A few words provided a spark that turned into a raging prairie fire in early October. The words included two numbers, each significant in their own way.
The first — perhaps the one grabbing the attention of most readers— was 3,600, that being the number stated to be the new weight limit for Light-Sport Aircraft by a high level official at the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA).
Since these newest aircraft under FAA regulation are presently limited to 1,320 pounds (1,430 for seaplanes or floatplanes), 3,600 pounds amounted to an increase of almost 300%.
Is such a large increase likely or reasonable?
The second number was a date. It was said that this weight increase and much more would all be put in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to be issued on Jan. 19, 2019, a very specific date. Coming as it did from a large membership organization, such a precise declaration made it sound factual and accurate.
However, the devil is in the details.
What Was the Effect?
The news was generated at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) regional fly-in in Carbondale, Illinois, on Oct. 6, 2018. Remarks were presented to a gathering regarding changes being contemplated by FAA.
Perhaps the speech was spontaneous with short notice. Yet the utterance of a specific date, in concert with other comments about how LSA would be changing — apparently very soon — caused immediate cancellations of some pending aircraft orders.
One vendor at the fly-in said, “I’m pretty worried.” Another said, “I hate being caught flat-footed like this.”
Such cancellations are not hard to comprehend.
If you are about to buy a new computer or other product and you discover the manufacturer will soon offer one that has far greater capabilities, would you not question the purchase you were about to make? Of course, you would. It’s what consumers do.
However, what if you then learned that the new computer would not be available on the market for several years? Would you still postpone your purchase? You might decide to go ahead now and see what the future holds later.
Naturally, even a fancy and expensive computer represents a far smaller outlay than a new airplane, but the analogy works.
What’s the Real Story?
The news came out on the weekend and the Monday following was a national holiday. The federal government was off for Columbus Day, so agency officials were not easily available for comment.
I had a mobile number of a key agency person who was deep into writing the details of the new regulation. My awareness of this work informed me that the Jan. 19, 2019 date — barely more than three months away at the time of the utterance — was an impossible deadline.
As part of a four-year-long advocacy project, I had just been at the FAA a couple months earlier and had seen the volume of work facing the rulewriting staff. I knew they had many months of work ahead of them.
I was even more certain the 3,600 number was not a specific target.
To be certain I had my facts correct, I texted my contact. After apologizing for disturbing the person’s day off, I asked if any of this could possibly be true. It contradicted what I had learned in a series of visits to Washington, D.C.
Despite the holiday, the individual called back within minutes. This person had not heard the weekend news and was surprised to learn of it. My contact immediately inquired with officials at the EAA, after which I got a second call saying the statements were the result of a misunderstanding.
It was a misunderstanding with a significant side effect.
The often-repeated 3,600 pound number is wrong.
Unless a major change occurs, the rulewriters plan a formula to arrive at the maximum weight of a given Light-Sport Aircraft.
“It will not be a hard number,” my contact maintained.
In truth, it may be as high as 3,600 pounds, so the speech information was headed in the right direction, but it will not be 3,600 for all LSA nor does this particular figure deserve such focus.
Regretfully, we cannot unring the bell.
When Will We Know?
The word is out that changes are coming. Indeed, the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, of which I am president, already reported coming changes more than a month ago.
Before anyone outside the FAA reads a NPRM, these ideas must first pass muster before an internal rulemaking council.
After that, many months of work are needed to cover every detail of this sweeping regulation. The new rule involves more than Light-Sport Aircraft and touches on many parts of the Federal Aviation Regulations, which is one of several reasons why the matter cannot be finished quickly.
A Group Effort
Many in the light aviation community are pleased that the FAA is working to improve the regulations that apply to LSA.
Since SUN ‘n FUN 2014, LAMA has promoted its core initiatives, focused on electric propulsion, single lever control props, fully-built gyroplanes, and expanded aerial work privileges for LSA.
The industry group is also grateful for and acknowledges the efforts of EAA, AOPA, and others as they lobby to increase the value and capabilities of Light-Sport Aircraft. A change to how gross weight is calculated is but one aspect of this approach.
Since the AOPA fly-in early in the month, EAA has clarified its view of the work underway at FAA.
“Mosaic,” as it’s becoming known, is a acronym referring to modernizing rules for LSA and other categories. The Oshkosh-based association also corrected the prognosis for the release date of a NPRM, stating it remains well into the future.
LAMA has regularly communicated with people inside EAA, AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, and ASTM and will continue to brief these groups.
All the alphabets working together with responsive personnel inside the FAA can keep aviation’s newest sector working well and getting better.
Dale Baraks says
Has anyone ever noticed how the FAA can take the joy out of everything. Many people look forward to flying and are told they can’t because of a medical condition. So they look to light sport. But sorry you can’t because you were already denied a class 3 because you have to take an antidepressant. So the FAA judges you a risk. Like everyone on an antidepressant is suicidal or cant manage stress. I appreciate what the FAA is trying to do. However they go way to far. This is just from one person who’s dream to become a pilot has been taken by the FAA because he’s been “judged” a risk.
terry nitzel says
The weight limit has been (fishy) from the start and that’s putting it mildly. From a safety and financial stand point the cessna 150 172 and cherokee 140 and 180 and many others such as ercoupes could be declared lsa airplanes in a week.Its not rocket science it’s common sense unless there is a hidden agenda
I haave a 1961 piper Colt that has been flown frequently and hangered. Today this LSA fly Club needs some one with Colt/Tri-pacer experience to check us out for more flying.
chas tanner Chairperson Butler PA 724-283-5251
In my opinion, the LSA needs to be expanded to include Cherokees, 172’s, Stinson, Tri-Pacer, ect. Get signed off by a CFI in the aircraft of your choice. How is that unsafe? The LSA is about useless for me as it stands now, plus the cost of these LSA aircraft is absurd. An increase of in weight for the LSA is the best idea since since the PBOR2 was gutted to what it is now.
No: (3600 -1320)/1320 * 100 = 172.73%
I know Richard, I always find it interesting how numbers are used, and how it seems that they are often used incorrectly by the media. I think they are well intended, but we should have some ground rules. A 100% increase means it doubled. A 200% INCREASE means it increased from 100% to 300%. However when you go from 100 to 300 they want to say “that is a 300% increase, which it is not. An Increase by definition indicates it is additive. Just like going from 10 to 30 is not an increase of 30, every 3rd grader knows it is only an increase of 20. Percentages work the same way, but most people do not seem to understand that.
Tim Kern says
As an aside to Dan’s article but as a comment on your (John’s and Richard’s) entries, it’s really infuriating to hear a product advertised as “three times cheaper” or “twice as light,” or any other such impossibility.
Andrew Murphy says
I’m not to worried about the gross weight limit of 3600# what I am looking forward to is developing a new breed of airplanes that are heavier and more stable than current LSAs yet designed under ASTM standards not FAR 23. Significant cost savings should be seen along the lines of cheaper glass panels, and far more modern engines. I’m looking at the current LSAs as a stepping stone too more modern GA planes
Jeff Owens, CASMEL says
All of this debate about pounds of aircraft and useful load has been created by ridiculous FAA regulations to somehow make it seem like a crash from a 1,320# going 100 miles an hour will be less likely or dangerous than one in an aircraft of some greater weight going 100 miles an hour.
The real concern is whether old folks, or one’s with bad hearts, or semi-skilled pilots might be more likely to crash. The real criteria should be limited to capabilities of aircraft performance and complexity, and operating environments as is already part of the LSA standards. Just as highways have speed limits for all drivers, even though professional race car drivers could easily negotiate some at 200 mph plus, similar mentality needs to apply to any limits imposed on certain classes of pilots.
Broadly applying certain limitations based on a specific weight of any aircraft has no correlation to the ability of any specific pilots to fly them. Likewise, the confusing and contradictory stipulations about using any LSA in IFR are a jumble. If a plane is equipped, and pilot certified, then what makes it safer for any plane to fly only in daytime VFR?
The creation of the LSA category needs to decide whether the function is to certify light aircraft, or control which pilots can fly what kind of aircraft.
Lastly, fears about allowing heavier weight limits seem to be ignoring the main factor most pilots are attracted to this category in the first place – initial and operating cost differences. Weightier aircraft won’t be cheaper.
Ed Fogle says
Well said. FAA has always taken the easy way to categorize aircraft, usually by weight. It is too difficult for them to evaluate airplanes based on flying qualities or complexity so they take the easy way out, weight. Same thing happened when defining “large” aircraft. They settled on 12,500# as the dividing line. Didn’t relate to anything useful, just the simple way to differentiate airplanes.
As soon as I heard about this, I ‘sensed’ that something wasn’t right. The weight increase seemed too great and the date (certain) for an NPRM seemed too soon. Yet — given that it was announced by Jack Pelton, someone I admire and respect a lot — it had credibility. THEN … the discussion started and the rumors and innuendo commenced.
As I read your article NOW, it appears that my sixth sense served me well once again. It WAS too good to be true. We all wish it were so but … it isn’t. Jack Pelton and Mark Baker got this one seriously wrong. VERY surprising?? That it took LAMA to research and now explain the “facts” is good.
I USED to go to Sebring every year as a seriously interested buyer. NONE of the 1320 pound machines I flight tested were worthy of me spending $$ well north of six figures for a variety of reasons. I have since given up on the segment and Sebring. If I can’t continue to fly my C172 … I’m done. It and my A20’s will be up for sale and I’ll buy myself a nice new Corvette.
The FAA … making simple ‘stuff’ hard since 1958. The ONLY way to fix all of this is to disconnect Class I airplanes from their overzealous control.
Robert Collins says
I will second that Amen on the disconnect!
Dan Johnson says
The truth is that many, including myself, are quite enthusiastic about the future for LSA.
The LAMA organization has worked for more than 4 years to bring improvements and increased capability to the LSA category and we embrace the changes and the new opportunities that come with them.
From the breadth of changes coming, it is easy to see this is an increasingly important sector. The success of the LSA concept has even assisted changes being made to Part 23 and tomorrow’s manned aircraft will more clearly than ever include these newest flying machines that come in every flavor and description. It’s an exciting time!
All gossip. LSA is LSA. The category was created in a very specific way and it will not be change. If you wanna fly something larger then get a 3rd class or basic med and a private and go buy something larger. Quit whining about LSAs size.
I like a lot about the LSA, but I’m sure a lot of pilots like me have a hard time finding LSA planes that can hold a plus-size pilot and his non-miniature wife who can’t pack light, plus enough fuel for a 3 hour leg plus reserves.
I thought 3600 pounds was excessive. A lot of posters on Pilots of America thought it was a conversion error. Something was stated in lbs., but others thought it was kilos, and multiplied it by 2.2 to convert it to lbs., again.
Ed Fogle says
My opposition to the LSA limits, particular the max weight, has always been the Cessna 150, Piper Cherokee 140 and Citabria 7ECA are excluded from the category. Made no sense to me other than it helped the LSA manufacturers.
Look at the Flight Design options, cockpit 49 inches across (larger than most incl. 172, 210, Bonanza etc). Range of 6 hours, and 100 pounds of luggage.
Kai: With 6 hours of fuel and 100 lbs. of baggage, how many pounds of people will it carry?
Not sure which models are USA specific, but based on CTSL (Super Sport) which I fly in South Africa, with 28 gallons and 100lbs luggage approx 380 pounds for passengers at 115 kts cruise at 75%. That includes rescue system. Subject to additional equipment like auto pilot, avionics (glass) etc
So you’re saying it has about a 650 lb. useful load, which would give it about a 670 lb. empty weight to meet the 1320 lb. gross weight limit……pretty good !!!
Walter Rawdanik says
Why are you even here worrying about LSAs – go enjoy your $2000 annual Cirrus.
Any and or all expansion of the sport class is good, once more part 23 aircraft are included in the class the further the acceptance of the sport world will be. FBO’s will be able to promote sport aviation and expansion will naturally come when their 172 can be a two class rental and training machine. The glass cockpit of today’s sport plane will be the benchmark of high tech aviation and will aid in the eventual adaptation of the technology into the crossover part 23 aircraft.
As the proposed rulemaking moves forward the sport class will be more solidified, accepted and in general will grow to the point that every airport will have a sport operation.
Not only those, Ed, but the Luscombes, Taylorcrafts, etc. other than the 65 hp models. The crown jewel of the stupidity of the FAA is the Aeronca 7DC. The 7DC has a gross weight of 1300 lbs. Put the landing gear called the “no bounce” on it and the gross weight is 1350 lbs. Now, here’s the stupid part………If you remove that “no bounce” landing gear and install the standard gear back on the aircraft, the max. gross weight returns to 1300 lbs…..BUT, the aircraft can no longer be flown by a Light Sport Pilot or Pilot without a physical. I can’t tell the difference looking at the two gears, but if you opt to put the no bounce gear on your Aeronca, be sure that there is no record of it in the aircraft maintenance records.
Michael Livote says
Gee Dan, you almost sound upset that a real and needed change to the ridiculous 1320 weight limit of the LSA category can and should be abolished….sorry my man, but until it is most folks will still avoid that class all together. I know the organization you represent is all about the sales, but do at least try to be as happy as the rest of us about this, okay? This whole article sounds like sour grapes, and that’s just wrong.
I’m afraid I didn’t read it that way. Just a dose of reality. I thought the original announcement was a little bizarre on its face given that it takes years for the FAA to much of anything.
Ed Fogle says
Dan has always been quick to explain away aspects of the LSA industry that have been more than a little disappointing to the general pilot population. Sometimes you’d think he was a paid apologist for the manufacturers. In all fairness I think, though, it reflects his enthusiasm for the segment.
BTW, a nitpick. An change to 3600# for LSA would be about 172% increase, not “almost 300%”.
When I read that the LSA weight limit might go up to 3,600 pounds my first reaction was complete skepticism. I just cannot imagine the FAA putting aircraft like the Cessna 172 under the LSA umbrella. But I CAN imagine them bumping it up to say 1,700 pounds, which would make older two-place aircraft like the Cessna 150 and 152, the Beechcraft Skipper, and the Piper Tomahawk eligible. And that would make a lot of sense. I have never understood why they placed the limit so low that it didn’t include those airplanes.
Jeff Irick says
Your math is spot on. For all the non math types out there, to get the actual increase you would subtract the current limit from the proposed limit, divide the result by the current limit and multiply the final result by 100. This would give you Ed’s figure.
Dan made the common mistake of dividing the proposed by the original. This the percentage that the proposed is of the original – not the percentage that the weight increase is of the original.
I don’t mean to be pedantic. I just wanted to explain the math – being a math Professor, teaching is in my blood. ☺
Bill Shinn says
Actually the math says it is a 272% increase not 172%. 3600/1320 X 100 = 272.
Ed Fogle says
Remember we’re talking increase. The increase is 2280# (3600-1320) so 2280/1320=1.73×100=173%.
exactly, Percentages are just like regular numbers. Just like an increase from 10 to 30 is not an increase of 30, it is an increase of 20, therefore it is a 200% increase, not a 300% increase.. The media does this all the time…
Jeff Irick says
You just made the mistake I was talking about.