“You are not allowed to fly IFR in a Light-Sport Aircraft” is a common dismissal from many in aviation.
Is it factual to say that filing and flying by reference only to instruments in a LSA is excluded by regulation? Is it wise to use these aircraft for flight into conditions of reduced visibility?
By 2017, I venture to say almost everyone in aviation knows about Light-Sport Aircraft and the Sport Pilot certificate, but a superficial knowledge can result in an incomplete understanding. A few details might be helpful.
Think about IFR in an LSA this way: Can you fly IFR in a homebuilt aircraft? Can you do so in a Cessna 172?
Does it matter that these two distinct types have not gone through a thorough IFR evaluation by FAA?
If you know IFR can be done in either aircraft type — assuming aircraft and pilot are qualified and current — then why should such flying be prevented in LSA?
The matter might become cloudier if you heard the advice issued by ASTM F37 on this subject to LSA producers.
Sorting It Out
ASTM is an international standards-writing body and F37 is the ASTM committee that has labored for more than a dozen years to provide the FAA with LSA industry consensus standards.
These standards are needed for the FAA to “accept” — not to “certify” — Special LSA.
The F37 group has been working on an IFR standard for some time without arriving at a consensus.
Partly because the work on an IFR standard continues, the committee urged manufacturers not to promote IFR capability until the new standard was in place and accepted by the FAA.
F37’s advice is directly related to a present lack of an IFR standard, plus possible resistance from groups that have to meet FAA regulations.
However, neither the committee’s advice nor the regulation that created Sport Pilot/LSA prevents a qualified pilot in a properly equipped aircraft from filing IFR.
Instead, being able to do so relates to a manufacturer’s preference, plus written FAA-issued operating limitations.
So, can it be done or not?
Bristell USA, importers of the beautiful LSA of the same name built in the Czech Republic by BRM Aero, has a different approach. It uses the ELSA opportunity.
An Experimental LSA must start out as a bolt-for-bolt copy of the SLSA version. It does not have to adhere to the so-called 51% rule, but upon completion it must be identical in every way to fully manufactured models.
The owner may not use an ELSA for compensated flight instruction or rental as can be done in a Special LSA, but in other ways, they are the same airplane.
Once an ELSA has its certificate, the owner can change panel gear and other components (even the engine) without seeking permission for such changes from the manufacturer as would be required for a SLSA.
What About IFR Instrumentation?
“At Dynon we are often asked if our avionic products are ‘certified’ for IFR flight,” said Robert Hamilton, president of Dynon Avionics. “In fact, there is no such thing as ‘IFR certification’ for amateur-built and LSA, and so answering the question requires an explanation.”
“The relevant regulation is FAR 91.205, which lists equipment that is required for various types and times of flight: VFR, VFR Night, and IFR,” he explained.
Included for IFR flight are such things as two-way communication and navigation equipment, gyroscopic rate-of-turn indicator, sensitive altimeter, and artificial horizon.
Given the ASTM committee’s prohibition, have you a path to operate an LSA using the IFR system? Yes, a way exists.
At Sebring 2017 in January, I flew in a well-equipped LSA with Bristell USA’s John Rathmell. John is a highly experienced pilot knowledgeable about Bristell’s IFR option.
The Bristell — an evolution of the popular LSA Piper once sold — featured dual, large screen Garmin G3X digital instruments backed by a few analog gauges, meeting Technical Standard Order (TSO) requirements.
With these round instruments and presuming a qualified pilot following IFR procedures, the Bristell can be used for IFR flight… if it is registered as an Experimental LSA or ELSA.
Once an ELSA has its certificate, the owner is allowed not only to make changes as he or she wishes, but also to operate in the IFR system, assuming other requirements are met.
To fly under IFR rules, the pilot must have an IFR rating, must be current in those skills, and the airplane must be qualified by the means referenced above, and maintenance must be up-to-date.
You cannot — and more importantly should not — go fly into clouds simply because you have wonderful equipment on board from companies like Dynon, Garmin, or MGL Avionics.
Plenty of recreational or sport pilots may not care about flying IFR. If you fly strictly for fun in visual conditions weather, good for you! Have at it and enjoy!
Yet, if you want an affordable new aircraft with desirable features and if you like the versatility of IFR, it is possible.
In summary, if you are an instrument pilot, and if you are current, and if you have a medical, and if you purchase an aircraft like the Bristell and register it as an ELSA, no regulation prevents you from filing and flying IFR including into IMC.
Only you can judge if that is a smart activity for you on any given day, and I hope you’ll make that decision wisely.