Can LSAs go commercial?

It’s a regulatory certainty that Light-Sport Aircraft cannot be used in commercial operations. Sure, the LSA category is fast growing. Yes, it’s permeated the marketplace well enough that LSAs can be found on fields across the land.

Admittedly, the aircraft are designed and built to a standard that is as high — if not higher — than that of many venerable classics we’ve come to know and love. But you can’t conduct commercial operations in a LSA for one very specific reason: It’s against the rules.

It’s right about here that I find it necessary to remind you that rules can be changed. Sometimes, they should be changed. This may be one of those times.

First, let’s consider what a commercial operation is. In its simplest form a commercial operation is one that generates a dollar. Money changes hands. That constitutes commercial activity. It might be for hauling a tourist aloft to see the sights. Perhaps it involves towing a banner advertising a restaurant, or a bar, or an event. It might involved pulling a glider up to an altitude where it can glide back to earth for a few minutes, or grab a thermal and stay aloft for hours. A commercial operator might carry a package from Airport A to Airport B to deliver it more rapidly than it would arrive by surface roads. Pipeline and powerline patrols are commercial operations, too. So are are agricultural flights that allow aircraft to spray crops with pesticides or herbicides.

Currently it’s not legal to perform any of those flights in a light-sport aircraft. To which I ask, why not?

Aviation is changing. The future will look very different than the aviation we grew up with. Automation is becoming smaller, lighter, less expensive, and more reliable. Drones are among us. UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have become one of the hot topics in aviation.

Hot enough, in fact, that non-aviators are talking about them, and talking about using them commercially. People who have almost no understanding of what it takes to operate UAVs are beginning to share their opinions about how those vehicles should fit into the airspace. Some have good ideas. Some are so far off-base it’s scary.

So let’s consider the future of commercial aviation in the United States. Let’s consider LSAs and UAVs.

There is room for both in the system. And that’s good because there is no reason to believe that technology, once developed, will not be deployed. That’s the way of the world.

Both UAVs and LSAs have advantages. It’s also fair and accurate to suggest that both have disadvantages. Our interest lies in their commercial use however, and it’s there that the specific advantages and disadvantages should guide us. Should both UAVs and LSAs have a place in the commercial market? Yes, I believe they should. Is it practical or even wise to use them for the same operations? Probably not.

In terms of safety, the two categories offer very different considerations. If the life or health of the pilot would be at risk, the UAV has the advantage. If the lives and health of people on the ground are a concern, the LSA has the upper hand. Simply put, the LSA includes a pilot. Having a human at the controls who can weigh options, make decisions, and feel the emotional and physical ramifications of whatever happens — well that’s priceless.

Given two extreme examples it’s obvious that both categories of aircraft have a role to play. If you’re flying a package of scientific instruments into the crater of an active volcano, it’s probably better to use a UAV. If the aircraft is lost, the instrumentation will go with it. But the data collected will be safe in a computer back at the base camp, probably not far from the pilot who is healthy, safe, and nowhere near the crash site. On the other hand, if you’re taking a tourist for a sightseeing ride along the beach, the LSA piloted by a commercial rated pilot is the better choice.

UAVs will force us to rethink how the airspace is used. They will cause us to re-imagine what roles aircraft can fill that benefit society as a whole. That’s good. Because the advance of technology has always offered human beings the opportunity to revise the way we live in ways that benefit us. From the discovery of fire to improved building techniques, the introduction of glass windows into our homes, and even electricity and plumbing – each new stride forward brings new opportunity coupled with unavoidable risk. However, when applied carefully and with forethought, risk can be mitigated while benefits can be enhanced.

As we enter into this new age of aviation, let’s make sure we consider LSAs as seriously and carefully as we consider UAVs. There is a place for both in the system. We simply have to create a regulatory system that addresses them with intelligence and creativity.

Ours is a bold new world, indeed — provided we accept it and manage it appropriately.

Comments

  1. About 4 days behind on my Pulse, I’m chiming in late. It is surprising to me, with all the comment on this, the commercial use of UVS is left out of the discussion. To me, that was the whole point. It has been a forgone conclusion that LSA is limited to personal use or training. With Unmanned Vehicle Systems in the news daily, there is little doubt about the commercial ambitions of the UVS proponents. Jamie, you have switched on the light. If the fed is going to let those guys deliver pizza, (at some point) it is an appropriate time to shout “what about LSA”. Frankly, the comparison never entered my mind, but it is valid, and is worthy of repeating.
    Thanks much,
    Jerry

  2. I believe the term “commercial”, by the author, Mr. Beckett in this context, was implying use(s) OTHER then traditional flight training or rental; pipeline patrol, glider towing (humor?)charter (more over Net Jets!) or AirMedivac? That said, ANY use that’s for “profit”, a foreign word here, constitutes a commercial use.

  3. James Carlson says:

    Glider towing and flight training are allowed by 14 CFR 91.327(a) with an LSA. That law would need to be changed to include more commercial operations, but a significant change here would surprise me, as it would tend to undermine Part 23. That’s one of the inherent conflicts with LSA — it too often puts the certificated manufacturers and the ASTM ones at odds.

  4. Charles Hoard says:

    I am buying an LSA late this year. If you are going to start charging user fees (2015 WH Budget), then you should let me do some commercial work to pay for those fees. Seems simple.

  5. The question is really only about the aircraft itself, since anyone engaged in a commercial activity would require a Commercial Certificate with appropriate ratings. Having worked in a company closely associated with Part 23, Experimental and LSA type aircraft I can tell you that they aren’t all equal. (duh) Like it or not, Part 23 aircraft are designed, tested and manufactured with considerable oversight. It may be ridiculous at times and some of the people involved may be questionable, but at least it drives the notion that someone is going to be looking at them (manufacturers) and ensuring a minimum of compliance with the rules that exist. Although an ASTM exists as a basis for the LSAs, the level of a given companies compliance is strictly up to them with a wink and a promise. My belief is that the ability to use a LSA aircraft for commercial purposes (especially carrying persons for hire) must as a minimum require that specific manufacturer subject themselves to, and pass a comprehensive audit by some recognized and qualified governing body. In my opinion, since there is quite a massive difference from one LSA manufacturer to the next, the idea of accepting all LSAs as eligible for commercial purposes, without outside audits, would be a mistake.

  6. What’s really mind boggling is that a Private Pilot flight instructor can teach in an LSA for a Sport Pilot Cert, and the flight instruction hours also count toward a Private Pilot Cert (If the students wants one later). A Sport Pilot flight instructor can teach in an LSA for a Sport Pilot Cert, but those hours cannot be counted towards a Private Pilot Cert. Both instructors teach exactly the same curriculum. Is this not a bureaucratic debacle in it’s finest form? It certainly does not foster LSA growth.

  7. Randy Bourne says:

    I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure the commercial restrictions are for the “Sport Pilot License” and not the LSA planes. The planes are limited by whatever they are certificated for when they were originally approved.

  8. Many other countries around the globe allow a wide range of commercial use of what we classify as Light Sport Aircraft. These activities range from tour flights, aerial photography, agricultural use, aerial surveying, banner towing, and glider towing to name just a few. It is my hope that the FAA can play catch up and open the door for safe commercial operations here in the USA. We need more jobs in America. Currently Light Sport Aviation is being overly restrained by burdensome regulation and lack of regulatory support. Next on my wish-list is commercial drone photography permits!!!

    • “Many other countries” Really? Which. Under which JARs or even local regs do they do it so we can compare. Or even which ASTM comparable regs are these made in these many countries that would allow those authorities to consider such use.
      So it is suggested that we allow LSAs to be “commercially” utilized. Reduce then the operational requirements of the pilot to the Sport License level. What about carrying passengers and have those operations insured. Here we go again with the liability coverage increase. Right now insurance companies have banded together to sort of subsidize the LSA stuff to help make it go. They loose money frankly, though they keep their costs under wraps. They will bail out or increase cost to make it uneconomical for all.
      Be careful of what you wish for sometimes.

  9. Peter McCook says:

    Can you cite the FAR number for clarification please? Thanks!

  10. The other important thing is this- allow an LSA to go IFR in IMC. I mean look at the avionics they come with compared to the 1950s era airplanes flying around.

    The fact that LSA cannot go IFR in IMC is why I’m building an experimental. I would rather just fly the LSA.

    Further to the point about commercial, if FAA is concerned about commercial in an LSA, at the very least they could allow commercial that doesn’t involve people inside the airplane.

  11. David Weston says:

    LSA’s can’t be used for commercial activities? I own a Piper Cub. It qualifies as an LSA. According to the logbooks, it started its career as a crop duster in Idaho. It has a banner tow hook and has been used for that purpose. It has also been in lease-back for flight instruction and was rented repeatedly by the FAA to keep some of its examiners tailwheel proficient. It has also performed in airshows doing dead-stick aerobatics and the classic flying farmer comedy routine.

    Yes. LSA’s can go commercial.

    • I’m pretty sure the author was referring to modern day built LSA’s not older aircraft that can qualify as an LSA due to weight.

  12. But WAIT, Jamie … what if some old and rich and fat and overweight light sport pilot with a BMI over 40 and a neck size over 17 was flying pipeline patrol in his CarbonCub fell asleep and ran into a UAV delivering beer and pizza to a nearby ice fishing camp being flown by one of the out of work ATP airline pilots and killed a cow on the ground when they crashed? THEN what?

    We need more FAR’s, folks … MORE FAR’s … that’s what we need !! We need to increase the safety factor for everyone. Where is the DOT/FAA and the NTSB and the OMB and the GAO and the rest of the Gov’ment when we need ‘em? We need to do a study of this.

    Sorry … I HAD to do it ! Please excuse my tongue in cheek waste of your time … and mine.

  13. I’d also like to see LSA’s released for IFR flight. There really is no reason why an LSA flown by a private pilot (or ATP like myself) could not fly IFR if it was properly equipped. And by the way, most of the time, the FAA works for the Government. They DON’T work for us!

    • Stephen Mann says:

      “I’d also like to see LSA’s released for IFR flight. There really is no reason why an LSA flown by a private pilot (or ATP like myself) could not fly IFR if it was properly equipped. ”

      I could be wrong, but where in the LSA rules does it say a certificated pilot can’t exercise the privileges of the pilot’s certificate? A recreational pilot can’t , but I don’t see where a certified pilot can’t.

  14. Buck Rogers says:

    Oh…god.

    Barely experienced pilots in commercial operations…way to lower the bar! I thought this whole LSA is about very limited flying?

    Give an inch, take a mile. Unbelievable.

    • alabamaflyboy says:

      LSA is an *airplane* type. Sport Pilot, Private, and Commercial are *pilot* certificates. A Commercial pilot certificate is required to fly for pay.

      The discussion is about the use of the LSA *aircraft* type in commercial operations, not the airman’s certificate.

    • I don’t think anyone has advocated for Sport, Recreational, or Private Pilots conducting commercial operations, Buck. The piece is about the use of Light Sport Aircraft, not the privileges of Sport Pilots.

  15. Great article! We need to stop being afraid of the FAA. They work for us!

  16. LSAs are allowed to be used for some “commercial” operations, flight training and rental. That being the case it should be a relatively simple (by govt. standards) to increase that to flight seeing type “day VFR” operations. It must be remembered that many standard category legacy aircraft meet the requirements for sport pilot operation as well. They could be rented by sport pilots and commercially operated by commercial rated pilots at other times.

  17. RayLRiv says:

    Great article – great way of thinking outside the box.

  18. Stephen Mann says:

    Is this why I can’t find any LSA clubs or FBO’s renting LSA’s in my area? (Or is it that I live in a state with the fewest airports per capita in the country?)

    • Hi Stephen; Simply a lack of “opportunist” at the flight school owner/management and instructional staff level? See our blog; get-aviation.com – our take on LSA debacle January 2014 – your comments welcome!

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