U.S. Sport Aviation Expo: Sales Still Struggle

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Although there are sales bright spots in the light sport aircraft segment, as the 2013 U.S. Sport Aviation Expo opened in Sebring, Fla., on Thursday, the industry as a whole still isn't finding robust sales numbers. The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association said on Thursday that some 258 LSAs were registered worldwide in 2012, with about 100 delivered to U.S. customers. That's down slightly from 2011, when 241 LSAs found their way into the fleet. Nonetheless, Sport Expo expects about 20,000 attendees at the Sebring show and it continues to be an important venue for some manufacturers who've been able to reliably mine sales leads from would-be customers who come to Florida ready to kick the tires one last time before pulling the sales trigger. "We had a buyer come down from Michigan just to see the airplane and make a final decision," said John Calla of Adventure Sport Aviation, which sells the Czech-made Bristell LSA. "Some buyers just have to see it, and see it again and see it one more time and then they've got to have it," he said. The Bristell is a low-wing design that claims the largest cabin size in the field, and the aircraft can accept up to 130 horsepower.

That makes it quick, but it doesn't quite provide the power-to-weight ratio of the reigning hotrod, CubCrafters' popular Carbon Cub. CubCrafters told AVweb that it's now rolling a new airplane out of the Yakima, Wash., factory about every four days, the strongest sales since 2008. CubCrafters has found success at the upper strata of the market, with many of its airplanes invoicing near or above the $200,000 mark. The Carbon Cub has been fitted with a new, improved cowling as shown in today's video wrap-up of the show.

Meanwhile, Tecnam's Tommy Grimes told us the company is going in the opposite direction pricewise with a new offering based on the Echo Lite. It will sell for about $75,000, Grimes said. Like everyone else, Grimes said, Tecnam is still searching for a potential price sweet spot and things a sub-$100,000 LSA is worth trying. As reported in our video, Tecnam was also showing off something some would-be LSA buyers will love: air conditioning in a light sport. The 23-pound FlyCool system fits into the tail section of a P2008 with a minimal weight and balance hit. It chills the cabin by about 20 degrees, a welcome capability for owners flying these airplane in the broiling southern tier states.

As seems to always happen, a line of severe weather to the west and the arrival of a brisk cold front tamped down arrivals at Sebring on Thursday. We were hoping to see Legend Aircraft's new Super Legend, but the company's Darin Hart said weather will make it a no show. (See a video on the aircraft here.)

The Super Legend has Lycoming's new O-233 LSA engine and the combination is gaining some sales traction. In our wrap-up video, we also took a peek at the FK12 Comet biplane that Renegade Aircraft is fitting with an aerobatic version of the O-233, the AEIO-233. Renegade's Doc Bailey told us that the airplane is ready to fly, but he's struggling getting the FAA to issue final approvals. Four are on order. Find an AVweb video on the Comet here.)

At this year's show, the organizers moved things around a bit and now have an expansive hangar for vendors instead of the tents used in previous years. They've also moved the food booths and other services closer to show center, making for less walking. The vendor hangar is gadget central and the light sport field doesn't lack for offerings. One that caught our eye is Levil Technology's new iLevil, an $1195 combined ADS-B/AHRS remote receiver that connects to a tablet via its own onboard wireless hub. Levil was an early entrant into the portable AHRS market, but its new product kicks up the competition a notch and we expect to see even more of these at Sun 'n Fun in April. Meanwhile, check out our video on the iLevil.

Another gadget we'll be reporting on in a few weeks is called the TerraTracker, a device that ought to cure the agita every flight instructor feels when a student on a long cross country gets a little late because of headwinds. The TerraTracker communicates aircraft position every couple of minutes through an airborne cellular link and the data can be accessed via tablet app from anywhere the tablet can grab a wireless or cellular link to the TerraTracker server. For a look at the system, see today's wrap-up video.

The Sport Aviation Expo show continues through Sunday and although a cold front cooled things down, no significant rain is expected with temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s.