Halfway through its second decade, the Light-Sport Aircraft sector is showing one clear-cut sign of maturity.
Used LSA are increasingly common and some represent exceptional values, helping to put aircraft ownership within range of a larger group of pilots.
A vigorous market for used LSA is good for the customer, good for the reseller, good for the new manufacturer, and good for aviation. It’s literally all good.
Customers get better prices on fairly late model LSA, making aircraft ownership more achievable. Brokers are pleased to have a greater selection and supply of more affordable aircraft from which they can earn a living. New manufacturers also like used aircraft sales, as the sale of a previously owned aircraft frees a new aircraft customer to go forward on his purchase. Everyone benefits by more pilots flying.
The used LSA market has developed in different ways, imitating the auto market in its diversity of ownership opportunities.
As LSA crossed several thousand planes delivered (see this link for a way to examine the entire LSA, Sport Pilot kit market), a growing market for used aircraft has emerged. These aircraft frequently have 250 to 500 hours logged, which represents not much more than a good break-in period. Such LSA can deliver many years of use for the average buyer.
How to Buy a used LSA?
I have nothing to do with the sale of individual aircraft. All my observations are just that — observations. You should do your own research. Many people are willing to help in most pilot communities. By all means, get a second opinion about an aircraft that interests you and seek out assistance as needed. That said…
I can identify at least three distinct ways LSA are being sold today.
If you have looked through the classified ads of an aviation magazine, such as General Aviation News, for a used aircraft, you used a time-honored, market tested way of buying an aircraft. A quick glance at the classifieds will show you a healthy market for legacy aircraft and aviation products of all sorts. They are also a great place to sell your aircraft as you prepare to buy the next one.
My best success has been to take an airplane to an airshow. Every aircraft I’ve owned has been sold at an event. This technique may work best if you have something very special or if you are flexible on price.
You cannot deny that showing your flying machine to a large number of clearly interested pilots helps to expose your pride-and-joy to those who may prefer to put hands on the aircraft.
These proven methods are solid ways to consider either buying or selling, but they do require you to be a good judge of character and knowledgeable about equipment, including powerplants. Not everyone is comfortable with those tasks. So, consider a newer method.
Even in a market that increasingly uses technology to connect sellers and buyers, this concept is emerging as one of the best, especially if a buyer chooses not to do the mechanical inspection themselves.
In this intriguing new development for the LSA or Sport Pilot kit aircraft space — this is familiar ground for any car dealer — some producers and sellers of new aircraft are seeking out used examples of their brand, going over them thoroughly, and then reselling them.
They have a reason to want these aircraft to satisfy customers as it is their brand to defend. A customer may feel reassured to “deal with the factory.” Concierge resellers can “cherry pick” the best examples and, since they know their brand intimately, customers can get an exceptional purchase.
Some brokers, like Scott Severen of US Sport Planes, see used aircraft as an alternate revenue producer for his enterprise. At a recent airshow he displayed two pristine Jabiru LSA with prices 50% less than a new model.
Current new models may have some tempting features or qualities, but Severen’s used aircraft presented very well and many buyers find them desirable. Plus, Scott backs these up in a way no one else can, as he is also the representative for new Jabiru aircraft.
“My reasoning best serves the customer,” he explains, “as a pilot looking for a new aircraft isn’t interested in used and a customer who wants to spend less is motivated by a lower price.”
At recent airshows, I have interviewed an expanding number of vendors who are already embracing this trend or thinking about it to aid their enterprise. That’s good for customers, too, as it makes for more stable enterprises. When you will eventually need parts, service, or advice you want your vendor to remain in business.
More familiar than “Premium/Concierge” is using tech as found on any smartphone, tablet, or laptop. This presents the same aircraft found in print publications on your phone or tablet. That’s handy, plus you can search and mark as a favorite aircraft that interest you.
The tech method brings sellers in direct contact with a prospective buyer in an efficient way that did not exist when the LSA market came into being.
Social media further adds to this research opportunity. Light Sport Aviation on Facebook, for example, often lists attractively priced aircraft in the sector. It changes frequently.
Fulfilling the LSA Dream?
More than 15 years ago LSA first burst on the scene, bringing with it the driver’s license medical that aided many lighter kit aircraft sales. Deliveries measured by FAA registrations for LSA and Sport Pilot kit aircraft are approaching 9,000 aircraft.
When LSA first arrived, many enthusiasts and observers had a view that these new aircraft would be simple (that was specifically one of the FAA’s goals) — would thereby be light and low cost. The common price expectations centered around $50,000 to $60,000 in 2002.
Let’s keep the field level. Reduced dollar purchasing power (inflation) makes $50,000 to $60,000 from 2002 equal to $70,000 to $85,000 in 2019.
You can buy brand new LSA for $70,000 to $85,000, fulfilling the dream. However, carbon fiber speedsters with big-screen digital panels and autopilots are priced from $150,000 and up — in a few cases way up. A $200,000 LSA is going to be spectacularly well equipped and be a very comfortable aircraft, but it is nonetheless priced well out of many budgets.
So, to get the aircraft you want without paying the premium of brand new, used LSA represent a growing opportunity, with some exceptional aircraft being offered by concierge sellers. With care and some effort, you might find even better values on your own, although you may prefer to trust an expert you know.
One thing is certain: The Special and Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot kit sector is alive and well and the number of available aircraft has never been larger and more diverse. The market literally has something for every interest and every budget.
All that’s before the FAA dramatically expands the category in the next two to three years, but that’s a story for a future General Aviation News SPLOG column.