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