As another election season starts up, polling and statistics move to center stage.
For similar — although less theatrical — reasons, reporting aircraft market share information helps businesses learn what customers want. Data also help buyers learn the brands that are favored, as well as the ones that pass the test of time.
As aviation’s newest sector, Light-Sport Aircraft market shares offer the customary values to identify trends. Thanks to a new effort over the last year, the light aircraft industry has the best information in its 15-year existence.
A computer database expert joined with me as an industry expert to build a platform where anyone can look at the data in as much detail as they wish — right down to every single aircraft counted. Steve Beste helped shine a million-candlepower light on this obscure quarter of the government’s aircraft registration database and then established an online resource to tell the story of his retrieval system.
While the aircraft registry has a lag to it that may not identically track vendor reports of aircraft sales or deliveries, in time the two sources become very similar. The government’s work to keep track of aircraft should remain free of influences that could undermine simple industry surveys seeking such data.
For more visual learners, the Tableau Public website builds colorful charts that can also be user manipulated. If you are a number-cruncher type (and you know who you are), you will love this new online access.
Using Tableau Public, you can go deep in the weeds about any one subgroup by using the blue selection boxes in the left column. The site is amazingly versatile if you spend a bit of time with it. If you own an aircraft included in this analysis, you can absolutely find it. (Tableau Public may work best on your desktop or laptop. The effort called “responsive” to make pages work on smartphones and tablets does not portray the information as conveniently.)
For those who prefer a general overview, the following gives highlights as to the light aircraft industry through the first three quarters of 2019. I will point out some rising brands, as well as observe some sinkers.
2019 Looks to Be a Good Year for LSA
With three quarters of the year complete we can extrapolate — presuming a steady pace — that all of 2019 should result in 724 new aircraft registrations in the light aircraft sector defined (by us) as Light-Sport Aircraft and Sport Pilot kit-built aircraft.
Sport Pilot kits refers to amateur-built aircraft that can be flown by a pilot possessing a Sport Pilot certificate or exercising the privileges of Sport Pilot (meaning no aviation medical is required) while holding a Private Pilot certificate or higher. Since the Sport Pilot FAA certificate only arrived in late 2004, we include in our count all applicable kit-built aircraft that can be flown by a Sport Pilot that have been registered since 2005 (when the first LSA were accepted by FAA). Although some of the same kit aircraft existed before Jan. 1, 2005, we omit them as it cannot be said those older aircraft could be flown by someone with a Sport Pilot certificate because it did not exist before then. This also evenly and fairly compares SP Kits with SLSA and ELSA.
New aircraft registrations in 2019 should be up more than 10% over 2018, which was up over 2017. The industry is enjoying a good year and more pilots than ever are flying these aircraft.
Why is business up?
We don’t claim to have all the answers, but regular surveying of exhibitors at airshows this year revealed many sellers saying, “The market is active. People are confident and feel good about the economy.”
Of course, this is anecdotal, not scientific, but we heard it from enough vendors to believe they’re feeling good about their enterprises. Many individual pilots echo this finding.
LSA Market Breakout
Let’s look at two broad categories: First is a grouping of all Light-Sport Aircraft — combining Special (fully built) with Experimental (different from Experimental Amateur Built kits) — and, secondly, a defined flock of Sport Pilot kit-built aircraft.
The former is a first-ever presentation because previously we segmented Special LSA from Experimental LSA when comparing to Sport Pilot kits, making it harder to compare similar groups. As the data now reveal, Light-Sport Aircraft are closely paired with kit-built aircraft although kits have slightly closed the gap in recent years.
Viewing all light aircraft as a group, Beste noted, “The same six brands continue to lead the pack.”
He refers to the full fleet of light aircraft that can be flown by someone possessing a Sport Pilot certificate. Leaders include Zenair/Zenith, Van’s, Rans, Sonex, and Kitfox, plus SLSA builder Icon. Van’s, Rans, and Kitfox sell both fully built SLSA and kits.
Immediately after these six powerhouses of light aviation are five close contenders: Searey-maker Progressive Aerodyne, AutoGyro, Just Aircraft, Powrachute, and Magni Gyro. While Progressive Aerodyne does well in both kits and fully built seaplanes and while Powrachute sells both as well, the rest are all kit makers. Gyroplane manufacturers (AutoGyro, Magni Gyro, and others) are forced to sell kits while the FAA revises regulations to finally allow fully-built SLSA gyroplanes.
No question, kit aircraft remain strong in the USA. This segment existed for many years before LSA came along, although we only count since 2005, while Light-Sport Aircraft go back no further than 2005. Honestly, one surprise about Sport Pilot kits and LSA is how close the two primary groups are after 15 years.
Beste made a few other worthwhile observations. Among the increasingly active gyroplane community, “The low-cost Tango is coming on strong. It used to be powered by a two-stroke Rotax 582, but the company’s website says it now has a Yamaha four-stroke, three-cylinder, fuel-injected, 130-horsepower engine.”
AutoGyro, Magni, and U.S.-based SilverLight lead among gyroplanes, but Tango’s appearance suggests the market is open to newcomers, especially when they have good pricing.
Another newer entry Beste highlighted was the Goat trike, a weight shift design.
“Denny Reed’s Wild Sky Goat is a surprise success. He positions it as a super-tough outback machine.”
Reed is a deeply experienced trike pilot with more than 8,000 hours of instruction given. He finally made his own trike and it is one brute-tough machine.
Goat uses wings by North Wing, as do many other weight shift brands, but the Washington state wing producer is also having a better year for its own SLSA trikes.
Evolution Trikes’ deluxe Revo sales are off a bit from their high, but presently the Florida company is focused on its fully-built Rev Part 103 trike and the new RevX. The latter is a newly-debuted kit and the former will not show up on FAA’s registration database because Part 103 vehicles need not be registered.
Fixed wing continues to be, by far, the biggest group of LSA (partly as fewer kit-built aircraft fall into the “alternative” description).
Among Special (fully-built) LSA, Flight Design continues atop the ranking. It enjoyed a phenomenal start back in 2005-2006 and has never lost its leadership position. American Legend, Czech Sport Aircraft, CubCrafters, Tecnam, and Aerotrek remain very strong players in the top 10.
However, some newbies are moving up the rankings.
Though its start into serial production was long coming, the slickly-marketed Icon A5 LSA seaplane has moved into the #2 position for 2019 (after Van’s, many of which are registered as ELSA).
Another up-and-comer is Vashon and its well-priced Ranger.
BRM Aero’s Bristell is climbing the rankings and TL Aircraft, rep for the Sting and other TL models, is reviving that much-admired stable of aircraft.
On the downside, Cessna continues to drop in rank following the company’s unfortunate decision to exit the LSA space and crush all remaining aircraft, engines and all. Remos is another brand fading from its earlier strength.
A Quarter to Go
As we head into the final quarter of 2019 — and the final LSA show of the year, the DeLand Sport Aviation Showcase — we will report the full year shortly into January 2020.
The good news is that aircraft are selling, pilots are flying more than ever, and safety remains admirable. That’s reason for celebration.