Various events are bubbling to the surface as we approach the 10th anniversary of the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft (SP/LSA) rule this summer. One of these activities occurred at SUN ’n FUN: The USUA/LAMA Safety & Industry Light-Sport Conference.
USUA is the United States Ultralight Association, a group focused on pilots. If you believed ultralight aircraft and pilots had disappeared after the arrival of light-sport, you’d be wrong. Indeed, a resurgence appears to be building for this least-regulated, highly-affordable category.
LAMA is the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, a trade group working to assist light aircraft industry businesses. Though the name has “manufacturers” in it, the true mission is to assist any business that works in the LSA sector.
Together these two small organizations achieved something larger. The conference was their first cooperative effort and worthwhile benefits are already accruing.
Ten Years Already?
Perhaps it depends on your position. Some are surprised that 10 years has passed since FAA announced the SP/LSA regulation at AirVenture 2004. To others, that 10 years represents their entire time in business. Either way, after a decade, it was clear to the conference organizers that a number of problems need a fix.
Much like your airplane, maintenance is a requirement as things get out of whack over time. Also, in the case of a new rule, the FAA simply could not see how it might develop, so some aspects haven’t worked out as expected.
As an example, the SP/LSA rules say an LSA may only be powered by a reciprocating engine. That leaves out electric and turbine. Given the push for electric-powered vehicles, aviation should be part of the mix and the lightest aircraft are by far the most likely to use electric motors effectively given the present state of energy storage in batteries.
The ASTM industry group that wrote the standards used to gain FAA acceptance is ready for electric power; in fact, a standard has been prepared. The FAA is not ready — in fact, the agency is prohibited from advancing by its own regulations.
Electric power was a key reason several attendees participated in the conference, as was the tantalizing appeal of commercial use.
In all, the conference identified 26 topics referencing parts of the rule or its implementation that need updating, rewording, or revision. The standing-room-only group could not grapple with a large number of items in one three-hour meeting, so through a voting process, organizers narrowed the discussion points to the following:
- Expanded use of Special LSA or Light Commercial Operations of LSA
- Counting Sport Pilot Flight Instructor dual flight time
- Letter of Deviation Authority (LODA) Policy and Regulations
- Training in Experimental LSA (transition training for buyers of such aircraft)
- Electric-Powered Aircraft
- Equipment requirements and internal FAA instructions called 8130.2(H)
The first item is exciting to industry players, especially after the past few years of economic recession and sluggish aircraft sales. Within some quarters of FAA, the subject of commercial use of LSA has been discussed.
Possibly driven by an agency that is being pushed to accept drones, the once-taboo subject of commercial use appears on a list of possibilities. As this requires a regulation change, it probably will not happen soon and may not ever come, but the industry is keen to advance this idea because of the sales potential. Because LSA are far less costly to acquire and operate than helicopters or most drones, the matter becomes important to a country that needs to watch its expenses.
The last item, although it may sound terribly dry, was an area of keen interest due to FAA actions that were uncovered as most participants were preparing to attend SUN ’n FUN. Earlier this year, the FAA prepared a guidance document for its field offices. Buried in the appendices of the 322-document were a few items that raised red flags across the LSA landscape.
The FAA proposed guidance on how to issue operational limitations for certain LSA that could render many LSA far less usable to their owners and might have greatly decreased the value of those new aircraft. Electric aircraft were also threatened. Despite the tight deadline of an approaching air show, many in the industry sent letters to the FAA. Conference organizers felt the problem had been addressed soon enough by the grassroots effort.
This FAA action proved to be a clear demonstration of the need for industry groups to coordinate their efforts. While other benefits seem very likely to result from this first Safety Conference, merely bringing together GA’s alphabet groups is very useful.
Others participating in the conference included the Aircraft Kit Industry Association, U.S. Powered Paragliding Association, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the FAA, ASTM, and several aircraft manufacturers. A second meeting is planned this summer near AirVenture.
While the SUN ’n FUN Safety Conference was a solid beginning, more work remains. For example, a segment desperately needing attention is gyroplanes, the long-neglected area of the LSA firmament where no fully-built aircraft are permitted. Europe is booming with gyros while the U.S. withers.
Organizers expect the follow-on gathering in Oshkosh will stimulate activity toward other areas needing attention, especially now that various organizations have agreed that collaboration is good.