Why LSA registrations were down in 2013

A number of people have asked about an updated sales report for 2013. While remembering that we report registrations, not sales, last year was a different sort.

Registrations were down from 2012, with the exception that CubCrafters remains the registration (and presumably sales) leader. American Legend and its Cubs also showed more activity than previous years. Beyond the yellow taildragger squadron, it’s something of a mixed bag.

Let me offer another statistic that amazes me while speaking to the ever-growing interest in Light-Sport Aircraft and light kit aircraft that Sport Pilots may fly. In September, ByDanJohnson.com set an all-time record with 71,400 Unique Visitors, 25% higher than our previous record (July 2013). In 2013, Unique Visitors averaged more than 35,000 per month, a figure more than double 2012, which had been our best year ever.

If I appear to be bragging too loudly, let me say that I believe this website is merely the messenger and that it is a fleet of great LSA and a solid team of suppliers and service providers that is delivering visitor growth.

People are flocking to ByDanJohnson.com because, I believe, LSA and Sport Pilot-eligible kits and other aircraft are THE growth area for aviation. Thanks to less obtrusive regulations and greater design freedom, this sector is where innovation shines at (relatively) affordable cost. We thank you for stopping for a visit and we welcome you back often.

So if our website traffic is soaring and if LSA and SP-eligible kits and airplanes are the growth area, why were registrations off significantly in 2013?

It’s a valid question and I don’t presume to have all the answers. However, I’d like to present a little history to help explain.

At the dawn of SP/LSA, anticipation had grown to a fever pitch over this new class of airplane with its own pilot certificate. The fact that you didn’t need a medical was a huge component, but there was more. General aviation manufacturers, hobbled by a frightfully expensive regulatory structure, were only rarely coming out with new airplanes and the cost of these aircraft was breathtaking (and still is … a Cirrus SR22 can sell for more than $800,000!). FAA is finally acting to move toward industry consensus standards for GA aircraft and we think that will be helpful.

In the heady days of 2005-2007, LSA manufacturers could not keep up with demand. Many built larger factories, hired more workers, and spent millions to create more and better designs. Component manufacturers also kept a steady drumbeat of sought-after instruments, accessories, parts, and add-on features. Those were exciting years for LSA.

Then the “Great Recession” hit hard. Industries far beyond aviation were pummeled and government officials spoke of a banking collapse. Sales declined (see nearby chart) and LSA manufacturers scrambled to adjust. Many lost money as they had built too much capacity right about the time demand slacked.

2-GA & LSA Time Chart (LG)As you can see, it was even worse for GA and bizjet makers, but it was hard on the LSA industry. So, manufacturers got small, the only defensive posture they could take as these are not deep pocket companies.

The recession supposedly ended in 2009, though many will tell you their lives haven’t improved much. Unemployment remains high; the U.S. labor force is smaller than it was in 2000 despite 30 million rise in population. The stock market has recovered, but household income has only risen marginally. Interest rates are held near zero by Federal Reserve policies, but loans remain hard to get for small companies and some individuals. LSA producers had no choice but to adjust.

Another factor emerging since 2006 is increased regulatory burden, in the USA and other countries, contributing to more effort needed by manufacturers to demonstrate compliance and meet added rules placed on them.

At the same time, new technologies such as glass panels, autopilots, and more complex engines have demanded more from producers. Add these requirements to a difficult economy and you have ample reasons why manufacturers are not building airplanes as fast as they once were. The good news: LSA are better airplanes than ever.

The future remains bright for LSA with interesting designs in the pipeline, improved models from well-known builders, and a wide price range able to suit most budgets. Importantly, the safety record remains good.

Plus, new designs continue to emerge and most LSA builders remain in business, albeit with smaller operations. The industry is leaner but still active. However, all these factors translated in 2013 to longer delivery times.

Some aircraft builders, like Aerotrek and Phoenix Air, never went overboard to build as many airplanes and both those companies have maintained steady businesses with deliveries stretching into 2014.

Producers who made many more airplanes are still building, but in more cautious volumes. So, when demand finally began rising as it did early in 2013, orders were written and deposits made, but airplanes were in the supply line and not available to be registered. Hence, 2013 registration numbers are soft.

As demand and supply find equilibrium, delivery times will come down and registrations will rise. We may not see the manufacturing pace of 2006 for some time but I remain absolutely convinced that LSA and SP-eligible kits and aircraft are the new entry point in aviation.

Plus, remember LSA are a worldwide phenomenon. Prices range from less than $40,000 to more than $200,000 but consider that a new Cessna 172 Skyhawk will sell for nearly $400,000 in 2014. That venerable design will still be a 1950-60s design, where modern LSA have many qualities to support a still-strong interest in flying.

Will 2014 be a year of much improved results? I don’t know. My crystal ball is no better than yours.

Yet I know this: We have many terrific airplanes and more are on the way. We still have, by far, the least costly pilot certificate and no medical is needed. Our airplanes burn much less fuel and most work great on mogas. We’ve got great engines, panels, and comfortable cockpits.

In addition, there’s this: People still want to fly their own airplanes. To gain a fresh perspective, what better way than to go aloft and see this beautiful planet or examine your own neighborhood from above?

Flying remains a very special activity and we should celebrate how easily and affordably we can pursue it. LSA make this possible for more people and that value will only get stronger.

Pictured above: CubCrafters’ Sport Cub

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Dan;
    I think the answer lies in how Piper “branded” the Sport Cruiser a few years ago – sales statistics doubled in no time, and even with a demonstrated track record, suddenly dropped the line! Motive – good question! A lot of conjecture and theories surfaced. Get a BIG name behind the product and watch it soar! However, take Cirrus; I believe they’ve been relying on the existing myriad of flight schools to “crank out” FUTURE buyers – the assumption that an adequate “supply” of buyers will be manufactured – control NONE – risky, I think so! Perhaps the folks at Cirrus would take note of this ill fated disaster of Piper’s and jump on the opportunity to add the Sport Cruiser to “round out” their line. Additionally, they could create “Cirrus Flite Centres” nationally, taking up the slack left by Cessna’s “indifference” with their CPC Flight Centers model. Like Cessna’s 60’s (Discover Flying) strategy; learn is a lesser model; Sport Cruiser, then, move up to the SR-20, and ultimately , the SR-22, a natural “upsell” progression – a “Life Time Customer” makes cent$ to me!

  2. Dave Hill says

    Aleks is exactly right. The LSA movement is going to take time. It is suffering the common growing pains that faced the early automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. The biggest problem is a lack of infrastructure support system and a lack of of social acceptance. This will change as we see the disappearance of the ancient GA fleet of aircraft. New paint and glass cockpits aren’t going to save the old birds.

    The rumor is that Cessna and the FAA are soon to issue an AD that will wipe out any old Cessna with any kind of airframe corrison. There just comes a time when replacing worn out parts isn’t enough. Ask anyone who has restored an old warbird and you’ll discover that airframe corrison and fatigue are a death sentence to old airplanes. Think about this, do you want to be the last owner holding the bag on on old Cessna?

    I think one of the most overlooked aspects of the LSA rules is that anyone can become their own mechanic. We talk about spending months and over $7K to get your Private Pilot’s license but we never mention that you can take a 16 hr course for a few hundred bucks and do your own annual inspections. You can also take a 120 hour course for a few thousand bucks and you can become a qualified LSA mechanic. In my opinon this this is a HUGE MONEY SAVER!

    Next to national health costs GA maintenance costs are astronomical. Light Sport isn’t just about flying with a driver’s license – it’s also about flying awesome aircraft that you can inspect and care for yourself.

    It took almost 50 years for the automobile to become totally accepted by society. It’s not going to take that long for LSA as the ancient GA fleet disappears.

  3. Kent Misegades says

    LSA is the only bright spot among aircraft manufacturers, yet GAMA hardly recognizes its existence. Hats off to Dan Johnson and the members of LAMA for bringing us fresh new technology to replace our fleet of tired old spam cans. Keep up the good work.

    • says

      Kent; AGREE, and AGREE! The LSA has SOOO MMMAAANNNYYY plus’s – just not MARKETED correctly and efficiently. Frankly, I think GAMA lacks any esemblance of “outside the wingspan” entrepreneurial thinking in it’s staff!

  4. says

    Dan,

    I think you’re dead on with LSA’s future. I’m sure we’ll continue to see fluctuations in demand over the next several years – and I bet you’re assessment of manufacturers’ trepidation towards growth is accurate. Any good statistician would focus on a trend line – which takes time to establish. And any true entrepreneur knows that a new industry takes years, if not decades, to truly develop.

    These aircraft are the future of aviation – but not just because they offer an affordable option. They drive innovation. LSA manufacturers need to have a higher risk tolerance – not in safety, but in success. They’ll push the envelope because they have to, and many will fail because of that risk. But, as a group, they will succeed. And their success will help Cessna, Cirrus, Beechcraft and others grow.

    I’m excited to see LSA’s innovation grow into the rest of the industry – with improved engines, more efficient materials and better designs. I’m excited to see these ideas adopted at the “bigger” GA manufacturers. Everyone should be rooting for LSA. And while Cessna may no longer be in that game, I’m sure they’re a keen spectator.

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