At 27 Months, How's This Baby Growing?
With just over two years of flying under the Sport Pilot rules,
how are things shaping up? If you're still reading this, we'll
assume that you are at least moderately familiar with the ins and
outs of the regulations, and what the whole thing is about.
Therefore, we won't bore you with all the numbers, rules and
For those who want to wade thru the mumbo-jumbo, here's a link
to the FAA site that will tell
you way more than you ever wanted to know.
To end 2006, and kick off the New Year, let's take a look not at
the rule itself, but how it is affecting people and the aviation
industry. Overall, there is a sense that Sport Pilot is growing
well, and aside from a few growing pains, is living up to
OK, we said we wouldn't bore you with a lot of numbers, but
there are a few that are important to look at:
- To date, approximately 44 different models of S-LSA are
available. These are factory built, ready to fly off of the
showroom floor aircraft that sell for considerably less than most
other factory built airplanes. Some people say they are still
overpriced, and that is what is holding the industry back. (More on
- Over 400 Sport Pilot certificates have been issued. This number
doesn't include pilots who hold higher ratings, but have let their
medical expire and are operating under the Sport Pilot rule.
- More than 500 light-sport aircraft are registered with the FAA.
This doesn't count type-certificated and amateur-built aircraft
that are also eligible to be flown by sport pilots.
- More than 1,300 people have passed the sport pilot airman
knowledge (written) test. This serves as evidence that the demand
is there for aircraft and instructors, which dovetails with the
first point, cost of aircraft.
The biggest news of 2006, as far as Sport Pilot is concerned,
was that Cessna is considering getting into the market. For those
of us fortunate enough to make it to AirVenture, we saw the
unveiling of the unfinished proof of concept airframe. A few months
later, at AOPA Expo, we saw the finished product.
N158CS -- or, as many have dubbed it, the "Cessna Sport" (above)
-- was flown to Palm Springs by none other than Cessna Chairman,
President, and CEO Jack Pelton. Cessna has yet to officially
announce that it will manufacture and sell the Sport, but if
popular opinion is any indicator, it seems like a done deal.
Long term, this is excellent news for not only the Light Sport
industry, but GA as a whole. With the fleet of 152's and 172s
rapidly approaching Classic status, the flight training community
is aching for an affordable and dependable replacement. While there
are other manufacturers currently producing worthy, and quite
possibly superior competition, none bring to the table the name
recognition, brand loyalty and economy of scale that Cessna
There is a short term downside, though. Some folks may be
waiting to buy an S-LSA until they see what Cessna does.
This leads us back to the price
issue. Currently, demand is outpacing supply by a pretty good
margin. Order an S-LSA today, and you probably won't take delivery
of it for a few months. There are some exceptions, but overall this
is the case, especially for the more popular models. Anyone
who has even heard the word "Economics" used in a sentence can tell
you that when this is the case, prices will remain high.
If Cessna gets in the game, and as the market matures and the
supply catches up with demand, we can honestly expect prices to
come down. Will flying ever be as affordable as riding a Harley or
owning a fishing boat?
Probably not. But it certainly brings the dream of ownership
into reach for a lot more people.
As a side note, ANN spoke with several manufacturers at AOPA
Expo, and they are considering new and innovative ways to market
their wares. They are looking at off-airport sales locations,
possibly co-located with motorcycle, boat, and other recreational
vehicle dealers to put LSA's in front of the masses.
Also, many manufacturers are following more conservative
business practices. They are not accepting large deposits until the
customer is assured delivery. In the past, there have been
situations where customers have made large deposits, and never
received an aircraft. Essentially, their money was being used to
fund either R&D, flight testing, or early production for other
people's planes. The current trend seems to be towards accepting a
small deposit to secure a delivery position, with a large deposit
due a short time before their airplane is built, and the balance
due at delivery.
The flight training market seems to be a little slow to jump on
the Sport Pilot bandwagon. Sooner or later they will realize that
they can buy an S-LSA for $60-80K, as opposed to $150,000 and up
for a Cessna 172, then pass on the lower operating cost to the
renter, and there is real promise for more people to do more
flying... and THAT is a good thing.
One of the under appreciated values of S-LSA is the fact that
they can be used for training and rental at almost all levels. Many
models feature instrumentation far better than what most of us did
our instrument training in, and the technology is only getting
better and more affordable.
As LSA becomes more accepted in the flight training community, a
fledgling pilot will be able to complete their entire training up
through Commercial and CFII ratings in an LSA, with the exception
of a few hours of High Performance and Complex time. Most LSA burn
only 4-6 gallons of fuel per hour, as opposed to 8-10 in even the
lowest performance trainers currently in the fleet. The savings in
fuel alone could knock at least $1000 off the price tag of a
Unfortunately, 2006 saw a number of LSA accidents. Accidents are
always bad news, but thus far there is no real evidence that this
sector of GA is more susceptible to accidents than other comparable
flight activities. Even considering the reduced training
requirements to earn the Sport Pilot certificate, Sport Pilot seems
to be holding its own from a safety point of view. In what was
probably the highest profile Sport Pilot related accident to date,
a Legend Cub enroute home from AirVenture ditched in Lake Michigan
near Chicago, resulting in the loss of the pilot. The accident was
caused by fuel exhaustion... an all too common refrain for light
aircraft of all types -- certainly not unique to LSA.
Overall the future of Sport Pilot looks bright. Sales are
strong, and interest is high. It's all still pretty new, and a lot
of flight schools and instructors are still a little gun-shy. Many
haven't taken the time to learn about it, which is a shame. Once
they get aboard -- and many feel they eventually will -- the
industry should boom.
As of today, though, it's still tough to find a place to rent an
LSA and receive training. Insurance is another hold-up. As the
product proves itself, insurers will come around and rates will go
down as availability goes up.
Another snag that some potential Sport Pilots are still getting
hung up on is what is known as the medical "Catch-22": if your last
FAA medical application was denied, you are not eligible for sport
pilot. If you simply let your medical lapse,
though, there's nothing keeping you from legally flying
as a sport pilot.
The EAA and AOPA are working hard to find a solution to this
problem, though, and both organizations indicate some progress
is being made.
Like any product or service in its infancy, it takes time to
grow and mature... but we seem to be on the right track with Sport
Pilot. So far.