To many observers, the development of Light-Sport Aircraft seaplanes is fast-paced, inventive, and intriguing. You may have read about entries from the USA, Europe, or New Zealand. How about Finland?
“Finland has 188,000 lakes,” said Anssi Rekula, cofounder and sales director for Atol Avion, producer of the Atol LSA seaplane. “We know the joys of water flying, as well as the demands. Many of Finland’s lakes are remote and require range and reliability to access, so we designed the Atol 650 for this environment.”
Atol’s 650 designation refers to 650 kilograms, the metric equivalent of FAA’s 1,430 pound seaplane weight limit.
Americans may not be aware of Atol, but this could change in the next year.
“Coming to America” is a refrain from many light aircraft producers in other countries. Why?
The obvious reason is that most designers perceive a huge market in the USA. Our U.S. aviation consumer base is indeed the world’s largest and the USA has far and away the most certified general aviation aircraft.
America is also home to about 20% of the more than 66,000 LSA or LSA-like aircraft that have been delivered around the globe over the the last 15 years or so. What ambitious airframe maker would not want to come to America?U.S. manufacturers also ship a lot of products around the world and the market system provides many shippers and ports with mostly business-friendly policies about exporting.
For companies like Atol Avion, shipping from the USA to other distant countries may be easier than shipping from their native lands.
In a news blast before AirVenture Oshkosh 2017, Atol Avion announced a new U.S.-based assembler and seller: Paul Richards, Avion’s official representative and president of Atol USA.
“Paul will be in charge of fundraising and starting production for ATOL 650 LSA in Maine,” noted Rekula.
Does this mean Atol is decamping Finland for Maine? Not quite.
“We think Atol USA is the best and fastest solution for us to be able to serve our North American customers,” he said. “Our Rovaniemi factory in Finland will be handling production for Europe and the rest of the world. We will also continue product development at our Finland base.”
Atol USA will produce the 650 at Brunswick Executive Airport (KBXM), site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. Initial sales will be to North America.
A local development authority has created a manufacturing technology incubator and is “currently constructing an environmentally-controlled composites layup room, curing oven, and paint booth designed to aviation standards and sized to accept wings, fuselages and other large structures,” said development director Steve Levesque. “These complement our CNC machining center, welding shops, 3D printers, and on-site Composites Engineering Research Lab.”
“We make these assets available to companies throughout the state of Maine,” he clarified.
The northeastern state also has a long history with amphibious flight, having been the home to Lake Aircraft for decades.
At Oshkosh, Rekula didn’t stop with Atol USA.
“We have a lot of news and it’s centered on delivery of production airplanes,” he said. “We have received new investment to support our European certification, which is expected by the end of 2017.”
This announcement speaks to working with European authorities for the aircraft to be flown in the EU as an “ultralight,” which is a significantly different definition than in the USA.
FAA’s counterpart, EASA, also has a rule for LSA and Atol Avion can begin its U.S. acceptance working with EASA. Either regulatory organization will ask the Finnish company to demonstrate compliance to ASTM standards.
“We scheduled customer demo flights in Finland once our crew returned from Oshkosh 2017,” said Rekula. “Customers will be able to see and fly the all-new cockpit design.”
“We also received our first order from Australia,” beamed Rekula, “so all is good and very positive.”
“Atol’s cockpit is totally newly designed and looks great,” observed Rekula.
The long-established tradition in aviation — and most industries — of adapting the good ideas of other designers shows in Atol’s new MVP-like approach.
MVP is an American entry in the LSA seaplanes sweepstakes. This Minnesota company has shown a mockup with an ingenious canopy that retracts up and aft taking the instrument panel with it.
“Atol’s new articulating canopy retracts up and back, getting out of the way, allowing pilot and passenger to stand upright and access the cockpit from the front, if desired, which makes docking and beaching easy,” Rekula explained. “Our avionics retract with the canopy, moving them out of harm’s way, avoiding such things as water spray.”
The developments are not only protective, they make Atol more user friendly, he noted.
“The seats are removable so when operating solo you can load up with gear to take advantage of our industry-leading 600 pound useful load,” he added.
Atol is not a brand-new design. For some years, earlier examples were built primarily with wood. That has also been updated.
“Carbon fiber is used in appropriate areas and is accented with beautifully finished wood trim providing the feel of a classic automobile,” said Rekula. “The result is truly striking.”
Among LSA seaplanes, a 600-pound useful load is also striking. While FAA allows an additional 110 pounds to the gross weight of a LSA seaplane compared to a land plane, the structure to accommodate amphibious operation generally adds more than the allowance. As features are added to a design, useful load — already challenged by the structural components — often tends to suffer. How is Atol Avion able to boast an “industry-leading” useful load?
“The outer layer of our hull is Kevlar mated to cold-molded, foam-core birch,” Rekula explained. “This combination is extremely rugged, light and strong. We use fabric covered wings featuring Oratex. These can be lighter than carbon fiber with the added benefit of field repairable. This is a real plus for a seaplane.”
When Can You Get One?
“We expect to deliver these airframes beginning in the first quarter of 2019 and at a firm fixed price,” said U.S. rep Richards. What price?
“Current pricing is $179,000 for delivery through 2018, although most of these positions are allocated, so our open slots begin in 2019,” he said.
Among LSA seaplanes, this is an attractive price.
Want to know more? Contact Paul at Paul.Richards@Atol.US or call 603-828-5373.
- Empty weight: 826 pounds
- Maximum takeoff weight: 1,430 pounds
- Useful load: 604 pounds
- Payload at full fuel: 400 pounds
- Engine: Rotax 912 iS (100 hp)
- Propeller: 68 inch three-blade prop fixed pitch
- Wing span: 29 feet, 6 inches
- Wing area: 145 square feet
- Width, wings folded: 7 feet, 3 inches
- Takeoff Distance, Water at gross, over 50 foot obstacle: 1,475 feet
- Stall at gross, best flaps: 46 mph
- Cruise speed: 106 mph
- Fuel capacity: 34 gallons
- Fuel consumption: 3.7-5.0 gph
- Range (max): 805 miles
- Endurance (max): 9 hours