When the light sport aircraft industry launched, less than five years ago, with an FAA mandate that would allow manufacturers to essentially self-certify their airplanes, there was some concern about whether buyers or even insurers would consider such a process adequate. But now, the FAA has completed 23 of a planned 29 assessments of LSA manufacturers, and so far has been pleased with the results. "The FAA is confident that LSA manufacturer's compliance can match that of the commercial aviation manufacturers," John Colomy, acting manager of FAA's Small Aircraft Directorate, recently told LSA industry officials. "This will be a major accomplishment since using consensus standards and compliance self-declarations is a new way of doing business for the LSA industry." Dan Johnson, chairman of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, points out that self-certification is not really new for the LSA industry, since that's how it's been done from the start -- however, it's new for the FAA. "And congratulations to this federal agency for stepping back from their normal regulatory control," Johnson said. The FAA added that it found some areas where improvements could be made, and the manufacturers are sure to hear more about that soon. Johnson said that's to be expected. "How could it be otherwise? We have an industry barely four years old while Cessna, for example, has had 80-plus years to get it all right."
The FAA announced last summer that it would check a random sample of 29 light sport aircraft manufacturers to assess how well they are applying the industry's consensus-based ASTM standards. The agency was not aiming to conduct a compliance audit of any particular manufacturer, but looking for a general picture of how the system was working. Two teams of two FAA inspectors assess each company, spending an average of eight hours to gather information and data for analysis. The FAA will report the full results of its research later this year. About 3,000 light-sport aircraft have been certified since the FAA rule was made final in September 2004.