The newly simplified and inexpensive availability of light-sport aircraft (LSAs), has meant that they have become the fastest growing segment in aviation. Oshkosh AirVenture, the United States' largest fly-in air show, set record attendance levels this year, with an estimated 560,000 attendees, a 3.2 per cent increase from 2006.Consider the following facts:
What's a light-sport plane?
The FAA defines a light-sport aircraft as a plane with a maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 600 kg (1,320 lb) for aircraft designed to operate from land, or 649 kg (1,430 lb) for seaplanes. Its maximum airspeed in level flight should not exceed 120 knots (222 km/h), and its maximum stall speed 45 knots (83 km/h). It can't have more than two seats; must have a fixed undercarriage; fixed-pitch or ground adjustable propeller; and a single reciprocating engine.LSAs can be operated by holders of a Sport Pilot certificate, which is much easier to get than a conventional private, recreational, or commercial pilot licence required for conventionally certificated aircraft. LSAs also have less restrictive maintenance requirements and can even be maintained by their pilots and/or owners.Apart from airplanes, gyroplane rotorcraft (not true helicopters), powered parachutes, weight-shift control aircraft, and lighter-than-air craft (balloons and airships) can all be certificated as LSA if they fall within the FAA guidelines.Most other countries more broadly licence 'microlight' or 'ultralight' aircraft. And, other countries' microlight definitions are typically less restrictive, not limiting airspeed or the use of variable-pitch propellers.
What's a microlight?
By contrast, the US FAA has a separate definition of ultralight aircraft, which must be extremely lightweight — less than 115 kg (254 lb) if powered, or 70 kg (155 lb) if unpowered — flown by a single occupant, have a fuel capacity of less than 19 litres (5 US gallons), a maximum airspeed of 55 knots (102 km/h), and a maximum stall speed of not more than 24 knots (45 km/h). In the US, ultralight aircraft do not require pilot licensing, medical certification, or aircraft registration.But light-sport aircraft can exceed the limitations defined for ultralight aircraft. Among them are those specifically designed to meet the LSA requirements, as well as overweight ultralights that were earlier operated illegally. A few certificated aircraft, like the original Piper Cub, happen to fall within the definition of a light-sport aircraft and can be operated by individuals holding FAA Sport Pilot certificates. But there's a complication here. Aircraft cannot be re-certificated as LSA. While those with Sport Pilot licences are allowed to operate conventionally certificated aircraft that fall within LSA parameters, the aircraft themselves continue to be certificated in their original categories.
Meet the makers
Established LSA makers include Germany's Flight Design, which makes the CT2K and the CTSW; the USA's Cirrus Design, which makes the Fk14 Polaris and will come out with the Cirrus SR Sport next year; and the Cessna 162. At the lower end of the scale are the Slovakian Aeropro CZ, which makes the Eurofox, and the Zenith Aircraft Company's AMD Zodiac, sold in kit form. But with the market booming way ahead of expectations, several designers and manufacturers of experimental aircraft kits are working to develop models that are compliant with the light-sport aircraft rules.The Exosphere Aircraft Company, for example, has come up with the BD-22, designed by legendary aircraft designer Jim Bede. The aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has listed 57 LSA manufacturers. The two countries with the most manufacturers are the US and the Czech Republic. Others include Canada, Russia, Germany, Italy, Australia, France, and even Hungary, Poland, Spain and Slovakia