Light Sport Progress

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Industry Reacts And Readies...

The headlines faded months ago and now the real work of creating a new class of airplane and a new class of pilot is grinding on. It's hoped the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category and its accompanying Sport Pilot certificate can be ready for the government stamp sometime in the first half of 2003. "It's progressing," said Jeremy Monnett, of Sonex Ltd., who sits on one of several industry-based committees hammering out details like service manuals, manufacturing standards, inspection requirements and compliance issues for the newly certified designs. Much of the raw data is now in and it's up to the committees to decide what will become rules and what will go in the circular file. Monnett said it's been a complex and challenging exercise, one he's sure will benefit the industry in the end. "This will be the biggest boon we've seen in recreational aviation," he said. "There's no question the market is there." In fact, he said the anticipation of LSA and the resulting publicity has already been a boost to his company's kit business. "It's helped us a tremendous amount," he said. "Business has never been better." Monnett doubts he would ever produce finished airplanes, but would consider having someone else build them under license.

...LSA "A Mess," Says Manufacturer...

Well, there are two sides to every story and Rans Aircraft owner Randy Schlitter couldn't have a much more opposing view from Monnett's. "It's killing U.S. manufacturers," said Schlitter. "It's a mess." Schlitter said the process has given European manufacturers a major advantage in the U.S. market because they've been building finished aircraft in similar categories for up to 10 years. He said some companies have already begun importing and selling offshore aircraft in the legal vacuum created by the ongoing legislative process. Rans said these aircraft come from countries that subsidize their industries and have much less costly regulatory requirements. "I have nothing against importing as long as the playing field is level," Schittler said. He said European manufacturers apparently know a good design when they see one, however. He claims at least three of his designs have been copied abroad and are now being exported to the U.S. "I'm getting my own stuff back at me at a cheaper price," he said. Despite his dire predictions, Schlitter said Rans will likely survive. "We're extremely vulnerable, but for some reason we're selling airplanes."

...Audits A Must

Solidly occupying the middle ground is the Zenith Aircraft Company, which has the unique perspective of building and selling finished aircraft in the European market as well as kits here in the states. Aeronautical engineer Chris Heintz, designer of Zenith's kit aircraft, said he is also concerned about the pre-LSA import of European designs but there doesn't seem to be much the domestic industry can do until the new category is passed. Even though he builds finished aircraft in Europe, he said he wouldn't expect to be able to sell them in the U.S. without meeting U.S. standards. "That's why we are quite adamant that there be an independent audit process," he said.