Feds Say They Can't Find Where The LSAs Are Built... Using Google Earth
ANN E-I-C Note: The almighty FAA seems bound and determined to kill sport aviation and the LSA movement via the death of a thousand cuts... and the recent news that one of the most innovative and promising manufacturers of Light Sport Aircraft is being stymied by FAA foolishness only goes to prove that this is an agency whose mission is widely off the mark. We have calls into the FAA on this but based on what we know so far, the FAA's treatment of Pipistrel (and assumedly, others) is yet another bit of proof that today's FAA is not part of the solution... but part of the problem. Worse; the rationale behind the FAA's inability or unwillingness to do their jobs and register these aircraft has to rank as one of the more idiotic responses we have seen from the Washington Puzzle Palace in quite the while -- and that's saying something. ANN will be looking further into this mess and let you know what we find out.... but once again, we must woefully recite the wise
words of Will Rogers... "Thank God we're not getting all the government we're paying for..." -- Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C
Last Tuesday, Pipistrel received notification from the FAA that they could not validate that Pipistrel aircraft were built in Italy, and they have advised until they have finished their investigations that no more Pipistrel aircraft will be registered in the USA in the LSA category.
In information forwarded to ANN by Michael Coates, Pipistrel's Master Distributor for the US market, the issue began when extra conditions were inserted into FAA rules which necessitated a bilateral agreement with the country of manufacture and the FAA so they could monitor ongoing safety. Previously, Yugoslavia had a bilateral agreement but when the country broke up after the civil war and the country was then subdivided into Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia etc then this bilateral agreement ceased to operate.
The obvious choice for Pipistrel was to contact the Slovenian CAA and start the process for a new bilateral agreement between the Slovenian CAA and the FAA. Some three years later it was obvious that the FAA had no interest in doing this in any sort of timely manner so after extensive investigation Pipistrel decided to open a factory in Italy so that LSA aircraft could be built in this facility and comply with the FAA while actual safety agreement was slowly progressing with the FAA.
Coates says it is really important to note that it is only aircraft which are built for the USA in the LSA category which are built in Italy. Other aircraft around the world like say Australia, New Zealand or other countries which have the LSA category already have established relationships with the Slovenian CAA and do not have any conditions to be built anywhere and are accepted from Slovenia. For this reason it is possible to go through the Pipistrel Slovenia factory and see LSA aircraft being built; but these are aircraft only for other world markets excluding the USA. All LSA aircraft supplied to the USA are built ONLY in Italy.
Pipistrel has an airfield at Gorizia (pictured) which is approximately 10 miles from the existing factory just over the border in Italy. Pipistrel has had ownership/use of this airfield for some time and it is also the site of the new factory for the Pipistrel Panthera aircraft. A lot of information about this is in past newsletters. LSA aircraft destined for the USA were until recently manufactured at this facility in Gorizia which included some old hangars left over from the military. Many of these hangars have recently been demolished for the extensions at the airfield and Pipistrel has moved to a new facility currently use the aircraft manufacture by a business called fly synthesis. This is also in Italy in the town of Udine.
In its letter to Coates, the FAA said:
"The Italian CAA, ENAC, has reported to us that Pipistrel aircraft are not currently manufactured in Italy. My research of the company address on both FAA Form 8130-15s shows a traffic circle in Gorizia and farmland in Mortegliano. No runways in either location for test flights.
"If you are still interested in obtaining an airworthiness certificate, please provide me with the address where the aircraft in question was manufactured/test flown, and the address where this activity occurs today. If this cannot be verified on Google Earth by address, please provide the corresponding latitude and longitude.
"Until we are able to verify the manufacturing location in Italy, new Pipistrel aircraft are ineligible for SLSA airworthiness certification in the United States."
The letter was signed by Richard Posey Aviation Safety Inspector (Mfg) Airworthiness Certification Branch
So, Coates wrote to ANN, the FAA (is) now using Google Earth to certify and validate aircraft manufacturing. Apparently because they could not find an address on Google Earth, it means that aircraft are not built at the said address. "Really, you have to be kidding!" he said.
In his response, Coates said:
"Please let me explain the certification process and procedures in Italy as best as I know them.
"You have done the correct thing in contacting the FAA equivalent in Italy which is known as ENAC, my understanding is that ENAC only looks after aircraft above 600 kilograms maximum takeoff weight which is basically certified aircraft and upwards, ENAC officially delegate what they term ‘sport’ aircraft which are lightweight aircraft, gliders, ultralight, light sport, microlights and balloons to 'The Aero club of Italy'.
"The Aero club of Italy acts as the delegated authority on behalf of ENAC as the overseeing authority for management of sport aviation. The Aero club of Italy has very little statutory controls other than registration and pilot licensing (from what I am told). Approaching ENAC is a good first step but you will not find anybody in the organization who is probably familiar with Pipistrel or in fact any other LSA or light aircraft manufacturers because this is not their responsibility. ENAC will probably tell you that Pipistrel are starting to build a nice new factory but this has not been completed, this is because this is the only thing ENAC / Pipistrel is involved with from the start.
"The FAA should be contacting the Aero club of Italy who are familiar with Pipistrel's operations and are the authority that issues the certificate of non-registration for all aircraft when they are exported from Italy.
"The Aero club of Italy is also the provider of several sets of registration numbers which are temporarily attached to each aircraft when they are test flown at the factory to validate the manufacturing and performance declarations. They are aware of Pipistrel’s manufacturing facility, they provide registration numbers which are temporarily attached to the aircraft for test flights and they provide the certificate of non-registrations for the aircraft when they are shipped from Italy to the USA.
"All of the details for the Aero club of Italy including their contact information has been provided to you several times. I attach it again below. I would ask that you contact the Aero Club of Italy and put an end to this matter.
"Pipistrel has several facilities in Europe; their head office is in the Slovenian town of Ajdovscina, less than 15 miles away they own the Gorizia airfield and this is the base for their recently started 10,000 square metre production facility for building the new Panthera aircraft, construction of this new facility has recently started. This airfield and associated ex-military buildings were the original location for manufacturing light sport aircraft for the USA. Your search of the address which you identified as a roundabout is adjacent to the Pipistrel administration offices in Gorizia, there are no offices at the Gorizia airfield only manufacturing."
(Images of the airfields and manufacturing facilities provided by Pipistrel. Top: Gorizia, Bottom: Udine)