking farther forward, of new four seaters likely to be spawned by the Part 23 rewrite project, LSA manufacturers might come to lead this category as well. Companies such as Evektor (Cobra), Tecnam (P2010), Flight Design (C4), Pipistrel (Panthera), The Aircraft Factory (Sling 4), plus a couple others not yet unveiled to the public, are aiming to meet the new guidelines.
With projected prices far below a new Cessna 172 or Cirrus SR20, these brands — virtually unknown to Americans before 2004 — may end up at the front of another parade of new designs. Every one of these are international companies, but I believe it highly likely we’ll see new American entries in the four-seat class. Plus, some of those referenced above may become “Made in the USA” airplanes even if the designs originate overseas.
A place to see nearly all aircraft in the LSA fleet and an event itself celebrating its 10th year is the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, also known as the Sebring LSA Expo. The LSA industry’s leading trade show takes place Jan. 16-20 in the center of Florida and will host all the airplanes you expect and surely a few surprises.
Finally, if I may be so immodest, an online publication focused on LSA plus light kit aircraft is my own ByDanJohnson.com. As with the other anniversaries, this website will also celebrate its 10th birthday, having gone live on April 1, 2004. Fortunately, it turned out not to be an April Fool’s Day joke as visitor traffic to the site set new records throughout 2013.