LSAs Just Cost Too Much

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Whenever I spout off about the price of airplanes, especially LSAs, I usually hear feedback about it, both in the blog forum and in background e-mail. When I allowed as how most LSAs are right-priced at $120,000 or so, one reader sent me an e-mail calling that attitude arrogant. It may very well be. But it's also reality.

I've done some reporting on why LSAs cost what they cost and I find the argument that they really ought to sell for $60,000 or less to be ludicrous. People who seriously believe this are disconnected from reality. I might wish them to cost so little, but you know the crude joke about wishes in one hand and an unmentionable in another. For this month's Aviation Consumer, we're doing a comparison of the Cub clones—the Legend and Cub Crafters' Sport Cub—with our old, original J-3. I've spent some time interviewing Legend's Darin Hart about this topic. He's well versed in the original production numbers for the J-3 and Legend has a copy of every drawing Piper ever made for this airplane.

First, the price. The first J-3s came out of the factory at $1325, which was most of an annual salary in the late 1930s. C. Gilbert Taylor, who designed the J-3 progenitor, the E-2, and who was William T. Piper Sr.'s early partner, wanted to charge more. But Piper refused, insisting that a lower price would expand the market. (Sound familiar?) He was right. Those who argue that LSAs ought to be cheaper point out that accounting for inflation, the original airplane would now sell for about $20,000. So if these LSA companies are charging more than five times that, they must be making a killing, right?

If only. What this exercise ignores is that the cost of airplanes has vastly outstripped the rate of inflation. Why this is so is not entirely easy to pin down, but that it is so is undeniable. A big reason is that wages during the period have also outstripped inflation and, curiously, airplanes are the same labor intensive products now that they were in 1938. In other words, the man hours necessary to build a car, a radio or a television have shrunk dramatically thanks to automation and robotics. But airplanes are still made with rivet guns, rubber hammers, clecoes and screwdrivers wielded by hourly workers.

One history I read said that Piper's average factory wage in 1938 was 20 cents an hour. I don't know if that's correct or not; it sounds low to me. Other data I've seen on depression-era wages suggests that 50 to 70 cents is closer to the average. Twenty cents an hour in 1938 would be the equivalent of $3 today—that's $2 less than the federal minimum wage. Bump it up to 70 cents and the equivalent is $10 in 2011 dollars. I suppose it's always possible that Piper was really running a sort of airplane sweat shop, but the company was mostly profitable and he was trying to survive in the depression, after all.

Darin Hart told me his research reveals that the original Cub required about 1100 man hours to build. You can't simply multiply that number by the labor rate because that doesn't account for factory overhead, which is likely much higher now than in 1938 because of benefits, workplace safety and so on. Higher productivity per worker offsets that in many industries, but is that true in airplane manufacturing?

For comparison, Hart says his factory overhead is $800 to $1000 an hour and that the labor total for a Legend Cub is about $35,000. Thanks to CNC machining and other efficiencies, he says a Legend Cub typically requires 800 man hours to build. You can see where the equation is going. Legend has found a way to whack off a quarter of the build hours against a labor rate and overhead that's probably quadrupled. There are other factors related to materials costs and insurance, but you get the picture.

Pilots hardover on the escalating prices of airplanes tend not notice that other big ticket purchases cost much more than inflation allowances might suggest. A 1938 Chevrolet sedan retailed for about $700, the equivalent of $10,500 today. The cheapest thing Chevy sells today is the Aveo at about $12,000, but an Impala—the equivalent of the 1938 sedan—sells in the $25,000 range. You can apply the inflation game to all sorts of products. Some are cheaper, some way more expensive and some just deliver a lot more capability or features for the same money. Electronics fall into that category, especially computers.

Back to the Legend and its supposedly lofty price of about $120,000. Is it a better airplane than the 1938 Cub? Yes, it is, by far. Everything about it is better—the engine, the steel frame, the seats, the cabin, the covering. It's also faster and safer. I'm all for nostalgia and such, but if I had the choice of flying the old J-3 or the Legend (or Sport Cub), the new airplanes would win every time.

As a journalist, I can score points with readers by railing against the high price of airplanes and decrying the lack of less expensive models that will expand the market as Bill Piper did in 1938. There's a natural—and understandable—kneejerk reaction to chaff against paying half the cost of your house (or more) for something you use once a week, maybe. But I just can't stomach that sort of pandering because I know it to be unsupportable by the facts, as is the notion that lower prices will expand the market. What was true in 1938, isn't necessarily true in 2011.

If that's arrogant, I'm guilty of it.

Comments (186)

Another metric is the engine cost to airplane cost ratio. The old Cubs (and most other planes) of the era cost about 4 times the price of the engine. Today's engines (0-200) are about $20,000. As you point out, the old airplanes were real basic, so if you add an equipment factor in, $100,000+ is not out of line with the old airplanes.

One thing many forget is that not many average people were buying new airplanes back then either. Mr. Piper always focused on selling to flight schools, where the owner could use it to generate revenue.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | February 2, 2011 7:07 AM    Report this comment

A quick look at ASO shows that you can still buy a J-3 Cub for about $50k. As with all planes, there are some pristine ones out there, and some that will take a lot of TLC to get into flying condition. The same people that will spend $120k getting a 1938 J-3 airworthy will still complain about how much a new one costs.

I think a year's salary is a good metric for the price of a plane. When you start making $1.5m a year, buy a Baron.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | February 2, 2011 8:08 AM    Report this comment

You forgot "lawyers" and "EPA" and "OSHA" in your calculation of the price of new aircraft. You can no longer just get a group of people together in a barn and build airplanes. Today it's a colossal undertaking just in paperwork and procedure.

Sure $120K is "reasonable"; it's also the reason why China and Czech are doing the dirty work of building and far away from product liability...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 2, 2011 8:57 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps a more correct question would be - does the 120K airplane do enough to justify its cost.

The first issue is is useful load. The arbitrary limit of 1320 lbs gross weight has created a flock of aircraft that can only carry a full load of fuel with a single occupant. Not very appealing.

The second issue is that of flight characteristics. Due to the fact that these aircraft are built to the ASTM standard no one documents what happens at the edges of the flight envelope. There are aircraft out there that have wing designs that should not be flown by low time pilots. Inadequate rudder and aileron control complicate and in some cases make upset recovery impossible.

How does a pilot learn whether his/her skill level is sufficient to be able to safely operate a given aircraft? Every manufacturer will say their aircraft is safe for you. There is nowhere to check these claims out.

If you want to play the metrics game, an IFR equipped 172 went for around 21K in '71. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics it is equivalent to 113K these days. Other than the avionics, that is a far more competent airplane than anything in the LSA class today. That also ignores any manufacturing efficiencies that are available today.

Posted by: Ray Damijonaitis | February 2, 2011 9:08 AM    Report this comment

Other than the avionics, that is a far more competent airplane than anything in the LSA class today. <<

Misses the point of LSA. You need a medical for the 172, but not the LSA. Eliminating the third-class medical could address that. As for the manufacturing efficiencies, they are elusive at best.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2011 9:18 AM    Report this comment

Jerry, $50,000 for a J-3 is a pipe(er) dream unless it is absolutely perfect show quality restoration that you wouldn't want to fly much.

The world is loaded with $28,000 to $35,000 J-3s, typically.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2011 9:19 AM    Report this comment

The entire LSA market appears to be driven by the medical issue. If the 3rd class medical is eliminated for airplanes under 6,000 pounds, will the LSA market be able to survive at any price?

Posted by: Ryan Turner | February 2, 2011 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Will the LSA market be able to survive at any price?<<

It's a good point. It would probably thin the herd quite a bit and that's not a bad thing.

The industry can't survive on old airframes forever. There will be a niche in there, but not a big one.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2011 9:37 AM    Report this comment

That's what I've said all along. LSA's are a regulatory created "niche" that do more to support foreign manufacturing (and EU designs) rather than making Aviation here any cheaper or better or accessible.

Get rid of the ONLY advantage that LSA has going for it (the medical waiver) and then planes can compete fairly again based on price/performance.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 2, 2011 10:07 AM    Report this comment

The old airframes argument is interesting as it relates to cabin class twins. Operators like Cape Air are literally flying the wings off their old Cessna 402's - it will be interesting to see when they finally have to replace them, and with what. I read a couple of years ago about a 172 that had accumulated 25,000 hours airframe time - in a training environment. I'd say our current fleet of single engine aircraft can last several lifetimes if these numbers hold true across the board.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 2, 2011 12:07 PM    Report this comment

LSA was sold to us as an inexpensive entry point to aviation. It has failed on that account. Instead, it has become a way for people to continue flying past the point where they could renew their medical. These people are generally older and have money to spend, therefore in good old American spirit the market is priced for them.

I fly a 30 year old Piper Tomahawk, which other than the extra 300 pounds, could be an LSA. It too can't take 2 fully grown Americans AND a full load of fuel. (Neither can the C150/C152!) For the flying I do an LSA would be fine, but I'll be damned if I'm going to spend over a year's salary for the plane. It makes no sense unless I was to loose my medical, in which case it's either spend or quit. That would be a tougher decision!

Posted by: Michael Friedman | February 2, 2011 1:26 PM    Report this comment

>>Will the LSA market be able to survive at any price?

As an avionics insider, I think so - or at least hope so. You're all missing an important aspect of LSA: Freedom to upgrade/install modern avionics at half the cost compared to what you can legally load in a Skyhawk - all while the FAA turns (runs) the other way. This has driven the Experimental market for years. And avionics and related systems seem to be high on wish list for many LSA buyers. For the right machine and mission, the $120K entry fee is worth it for this regulatory and pricing freedom.

Posted by: Larry Anglisano | February 2, 2011 1:33 PM    Report this comment

I have interviewed a number of flightschools using LSAs. The airplanes are definitely making inroads. But the results are mixed. Some schools love and prefer them, others say students are split between LSAs like the Tecnam or Sting versus the 150.

Very few in the industry think a training future can be built on old airframes that are refurbed, although some of that is going on. I think if it comes to that, all you will see is an acceleration in decline. No real growth.

I don't agree that it was sold as inexpensive. It was sold as less expensive and more affordable, which it is in the new airplane context. If you want to sell 30-year-old beaters, the numbers are different.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 2, 2011 1:38 PM    Report this comment

LSA's show that people WILL BUY new airplanes for training and that's a good thing. Euro LSA's would have a terrible time competing with new airplanes here if the FAA would just raise the weight limit to 1600 GTOW and still had the medical waiver.

Then we could develop real-world brand new trainers for right about the same cost as an LSA. That 1600 would also mean lots of planes for the "other people" who don't mind flying older planes as they too get older. It's a win-win for heavy American pilots and designers.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 2, 2011 2:23 PM    Report this comment

I own a 1/4 share of an LSA and can emphasize with several of the posts on here. I DO wish the LSA's were less expensive, but when it comes down to it, I'm flying a 5 year old plane, with reasonably new avionics for less than the cost of my last car purchase. Insurance is about the same as my car for my 1/4 share and (here's the kicker) I am paying $10/hr for the hobbs meter and can fill the tank up for about $45. That tank will get me at least 3, if not 4 hours in the air at about 110kts.

Do I wish that I could carry more? Yup. Do I wish I could go faster? Yup.

However, when I compare what I'm paying to what my other heavier/faster Private Pilot friends are paying, I can't figure out how I could make that work financially. I recently saw a 1/4 share of a Mooney for sale for about $2k less than what I paid for my 1/4 share of my LSA. I was rather disappointed until I saw the hourly rate on the Mooney of $80/hr. And then there was gas on top of that.

My tune may change once I get into a bigger/faster airplane (a medical isn't an issue for me). I plan on holding onto the 1/4 share of the LSA I have, even after I get into a bigger plane, simply because I can fly that with more regularity for less money.

So it may cost a whole bunch more to build the LSA's than promised, but operationally, they are very tough to beat.

Brian

Posted by: Brian Garrett | February 2, 2011 5:04 PM    Report this comment

If an LSA could be used for full instrument training, and on windy days, and without durability issues from botched landings, it could be used to replace tired old Cessna 152's. But it can't, so it won't.

Let's also face the fact that a third class medical is a very, very low bar to flying. A pulse, and $85 are the main requirements for third class. I'm not sure I want someone who can't pass a third class medical flying in the pattern with my students.

Posted by: Glenn Juber | February 2, 2011 5:07 PM    Report this comment

I think there are three issues to widespread acceptance of LSA's in flight schools. (1) Reliability is an unknown. These things have to fly 2000 - 3000 hours in a harsh training environment to amortize the cost of the aircraft - then you hope to make money. Airframe life is fairly well established for normal category airplanes - you know a 152 airframe should be good for 10k hours with little fuss. (2) Maintenance and parts - I know the former d.m. of a flight school that was operating an LSA. The aircraft was down for 4 months waiting for a stab half that was damaged. Even though it was tube and fabric, since the manufacturer had not approved a repair - only replacement - their only option was to wait for the manufacturer to get around to offering parts again. (3) Flight characteristics - there is a reason Cessna spent so much time working on the Skycatcher - they know the bar is set with the 150/152. You see LSA's where controls are awkward and hard to operate - have hand brakes instead of the more standard toe brakes, non-linear pitch and roll forces, no stall horn, etc. There may or may not be merit to these issues and you can argue that hand brakes are better than toe brakes, but they aren't standard and cause issues for those transitioning from other aircraft. I really do think there's a place for LSA, but the manufacturers absolutely HAVE to address these issues.

Posted by: Josh Johnson | February 2, 2011 7:59 PM    Report this comment

LSA costs aside, let me pose a dumb question about medical self certification... Lets say you are pretty sure you can't pass a 3rd class physical, let your medical certificate lapse and start flying LSA. I would say you are in violation of the spirit of the FAA self certification rule. I figure that eventually the FAA will catch on and shut LSA down.

Posted by: Steve Zeller | February 2, 2011 10:04 PM    Report this comment

Paul B on the problem: “There's a natural—and understandable—kneejerk reaction to chaff against paying half the cost of your house (or more) for something you use once a week, maybe.” Emphasize on the “something you use once a week, maybe.”

Brian Garret on the solution: “I own a 1/4 share of an LSA . . . I'm flying a 5 year old plane, with reasonably new avionics for less than the cost of my last car purchase.”

Maybe the question we ought to be asking ourselves is “does it make economic sense for me to be the sole owner of an aircraft I am going to fly maybe only 40-60-80 hours a year?” Purely from an economic standpoint, the obvious answer is “Duh. Of course not.”

New aircraft prices are not going to come down significantly any time soon. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is “is my un-thought-through predisposition toward sole ownership keeping me from flying the aircraft I want as often as I want?”

Perhaps the answer lies more in an honest self-assessment of our emotional attitude about ownership rather than in griping about high (and unchangeable) prices.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 3, 2011 6:32 AM    Report this comment

It seems to me that the opinions expressed here reflect the writer's experience or lack of experience with LSA more than the actual facts. Those who (like me) have significant time flying high end LSA love them. Those who have never flown one make comparisons based on the old style airplanes and data sheets and complain the new LSA aren't exactly the same as the old planes.

I think the old TC'd planes were designed for a different kind of flying than the new LSA. They are oriented toward commercial flying while the LSA are oriented toward recreational flying. High end LSA are A LOT MORE FUN to fly than the old planes. They jump off the runway, climb like banshees and handle with a very light touch. They also get incredible mileage from the expensive fuel.

Things aren't so nice in the half-way new planes that use old style engines. These are the ones that can't hold two adults and fuel. The Lycoming and Continental engines are just too heavy for LSA.

I'm not sure the nice LSA are compatible with flight training -- which is, after all, a commercial operation. Perhaps it is worth the price of TC'd trainers rather than LSA for this purpose.

I've already commented so many times about the worthlessness of the 3rd class medical I won't do that here. I will say that I am confident LSA will have a bright future even if the 3rd class medical goes the way of the buggy whip.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 3, 2011 6:53 AM    Report this comment

I think LSA's cost too much just based on the lack of sales. Tried to sell them for less than 100k and was unsucessful. When we finally took the price down into the seventy five range they went down the road. And I got out with my losses a little sadder but wiser.

Posted by: Stuart Baxter | February 3, 2011 8:16 AM    Report this comment

My wishes in my one hand would be: A Henry Ford producing aircraft, Only giving my pulse & $85 (can't get it for $85 around here!) to the AME rather than than truth, having an income to afford one of those new LSA's, being 40 years younger,OR AT LEAST GETTING RID THE 3RD CLASS MEDICAL!! But I've got the unmentionable in both hands.

Posted by: Unknown | February 3, 2011 8:29 AM    Report this comment

The "new style engines" have not proven to be any better than the old style engines when it comes to safety or longevity. My current 0-235 has a 2400hr TBO rating (which is double that of many Rotax and double the TOH on a Jabiru).

Also "new style instruments" are also a bit of a waste on a slow LSA that won't be used on XC's. Buzzing the local countryside VRF does not mean that your head is actually looking at the panel. Velcro a Garmin 696 on the panel and just go.

New rivetless smooth airframes? Well, the old AA Yankee seems modern enough. If anything the Yankee is simpler, more durable, and easier to fix than current LSA's. Visibility and fun are just fine too.

NEW is very nice! New only lasts a short time and then those 1000hr TBO's start hanging over you. I hope that LSA's age as gracefully over the next 30-40 years like the old Yankee has with 6000 hours of cheap flying.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 3, 2011 8:36 AM    Report this comment

Mark,

Which engine has 1000hr TBO? Rotax 912 (by far the most popular LSA engine) is 2000.

Yankees are cute, but they have a very high stall speed. That is OK for experienced pilots, but perhaps that is the reason they had such an awful accident record.

You keep talking about LSA as slow and inappropriate for cross country flying. Do you feel the same way about C-172s (the most popular light plane ever)? My Tecnam Echo flies a lot faster than a 172 on about half the fuel burn.

I've been listening to you complain about LSA for several weeks now. I wonder: Have you ever flown one? Several?

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 3, 2011 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Quick comment on quality control for foreighn made LSAs: The Czech Republic and Hungary are both in the EU and if anything, the rules and regs for health and safety and the rest are stricter than in the USA. As for China, our communist allies shoot bosses who are caught cooking the books in the back of the head, and then charge the families for the bullet. It usually keeps them on the straight and narrow once the negotiations over price are over.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | February 3, 2011 9:01 AM    Report this comment

One thing that is not mentioned here is the fewer instructional hours required for a Sport Pilot Certificate. Less hours equals lower cost for Pilot certification and, ostensibly, more money to put into flying afterward. This was an important factor for me when deciding to learn to fly at a "more advanced" age. I know that most people spend more than the 20 hours required but few spend the 40 hours required for a Private Pilot certification.

Economically speaking, I never considered full ownership; I have always thought shares made more sense for both LSA and larger aircraft anyway so getting into a newer, better equipped airplane for the equivalent of full ownership of an old "clunker"is the right answer for me.

Posted by: James Knudsen | February 3, 2011 9:11 AM    Report this comment

LSAs, like most aircraft, are too expensive. The economies of scale have not been right since the 70s. In transport jets maybe but not for anything else. Issues such as worker pay and the quality of the materials and avionics are almost incidental when you are stuck with building only a few 10s or 100s per year. So I disagree with Paul there. But I think he's right about the antiquated construction techniques: Aircraft are inherently simple but no one has worked out a way to knock them out using much of the last 80 years of technological development. I applauded Vern Rayburn in that regard although he blew it in the end.

Posted by: john hogan | February 3, 2011 9:27 AM    Report this comment

Paul, Rotax has increased TBO over the years, based on S/N. Still water cooling and gearbox and 5000rpm all take their toll on reliability and added maintenance. Jabiru is more of a conventional engine but suggests a 1000hr TOH...

Stall speed on Yankees is not so "high" as to require any more experience than learning any other part 91 aircraft. New LSA's have their own "quirks" that have to be learned too!

No, I have not flown an LSA yet(I can't afford to!). That's the point of this thread, affordability.

I'm not complaining about LSA's so much as not buying the "idea" put forward that LSA's are innately more advanced, innately cheaper, innately more reliable, or innately safer.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 3, 2011 10:00 AM    Report this comment

I am fortunate to own an older Skylane (which I resent being called a clunker) and it would cost me way more to buy a LSA than I could get out of mine. While I think a LSA could be a lot of fun to fly (I learned in a Luscombe) the only way I would trade what I have for a LSA is if I felt I was still safe to fly but didn't think I could pass a 3rd Class Med. As far as price......What about the X-Air ?? The last time I checked it was around $70,000.... a bit ugly but a very functional aircraft....... I do think the LSA market is dependent on the 3rd Class Medical situation and I feel that if that were eliminated the market would bring the prices down somewhat......

Posted by: Don Wilfong | February 3, 2011 10:03 AM    Report this comment

Paul, you pulled out some good numbers on prices from 1938 but then your analysis reached exactly the wrong conclusion.

If a J-3 was $1,350 back then and a Chevy was roughly half that at $700, then that means a Chevy sedan should sell today for $60,000 or a bit more, which is about half the price of a new LSA.

But the Chevy costs $25,000 today, which is is about one fifth of the cost of the LSA. So you could buy two Chevys for the price of a Cub in 1938, but today you can buy five.

That is the story. The RELATIVE cost of plane versus car has got completely out of whack.

The other problem with this narrative is that the 2011 model airplane is technologically and mechanically almost identical to the 1938 product. Yeah there are some minor refinements, but basically it is the same thing.

Who is building cars the same way they were built in 1938?

This is the problem right there. It is absolutely possible to build a proper airplane (certified, at least in the streamlined primary category) for about twice the cost of an average car.

What is required are new designs and manufacturing methods.

Look at the $25,000 car. The value added in manufacturing (starting from raw materials) is much more than it was in 1938. And it is about 10 times as much as the value add in a simple light plane, which is a very basic piece of machinery.

Continued in next post...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 3, 2011 10:54 AM    Report this comment

Seeing as LSA are not certified under Part 23, I'm surprised they are as expensive as they are. But, I suspect their pricing has more to do with economics rather than regulation. It's just not the same market it was 30-40 years ago. To me, a new $112k Cessna 162 with two seats just doesn't make sense when I can buy an older upgraded 172 for 40-60k all day long. That might be an apples/oranges comparison, but the money I'd save would sure buy a lot of gas and pay for annual inspections. Even the less expensive LSAs seem to start around 75-80k which doesn't do much to sway me as a potential purchaser. (the medical cert isn't an issue with me)

Posted by: Will Alibrandi | February 3, 2011 11:00 AM    Report this comment

The problem is that light planes are really a cottage industry and there is not a concentration of engineering and manufacturing resources to do this right.

A company like Bombardier Recreational Products, if they chose to enter this space, could crank out thousands of very nice $50,000 airplanes the same way they crank out tens of thousands of very nice boats, watercraft, etc.

As an aerospace engineer, I can honestly say that the only piece on a small plane that is the least bit challenging is the wing. We are not talking about transport category airplanes here.

With a little bit of design and manufacturing ingenuity a wing could be made for a fraction of the cost it takes using yesteryear's methods.

The fuselage of a light plane is really nothing more than an enclosed canoe.

Now about the engine. Have you looked at outboards lately. Bombardier's Evinrude line of direct-injected two-strokes burn less fuel and are cleaner than an EFI four-stroke---but weigh a lot less and put out way ore power.

Boat engines are designed to run indefinitely at full power, turning a propeller load just like an airplane. But these engines have more than twice the power to weight ratio of our "aircraft" engines.

A 300 hp Evinrude weighs about 250 lb (for the engine itself) and costs $17,000 which is about a quarter of the cost of of a 300 continental that weighs 600 lb.

Continued...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 3, 2011 11:05 AM    Report this comment

A 115 hp Evinrude direct-injection costs about $8,000, including prop and the whole package which you would not need in an airplane. This is a fraction of what even a Rotax (made by the same corporate parent) costs.

But the DI 2-stroke is a far superior piece of equipment and can run for several hours without a drop of oil.

A 100 hp continental weighs more than twice as much, is not nearly as robust mechanically, but costs $25,000.

So what is the reason for this discontinuity in pricing logic? Well it goes back to the outdated design and manufacturing.

If Bombardier can build these amazing outboard engines for relative peanuts, and put them into very nice little boats for a very reasonable amount of money, why couldn't you do this with airplanes?

You can, but it takes a new approach. Fortunately people are working on this and there will be news to come.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 3, 2011 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Mr. Bertorelli,

Once again you have done your own clear analysis of the situation. You are to be commended for your critical thinking, but then that's what I've come to expect from you and Aviation Consumer -- good work!

As a few others have pointed out there are costs involved in running a business these days that did not exist in the 1930s, but the biggest factor by far in keeping aircraft prices up is simply economies of scale. In aviation our development costs and overhead must be amortized over a very small number of units. Whereas the auto companies can amortize their costs over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of units we in aviation must amortize all these costs over say 50-100 aircraft per year if you are a healthy company, and less than that if you're not. If the LSA market were to hypothetically quadruple in size, and show some stability that the manufacturers could count on, then I believe you would see prices come down noticably. We all know though that GA is shrinking at present rather than growing.

As pilots (aircraft consumers) perhaps the most important thing we can all do to help the situation over the long run is by doing what we can to grow aviation in general. Spread the word, help expand the market and we all win!

Randy Lervold CubCrafters

Posted by: Randy Lervold | February 3, 2011 11:21 AM    Report this comment

Since I began flying in 1969, I guess I never considered it to be a particularly inexpensive or "reasonable" priced activity. I now own a Flight Design CTLS (Rotax powered SLSA). Yes, the aircraft was a bit pricey, yet I now roam in the territory of $3.00 gasoline, 24 to 28 mpg, and $700 annuals, all in an aircraft which will take my wife (also a pilot), and me over 800 nm in comfort! Yes, it can be done with less money, as my hangar neighbor did at $30,000, and overall, I am confident we will see more and more SLSA activity, and I an happy to see it. Bob Hall Delighted SLSA (Flight Design) owner

Posted by: Robert Hall | February 3, 2011 11:59 AM    Report this comment

In the early seventies, when I was taking my flying lessons, I was earning approximately $2.50 per hour, after tax. I had to work ten hours to pay for one hour of flying. A new entry level Piper or Cessna were going for under $20,000. At my wage rate, it would take me about four years to pay for the aircraft, if I didn’t have to pay for anything else that is. I was working in a warehouse then.

My friend’s young son, who is currently working similar job in a warehouse, earns about $18 per hour after taxes. The place I fly from these days, rents way more equipped planes in roughly the same category, for $100 per hour for a SportStar LSA, and $125 per hour for a 100hp Rotax powered Katana. At these rates my friend’s son would have to work about half as many hours for one hour of flight than I did. By the same token, four years of his wages would buy him today a Cessna Skycatcher, and still leave him with some gas money in his pocket for flying.

I often hear about the high cost of flying. Looking at my own real-life example above, I think it is all about priorities.

Ed Dolejsi

Posted by: Edward Dolejsi | February 3, 2011 12:05 PM    Report this comment

I think one of the problems with the cost of LSA's is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for the average LSP instructor to own one that can be rented. I personally know LSA instructors who have aircraft to do dual training but the solo requirements go unfulfilled.

This make coming to LS from non-pilot status a lot more difficult than coming down from private pilot.

We had all hoped it would bring in new pilots but, alas, it has mostly succeeded in keeping our older ones.

Posted by: Stanley Tew | February 3, 2011 12:32 PM    Report this comment

Randy,

It is nice to hear from you. I hope life at CubCrafters is treating you well.

I agree with you about the economy of scale in manufacturing point. As volume increases a manufacturer can trade tooling costs for labor costs. Even a small increase like your 3 to 1 example can work in this arena.

It really works for large volume manufacturers like autos. The "Hard Tooling" used to stamp out car "Skins" costs millions of dollars to design and build. This cost allows you to stamp out large parts for little more than the material cost. A similar airplane part takes a huge amount of expensive labor to produce.

Engines are the single largest cost part for an airplane. It isn't fair to compare 2 stroke water engines to 4 stroke airplane engines. The parts count is very small and cooling in water is not a problem. The impact of failure in a boat engine is minor where an airplane engine failure is likely to be fatal for all the occupants.

All these cost discussions might change with development of electric powered airplanes. The batteries still need improvement, but there are lots of auto manufacturers investing huge research and development in this area. Electric motors are much more efficient and much less expensive than gas engines.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 3, 2011 12:34 PM    Report this comment

Get rid of FAA interference and massive product liability and you would see the price of aircraft, new and used, come down considerably. If the government mandated automobiles like they do aircraft a Chevy sedan would cost $200,000 or more.

Posted by: Duane Hallman | February 3, 2011 12:49 PM    Report this comment

Less FAA and no product liability? That's what you call an "experimental".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 3, 2011 1:14 PM    Report this comment

If you don't like the price or idea of an LSA, don't buy one. I don't like the idea of a old, slow, gas guzzling aircraft so I won't buy one. But I won't complain about them. I think the real issue for a lot of the complaints is that many pilots just don't want want us flying without medicals in their airspace. Sorry about. That. Get over it.

Posted by: Jay | February 3, 2011 2:14 PM    Report this comment

If you don't like the price or idea of an LSA, don't buy one. I don't like the idea of a old, slow, gas guzzling aircraft so I won't buy one. But I won't complain about them. I think the real issue for a lot of the complaints is that many pilots just don't want want us flying without medicals in their airspace. Sorry about. That. Get over it.

Posted by: Jay | February 3, 2011 2:14 PM    Report this comment

Never type posts in a moving car. Creates typos. Sorry about that.

Posted by: Jay | February 3, 2011 2:43 PM    Report this comment

Thank you for this piece Paul. Much appreciated.

I hadn't thought about the manufacturing methods of airplanes and how they havn't changed. This is a helpful eye-opener.

I foresee flying clubs solving a lot of the problems of current aircraft pricing. If GA airports lose FAA funding in budget cuts, and cities start a wave of land sales for development, we should see a new 'ownership' model similar to the flying clubs in Europe (private airports, collective ownership of planes).

A private pilot shouldn't be saying this but where I live there are a lot of redundant airports within a 50 NM radius. A seriously ridiculous amount...

Posted by: Pete Kuhns | February 3, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

Gordon, I think your comments regarding cottage industries, wing manufacturing etc are spot on. Regarding the weight disparity between new marine engines and aviation engines however, I reckon a fair bit of it is due to marine engines being about to run a total loss liquid coolant system that requires no storage of fluid. No radiators, tanks etc. Having said that, given that the most efficient GA engines are based on automobile motors, I am sure there is plenty of scope for weight savings from a clean sheet design.

Posted by: john hogan | February 3, 2011 5:25 PM    Report this comment

John, the weight savings is due mostly to the fact that these are two-stroke engines with far fewer parts, moving or otherwise.

A cooling system would add a small bit of weight but these same engines fitted for aircraft use would easily come in at over 1 hp per pound.

The game changer is the direct cylinder injection, like a diesel, which makes these engines incredibly clean and fuel efficient.

In fact watch for 2-strokes to make a comeback in the auto sector due to this game-changing technology.

Even better is they can run on heavy fuels. The whole issue of fuels could be solved by switching to these engines.

I can tell you that something very groundbreaking is on the way in the next few months. It will blow your socks off. Sorry I can't say any more.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 3, 2011 7:55 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I think you have always said you purchase an airplane for the mission. There are new S-LSA airplanes for under $100K. It really depends on your requirements. If you want to go places you probably need a plastic aircraft with all the bells and whistles that flies close to 120 KIAS. You will spend over $120K for this type of aircraft. If your mission is to fly around on a nice day, a simple tube and fabric airplane will do nicely. X-air, Quicksilver and Cheetah aircraft come to mind. These aircraft can be purchased for $45K - $65K. The companies selling these aircraft have low overhead and spend little on slick marketing.

Posted by: Dana Nickerson | February 3, 2011 8:43 PM    Report this comment

Just wait for those 15,000 dollar chinese jets. But seriously I can't see how anyone could seriously argue that you could sell an LSA for less then 90 or 100k. I don't think anybody really thinks that LSA makers are gouging. I do think that it is a problem for the future of recreational aviation that there isn't an affordable new plane. I think figuring out how to make an aeroplane that sells for 50K is what needs doing. Maybe its impossible but I think that should be the goal. I can think of a lot of ways to make an airframe for less but I think the engine is always going to be an expensive propositon. Maybe electric motors will save us. Just remember to thank god or whoever that you live in the USA where flying is as cheap and free as it gets.

Posted by: robert miller | February 4, 2011 1:36 AM    Report this comment

You can get a nice new LSA now for around $50K. You just have to build it yourself from a kit. You can do even better if you build from plans. It takes an adventure of several years learning new things every day. Then you get your new plane that is really YOUR plane.

Home building is not for everyone. It is a great activity for retired folks who just aren't ready to "Go Fishing". It doesn't take extraordinary skills, but it does take dedication and long term commitment to get the job done.

For those who just want to pick up a new plane at the factory and fly it away, $100K or more is needed for the same level of performance.

Flying never was cheap and flying factory new planes is even more expensive than flying old planes - even with the wonderful new LSA choices.

The world just isn't fair to those who want a bargain when it comes to flying.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 4, 2011 2:21 AM    Report this comment

For those of you that might have missed the 'Why did Piper leave the S-LSA market discussion two weeks ago' I'd like to point out:

The average cost to produce a new S-LSA design and get it certified as compliant with the ASTM Standards is about ONE MILLION DOLLARS. That isn't my 'guesstimate'; it is one Paul B. mentioned in a Blog a while back.

The FAA did not write the S-LSA Standards. They were written and are updated by a group of people from all over the world to produce a set of standards used Internationally. (Yes, the FAA participates in review of the standards, but only as a committee member with one vote. All the other Civil Aviation Agencies have the same opportunity to participate.)

Since S-LSA must comply with the ASTM standards, they do not comply with FAR 23 (Yes, they are mentioned in another FAR along with Sport Pilot). The reality is in many ways the standards are MORE restrictive then FAR 23. The Aircraft OEMs actually have more responsibilities under the standards.

An Aircraft OEM can't just use any engine on an S-LSA because the engine must meet the design requirements found in the engine standard. If an engine company wants to offer a new S-LSA engine that does not meet the requirement, a new standard has to be written to define the engine, be approved by the committee, ASTM, then published.

continued

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 4, 2011 6:14 AM    Report this comment

Part Two ....

Regarding LSA Kits, the Aircraft OEM must first build and certify one S-LSA then create the kit. The builder must build the kit EXACTLY as defined in the instructions until it is complete, the hours flown off and certified as an E-LSA.

LSA kit plans? First, I don't know of any standard that would support creation of 'kit plans' to create a 'legal' E-LSA. Paul B. or anyoneP Have you ever seen anything like what Paul M is describing?

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 4, 2011 6:16 AM    Report this comment

Richard,

I agree with much of your comment, but I would like to offer a few corrections.

I was not talking about E-LSA kits but rather kits intended and suitable for E-AB certification. They can still be LSA from the pilot's point of view if they meet the definition in FAR 1.1 Many such kits exist and have already been approved by the FAA as complying with the 51% rule. Kitplanes magazine puts out a list of kits every year and marks the ones that qualify as LSA. My wild guess is there are about 50 such kits on the market. A similar comment could be made about airplane plans offerings.

E-LSA is an idea still looking for wide spread use. As far as I know for sure there is only one such design available in kit form - Van's RV-12. It really isn't much different from a kit offering for E-AB certification. There may be others I don't know about and probably will be more in the future. But for now, building your own plane is mostly about E-AB certification.

One small correction on the LSA standards process. The FAA does indeed send people to standards meetings but they are very careful to not push the process in any particular direction and they never vote. They participate in the discussions and add a great deal of insight to the process without controlling it at all.

To sum it up, LSA relating to ASTM standards are factory built planes. LSA from the pilot privilege point of view may or may not be factory planes but must meet the LSA definition in FAR 1.1.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 4, 2011 6:43 AM    Report this comment

Paul, some follow-ups to your comments:

There actually is a Kit Instruction Standard. However, E-LSA Kit does not fall under the 51% rule. The 'kit' could consist of bolting on the engine, the wings, the tail, the wheels and would be legal.

Legend Cub (or at least did) has a kit for their aicraft and I think CubCrafters offers one.

You are correct about the FAA sending people to the ASTM committee meetings (there were about 8 at the Sebring meetings). Their primary focus is standards impact within the USA. Also, a minor correction: they have one voting member.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 4, 2011 6:58 AM    Report this comment

I have to address some of these comments about LSA "certification."

This is basically self-certification by the manufacturer who simply signs a piece of paper that says the airplane is in compliance. There is no flight testing by the certification authorities to make sure the airplane is actually airworthy.

As an engineer with considerable flight test experience, I think this is a huge mistake. In Europe the same LSA-type airplanes are CERTIFIED to the JAR VLA (very light aircraft) standard.

We have seen the results. There have been a number of crashes that the NTSB has found deficiencies in things like airspeed indicator calibration, wing structure, etc.

I have flown a number of LSA and I have found all kinds of poor flying qualities, including inability to hold trim, high stick breakout forces, etc.

I do have to make a special mention of the Tecnam line of planes which are very good and are the only ones I have flown with properly calibrated airspeed indicators.

I believe the FAA may revisit this whole idea of self-certification and I think that is a very good idea.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 8:21 AM    Report this comment

Gordon, according to the FAA's LSA Assessment (if you haven't read it yet, you should) the LSA concept of self-certification (within the USA) has been found to be lacking certain 'elements'.

Yes, the Aircraft OEM is signing the Airworthiness Certificate which is suppose to signify the S-LSA has been manufactured in accordance with ALL the applicable ASTM standards.

The original intent of S-LSA was to avoid the time and cost associated with certifying an aircraft through FAA involvement. I've been told this could double or triple the cost I mentioned before to bring a new S-LSA to market.

The FAA could decide to 'tailor' the self-certification process, but it would only be for S-LSAs built and sold within the USA.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 4, 2011 8:35 AM    Report this comment

Richard, certification does not add a huge amount to the overall cost of the airplane. And the more airplanes are sold, the lower the per-unit cost of certification.

I think the FAA Primary category is a great avenue that is truly streamlined. In Europe they have the VLA and the Light Aircraft standard which goes up to about 3,000 lb I think (off the top of my head).

Both of these are streamlined from full certification. This is a very logical and sound approach. You do not need to use the same yardstick for a light airplane as you do for a commercial transport airplane.

The only reason I can see that no one is taking advantage of primary category is because you do not get the medical exemption that you get with sport pilot. That is really the only reason anyone is buying these planes.

What the FAA needs to do to rejuvenate private flying is to extend the driver's license medical to light planes comparable to the JAR light airplane standard, which would include most piston singles.

With streamlined certification rules, serious players could come in and deliver that $50,000 two seat airplane or that $100,000 family airplane.

There is nothing magical about this, and from an engineering and manufacturing perspective can be done without any trouble.

Simply the conditions are not right for this to happen at this time.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 9:13 AM    Report this comment

Richard, if I said it requires $1M to bring an LSA to market, I sure don't recall it. I doubt if it's quite that high unless you are also funding a big production facility.

Can you point me at that comment. (Maybe I need to delete it...)

Remember, for LSA, it's not like an FAA cert program, but merely a set of industry concensus standards that the manufacturer more or less agrees to meet and then approves himself doing it. That's a lot cheaper than certifying even a light singe.

And that's in fact why LSAs are cheaper, even though they aren't cheap.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 4, 2011 9:59 AM    Report this comment

Paul, it was mentioned (by me) in the Blog related to Piper and PiperSport two weeks ago. The Blog was also related to LSA costs and one person saying they should be able to sell them for $50K. Your comment was that wasn't realistic becasue according to Jim Richmond at CubCrafter it cost the dollar amount mentioned,

If I misunderstood or misquoted you, please let me know.

In regards to you comment about merely a set of industry consensus standards, I'd like to discuss that further, but do not think this is the venue to do that. Where could I send you and email?

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 4, 2011 10:52 AM    Report this comment

The cost of developing an airplane into an airworthy flying machine requires a design and testing process which costs time and money.

I think it is misguided to think about cutting corners here. Yet I hear all the time about the supposed high cost of certification and how this makes light aircraft expensive.

This is a complete myth. My experience is in Part 25 airplanes, but a couple of years back a friend who was building an LSA type 2-seater asked me to have a look at the plans and the wing structure in particular.

The first thing I did was to go to Far 23 and look at the requirements. What I found was the allowable methods for computing wing strength are incredibly quick and easy.

It took me all of one afternoon to do up a spreadsheet to calculate the air loads on the wing, and another afternoon to do another spreadsheet for sizing the structural members.

Bottom line is that even developing a wing structure per part 23 rules is a walk in the park compared to what is involved in a large airplane.

Once your design is in order, then you have to build a prototype for testing by both the government air crews and your own. Is this a step that you want to skip?

Basically that is all that there is to the process of certifying a FAR 23 airplane---a properly documented design with the required mathematical analyses attached, and a flight test program.

Now to me this sounds like the very minimum that needs to be done if you want to design a new airplane of any kind.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 11:46 AM    Report this comment

If you want a reasonably priced LSA, have someone with experience build one for you. The RV-12 E-LSA is a good example and with a 900 hour build time could come in around 75K. If one doesn't mind the cost of owning a certified aircraft, get a 150 or 172 and pay the high price of annuals and parts.

Posted by: Edward Burdick | February 4, 2011 1:25 PM    Report this comment

Doesn't the free market decide if an item is priced right? If it doesn't sell enough to keep the manufacturer ing the black, then it's likely overpriced.

The manufacturer's costs for insurance, overhead, certification, healthcare, etc. don't mean a thing to the consumer. Nor do cost comparisons to the past.

Posted by: Brian Veazey | February 4, 2011 1:54 PM    Report this comment

Well, if everyone thinks things are just fine the way they are, then we should all clap our hands at the success of light sport aircraft, which sell a grand total of a few dozen new airplanes a year.

Same goes for certified piston singles, which sell maybe a couple of hundred copies a year--although a lot of these are for business and not strictly personal use.

If this is just dandy then okay. Ninety nine percent of people who take the step of aircraft ownership buy a 40 year old airplane that was made in the years when the country was producing 10,000 brand new light airplanes each year.

Technology and manufacturing has progressed in leaps and bounds since then and we now can buy more and better mechanized products---from cars to lawnmowers---at better value than ever before.

Well, except airplanes.

When this flying generation passes, personal aircraft ownership will pass with it. We can tell our kids and grandkids all about how great it was owning your own little plane, while introducing them to the world of radio controlled models, which are now the only affordable way for ordinary people to get into flight.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 2:22 PM    Report this comment

So. If it really only costs pennies to manufacture new planes and the current market prices are all a "Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" why don't you manufacturing experts start up a new company and get filthy rich selling $20,000 airplanes?

While most of the comments here seem to make sense there just isn't enough of a market for airplanes - at any price - to get the volumes needed to use all the new manufacturing technology. Even if light planes cost as little as moderately priced cars there would still be a small market for them. Young people just don't want to fly today. It is much more popular to get fat watching TV and playing video games. For the more active couch potatoes there are professional sports where you can pretend you are on the field instead of an overpaid spoiled and overgrown teenager. "We Won" when the professionals on the field from your home town beat the professional athletes from the next town over. If you really want to see aviation have a rebirth of significant proportion you need to change the culture in our fine country.

I am optimistic about the home builder movement. It has produced a lot more airplanes in the last few decades than all of the light plane factories put together. One reason is this is a way to get planes out of reach of the greedy trial lawyers. Another is that amateur airplane building is a really great hobby for people with lots of time and some extra money to support it.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 4, 2011 2:48 PM    Report this comment

Paul, I agree with you about the decline in popular culture. People have become more lazy and vapid than I would have ever believed a few decades ago when I was growing up.

No, flying is not for everyone and never will be. But I firmly believe that there is a real possibility to sell 10 thousand to 20 thousand brand new reasonably priced airplanes a year in this country.

I agree about the homebuilder movement too. This is a great way to get your own airplane and learn some great skills along the way. Most people who build an airplane enjoy the build as much as the flying.

But this is not the answer for everyone. Like I said, there is new engine technology on the way, as well as new manufacturing techniques.

A new day is coming for personal aviation. The affordable personal aircraft is on the drawing board and will be landing at an airport near you in the not so distant future.

If you build it they will come.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 3:02 PM    Report this comment

"I firmly believe that there is a real possibility to sell 10 thousand to 20 thousand brand new reasonably priced airplanes a year"

That always happens a few times in history; then the bubble always bursts. There are only so many airports, pilots, and students. Planes last a long time so the market for new planes is very small indeed.

LSA's have a tiny piece of a tiny market. Even with the medical waiver there are just not that many folks dying for a new plane. The new LSA "bubble" may last a while as pilots age, but it's still a "bubble".

They are cute planes for the most part, but sometimes you want more speed or the simple need to carry a few kids...

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 4, 2011 3:30 PM    Report this comment

Paul M,

I respectfully disagree with your statement: “While most of the comments here seem to make sense there just isn't enough of a market for airplanes - at any price - to get the volumes needed to use all the new manufacturing technology. Even if light planes cost as little as moderately priced cars there would still be a small market for them. Young people just don't want to fly today.”

We placed a Remos GX in a local mall last year (Lewisville, TX) and kept track of the conversations we had; 3,300 plus conversations. To be counted the conversation had to include 4 elements, what we called the four P’s: Plane, Prices, Piloting, and Partnerships. We found that there is a huge pent up desire for people under 40 and down to teens to fly. The simply dismissed it as being impossible due to one primary factor—cost.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 4, 2011 5:40 PM    Report this comment

Continued. We provided them a handout comparing the cost of the average boat, motor, and trailer currently selling in our area. (You can download the sheet from our website—www.TheAPA.com). We sold about 170 discovery flights for the local school, they got twenty-odd new pilot starts, and populated a club based on a Breezer LSA in less than a month. Paul B wrote about this event.

As an engineer myself, I agree that given sufficient volume and improved manufacturing techniques, prices could come down significantly. The question is how we get there from here. That is why we are dedicated to helping people co-own aircraft. Between now and that time we all hope for--we are building new GA airplanes in the tens of thousands every year--co-ownership is the only means the great majority of the market to afford a plane.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 4, 2011 5:41 PM    Report this comment

David,

This is one case where I would be delighted to be wrong. Actually, I have a lot of experience being wrong. The usual result is someone points out my error and I learn the correct answer.

If "Clubs" are practical, then so should commercial rental be practical. The small profits made by the FBO should easily be covered by the commitment needed to by a share in a club. So why don't we have more nice LSA, like the Remos GX, on local flight lines?

One answer is the FBOs have been sold a bill of goods by Cessna in the form of the 162. Shipments have been slow, so maybe it will all work nicely in a few years when the Chinese get their act together and ramp up production. I don't think so. This plane has a serious flaw (in my opinion) because it uses an old style engine (Continental O-200?) instead of one of the newer and much lighter engines available - particularly the Rotax 912-ULS. My fear is that there will be little interest in a plane that can only be flown legally solo.

Again, I hope I am wrong. I expect the LSA market to remain as strong as it was a few years ago - before the deep recession - for a long time, but I will be pleasantly surprised if it ever reaches 10,000 units per year.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 4, 2011 6:04 PM    Report this comment

Paul M,

Yeah, I get the wrong thing. Any day I get it 51% right or better is an exceptionally good day.

Warning! This is a broad generalization so there will be exceptions. The problem with rentals is twofold. The first: The current rental fleet is more often than not comprised of tired, often unattractive, older aircraft on leaseback. It’s not very appealing to pay $120 or better per hour to fly an old beater 172. There are some newer glass cockpit rentals out there, but they tend to be quite a lot more expensive and less available due to increased usage for training.

The second: Renting works well for training but for personal flying—not so much. We believe, from our conversation with our members, that many pilots either fail to complete their training or eventually stop flying altogether when renting is their only viable option. Why? Most (not all! but most) rentals cannot be taken for extended trips. While some pilots are quite happy with local flying, many are not—they want to go somewhere and stay a while, they want to take flying vacations--something really hard to do with most rentals.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 4, 2011 6:26 PM    Report this comment

CONTINUED. As far as new LSA on FBO flight lines the problem is risk capital. In this economy, FBO’s hesitate to invest in LSA unless they can pre-sell shares in an equity club. We are actually currently working with several dealer FBO’s on the financial numbers and the best practices for using the APA to pre-sell shares in equity flying clubs. Our goal is to have our members enjoy great new planes for cheap, and for the FBO to profit from the sale of the plane, fuel, maintenance, and in some cases income from management fees and instruction fees—with the minimum amount of risk to all parties. We are attempting to craft solutions where everyone wins – the pilots, the manufacturer, the dealer/distributor, the instructor, the A&P, the FBO.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 4, 2011 6:27 PM    Report this comment

David,

Have you considered looking for risk capital in the financial markets? There is several TRILLION dollars of money on the sidelines. It is not making any return at all. I'm quite sure some of the owners of this cash would be delighted to take a small risk with possibility of a reasonable return in a well managed venture. It would need to be bigger than the stuff you are discussing now, but only big enough so random events don't have a "Material" impact on the business.

If the only problem is availability of capital, then there is no problem at all.

Think Net Jets!

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 4, 2011 6:46 PM    Report this comment

Paul M, I missed your earlier comment about comparing 2-stroke water engines to 4-stroke aircraft engines.

An engine failure on open water can be just as dangerous as an engine failure in the air, especially if there is weather.

But the good news is that the modern outboard engines very rarely fail. From a mechanical perspective these engines are incredibly robust.

I have much more faith in a 300 hp Evinrude to get me back to terra firma than I do in the 300 hp continental, which is actually a pretty good engine.

The achilles heel in any 4-stroke engine is the exhaust valve which takes an incredible thermal and mechanical pounding. Two strokes don't have valves and hence no achilles heel.

Continued below...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 7:43 PM    Report this comment

continued...

The oil system on these engines is a marvel. Tiny amounts of oil are sprayed at critical surfaces like crankshaft bearings. The engine can run for 5 hours at full throttle without a drop of oil.

The first scheduled maintenance is after 300 hours.

The emissions are cleaner than any -stroke outboard, due to the very fine atomization of the high pressure direct injection.

Fuel burn is likewise equal or better than EFI 4-strokes.

continued below...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 7:47 PM    Report this comment

continued...

Cooling is not a problem. These same engines are used in snowmobiles with radiators. In fact Rotax makes them (also owned by Bombardier).

Now you can buy a Rotax snowmobile with a 120 hp DI engine for about $8,000. That's the whole snowmobile, not just the engine.

Now what do we pay for a 912? It's more than twice that. If you take just the engine it is probably more than three times as much.

Rotax could make these marvelous engines for aircraft use and price them just as cheap, but it is exactly this kind of ingrained mentality that they are up against. That and the low volumes.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 4, 2011 7:57 PM    Report this comment

David K hit the nail on the head. The only reason I am looking to buy a plane is because my FBO/instructor won't let me rent the plane:

* for night flights * for overnight x-country's * to fly into grass strips

Honestly, I don't blame him one bit. On another note, if Gordon is referring (surreptitiously) to the CAFE Green Flight Challenge, maybe we will see some new ways around 'LSA cost' in July.

Posted by: Pete Kuhns | February 4, 2011 8:58 PM    Report this comment

Sorry if this digresses too much. Its to do with getting the production numbers going. There is just no need for GA to crumble. Flying is awesome but for most people, what is the drawcard? Saving time at a reasonable cost. LSA is a good thing but mainly for fun and training. I think that a real possibility is an integrated system based on fast, modern GA aircraft that can get you there 3 to 5 times quicker with a cheap car or a cab waiting for you at the other end. In one scenario I can think of, you would book the plane or plan a flight in your own. The system would then try to match you up with some business, leisure or "mystery ticket" travellers who share the costs with you. In another scenario, you simply nominate times, places and costs you are willing to incur and the system spits out a bunch of options. In the big picture, all forms of transport would be integrated but that makes my head hurt.

Again, sorry for the digression.

Posted by: john hogan | February 5, 2011 9:02 AM    Report this comment

Paul M,

Those going out for risk capital need at least two things: proveable demand and a viable business model. We are working on both. When we have them, the firms which stand to profit from the co-owned aircraft business model will have what they need to go for risk capital. The development process takes time. You crawl before you walk and walk before you run. Right now, we are still in the crawling stage--aggregating demand and working with early adopters to prove the business model. It will be a while before we are capital market-ready.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 5, 2011 10:14 AM    Report this comment

This just keeps going back and forth. LSA's are nice but cost too much. Who needs these "glass cockpits" in a supposedly simple LSA aircraft? Yep,I am one who will fly his 40 year old 172 til I have to quit flying. I am 65 and I have to have a medical every year, but I am in good enough health to be safe in my plane that is so far behind the times. All of my "steam gauges" work just fine, I can carry 4 people if they are not really big. So, I am one of those who are happy with the old technology. I am by not means "rich", but you darn near have to be to own a Remos or one similar to it. The utility of the things are lacking. That is my rant.

Posted by: Glenn Darr | February 7, 2011 7:49 AM    Report this comment

This just keeps going back and forth. LSA's are nice but cost too much. <<

Costs too much is a matter of each individual's ability to pay. For some, LSA are incredibly cheap. This is comparing them to TC'd NEW airplanes. For others they are incredibly expensive.

LSAs and experimental planes tend to use glass panels because these are less expensive than steam gauges. This is not true for TC'd planes since the certificated glass costs about 4 times as much as the experimental stuff used in LSA and experimental planes. That general formula holds true for everything you put in airplanes. Again, this is comparing new equipment to other new equipment.

A whole panel based on dual Dynon glass costs less than a single old style HSI, and the Dynon EFIS gives you the HSI display. Of course most people flying old planes with old style panels don't have an HSI because they are so expensive.

I agree with one thing you said -- this just keeps going back and forth. It costs more to fly new planes than to fly old ones. So long as people insist on comparing the cost of new LSA to old TC'd planes the old ones usually win.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 7, 2011 8:08 AM    Report this comment

While the LSA's are cute and make decent trainers, I seriously doubt they are going to "save" the General Aviation industry. This is because there is no realistic path to upgrade to a larger, faster new aircraft for the average pilot and new aircraft are what the industry must sell to prosper. It's great to make lots of trainers but for what? How many pilots stayed with the trusty C-150 they learned in? Not many,as they wanted to load up the kids or another couple and go somewhere. I got my license in 1966 and have owned over a dozen aircraft from a homebuilt two-seater (T-18) to heavy twins (Beech 18), all for my own use. I doubt that is possible today unless you have lots and lots of cash. I just checked Trade-A-Plane and found a new C-182 at $400,000, a bit steep for an aircraft that is only a little faster and carries a little more than a 30 year-old one. Yes, it has better avionics and interior but that's a lot to pay for glass and leather.

In the '70s, you could buy a new C-150 for under $20K, upgrade to a C-172 for 25K or a C-182 for around $35K. The price spread was close enough to move up the ladder in time.

A Baron for $1.5 million? Give me a break.

There simply just isn't enough demand at those prices.

Sorry guys, the good days of the average pilot using an aircraft to really travel somewhere are gone unless you are content to putt around at 120 kts VFR with only two seats.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 7, 2011 9:25 AM    Report this comment

I think LSAs are fairly priced, but personally, I would rather buy a used C-172. I think that if the Class III medical were not required, you would see more people buying the older C-172s (and the like). Cost of acquisition, and cost of ownership are factors that cannot be ignored...brand spanking new airplane or not.

Posted by: David Brown | February 7, 2011 9:26 AM    Report this comment

I am retired, better off than most of my GA aviation buddies and I cannot justify $120k for a small two place LSA. They may be priced right, but not affordable for most folks! The only LSA that comes close to being affordable for me. Is the Aerotrek 220/240 (formerly Eurofox) Priced about mid $60k's.

Posted by: Chuck Stone | February 7, 2011 9:51 AM    Report this comment

LSAs would have been the greatest thing for GA since sliced bread IF the price on a plane would have been $50,000 but at $130,000+ it will only be a small impact for a few wealthy pilots that are afraid of losing their medicals and don't want to quit flying and some high end Flight Schools. You can explain the basis for the costs all you want they are too costly for what they can offer or for most flight school trainers. Larry Straitiff CFII - Center Line Aviation LTD

Posted by: Larry Straitiff | February 7, 2011 11:13 AM    Report this comment

Miguel is right I am afraid. As I have said in other threads, the issue is not whether LSAs are priced correctly, it is whether avaiation in general (including the LSAs which I assume are priced as inexpensively as possible or close to it) has priced itself out of the leisure or "hobby" market. All one has to do is look at the ever shrinking (and aging) pilot population. The numbers do not lie. LSAs and homebuilts have been around for a number of years now and the pilot population continues to shrink at an ever increasing rate. There will always be a small number of true aviation "nuts" (of which I include myself) who are fully satisfied to do an hour or two a month of knocking around the local area on a sunny Sunday afternoon and who will make all kinds of financial sacrifices to do so. The LSA can work for that pilot assuming they typically fly by themselves or maybe with one other person so long as they are both small enough. That pilot population is probably fairly static (although it does erode as flying becomes more expensive). (con't)

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 7, 2011 11:41 AM    Report this comment

(con't.) The problem is that the rest of the non-pilot population would only be interested in avaiation if flying meant that they could pack up the entire family, jump in the plane, go on a vacation or a weekend trip with the dispatch reliability that is at least close to an airliner, and be able to do it all for a cost (including training, IFR proficiency, etc.) that would realistically be affordable to the average American. Don't get me wrong, LSAs are great but they fill a niche market only (just like homebuilts). They do not address what it would take to really grow the pie.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 7, 2011 11:41 AM    Report this comment

Ken,

I agree with you.

Going to Grandma's house in the family light plane will never be practical for the masses.

Even if you could buy a Piper Malibu for 50 cents it wouldn't work. You still need to pay for fuel, transportation at the far end, and other normal travel expenses. You will never beat the family auto and/or airline transportation. You just can't get there from here.

Personal aircraft will always be reserved for either the filthy rich or moderately successful people willing to sacrifice it all to fly. Any other dream is a nice fantasy that will never be fulfilled. Those who expected LSA to make this happen were just not in touch with the real world.

LSA were always intended to provide recreational flight. The choices made in specifying LSA airplanes make them practical for recreational travel over nearly any distance, but it is still about recreation - not practical family or commercial transportation.

It is unfortunate that Light Sport Airplanes are configured a lot like old style trainers. That led a lot of people to think they are just new style trainers. That just ain't so. They are more like sports cars than Volkswagens. They are fun to fly and not necessarily easy to fly. They may or may not be sturdy enough for the mishandling new students tend to give trainers. They certainly are not the solution to the demise of aviation for all.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 7, 2011 12:24 PM    Report this comment

I have owned and flown several certificated old beaters over the years and I can recall when the ground school at our nearby airport had plenty of students on any given Saturday morning. Not to mention the huge numbers of weekend pilots, all sitting around the FBO discussing the coffee and donuts or the latest new crazy kid on the runway. As a skydiver and jump pilot I can also recall when our local first jump class could be as many as 20 new students every week. We had more than 200 registered and active skydivers on our daily roster and the majority of them were "active". I'm sure that those days are gone. Forever. I flew literally hundreds of Young Eagles and handed out flight instruction cards and skydiving information to literally thousands of people.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | February 7, 2011 1:53 PM    Report this comment

All for no result. There is simply no interest in anything that takes time, dedication and money to achieve. Many, many people would learn to skydive or to fly airplanes if they could achieve their advanced licenses in one weekend for around $50. If it's gonna take weeks and weeks of hard work and dedication culminated by a very expensive purchase at the end of training and then relentless bills and maintenance to stay active, then today's young people will never become involved. We live in an instant gratification society. Today the FBO is deserted on the weekend. First Jump Class has maybe 3 or 4 students a MONTH. Facebook and other social networks on the other hand are proliferate. Video gaming is multi billion dollar business. Obesity and heart disese are epedimic in this country. We don't even draw a weekend crowd at the basketball court any more. Things and people are changing. Get used to it. Regulations, costs and government red tape coupled with apathy will kill GA in this country in our lifetimes. Price any airplane however you like. The end is near for all recreational flying. Those of us who are stubborn will hang on for a while but soon enough it will take a museum visit to remember when your grandpa flew us to great grandma's house for Christmas.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | February 7, 2011 1:54 PM    Report this comment

It's truly a sad state of affairs as well but I think it cannot be helped. Flying is never going to be the attraction that it once was and as the cost and the regulations become more and more difficult to deal with fewer people will be willing to spend the time and money to become involved. I can give evidence as well. A young man who works for me wanted to learn to fly. I offered him instruction FREE if he would rent the C-150 for $40/hr plus fuel. He makes a fair wage but balked at the price when he added up the cost of a private pilot license. He was even further pushed away when he did a little research on buying a similar C-150 for his own use. He finally ended up buying a 4 wheeler and takes it in his pickup to the local dunes on the weekend where he and his friends can get drunk and drive at full speed with NO training, No license, No supervision and No regulations. Instant gratification. I rest my case.

Posted by: Willie Sinsel | February 7, 2011 2:09 PM    Report this comment

I haven't heard much mention of the targeted demographic market for the future of general aviation. I'll give one example I'm familiar with, my 34 year old son. He would love to be flying when he wanted to. Why can't he - lack of time available in today's world.

He works in the fast-paced world of tele-com. He has a family with a 6 year old daughter. Both adults work.

When he was 17, I bought him a Cherokee 180 for training. He did well, but as he grew older, other things eroded his free time, so I sold it.

He is very familiar of the enjoyment of just flying, or making a meaningful 3-day week-end flying somewhere to ski or whatever, as he enjoyed growing up.

All, if not most of his peers are in similar situations. They're not candidates for LSA or home-building, or even staying proficient in rentals.

I think Cirrus grew out of the previous cohort of these types, and I expect my son to get there some day. But not now.

What will he in the market for when the time arises, probably refreshing in a 12 year-old flight line 162, and moving on to Cirrus or the day's equivalent.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | February 7, 2011 2:41 PM    Report this comment

This is going to be a multi-part message:

First, I’m going to discount all the negative talk (and much of the negative talk is not even fact-based), because it isn’t productive. There will always be a million reasons NOT to do something, but anyone that claims to be a promoter of aviation needs to think positive and find ways to build a plan that works.

Regarding buyer emotion: You don’t think the auto or motorcycle industry sells on emotion??? Why expect aviators to become Klingons & buy only on reason?

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 7, 2011 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Facts: LSAs are here, now. The market must thin at some point. The market can not sustain 112 models. LSAs are not a niche of a niche, they can BE the mainstream: - Flight Training from Sport through Commercial & CFI (if FAA signs the Glass = Complex ruling). They can, NOW be used for IFR training. - Useful loads of new carbon LSAs is better than aluminum/Continental airplanes o 2 – 200 pounders should be a minimum design requirement o WITH a reasonable range (3 – 4 hour minimum, not “oops, just put an hour in if you want 2 people”) o “Just go ahead and overload it” is not acceptable to the FAA, the insurance companies, or pilots in command - Range of some LSAs is twice the old airplanes - 2000 hour TBOs are common with 30% less fuel burn - low-cost auto fuel - Speed of some LSAs is 20-30 knots faster than old airplanes - New (not yet certified) pilots want new airplanes with glass. I don’t care if you don’t think it’s necessary. The MARKET does. Besides, new glass avionics are lighter, cheaper and more reliable.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 7, 2011 4:58 PM    Report this comment

Relative Cost: - Manufacturing efficiencies are very predictable. Anyone who believes they are “elusive” has never been in manufacturing. - 1938 Cub: $1325, 2011 Inflation-adjusted: $20,000, Actual 2011 Cost: $120,000 - 1956 C172: $8700, 2011 Inflation-adjusted: 70,663, Actual 2011 Cost: $301,500 - 1972 C172: $15,750, 2011 Inflation-adjusted: 84,668, Actual 2011 Cost: $301,500 - 2010 FD-CTLS: $139,000 - Labor for an average GA airplane: 1000 hours (perhaps 800 hours in today’s “factory”) - Labor for an average GM car: 40 hours - Labor for an average Toyota car: 19 hours - Let’s fix this! (Target labor @ 300 hours per aircraft) - Target Aircraft Cost: 1 Year Salary of an average American household ($67,000) - 50% of a current FD-CTLS would be $69,500, not far from the 1 Year Salary target! - This is achievable with economies of scale from true manufacturing.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 7, 2011 4:59 PM    Report this comment

There are folks here that see the vision:

Randy Lervold: “As pilots, perhaps the most important thing we can all do to help the situation over the long run is by doing what we can to grow aviation in general. Spread the word, help expand the market, and we all win!”

Paul Mulwitz: “If you really want to see aviation have a rebirth of significant proportion, you need to change the culture in our fine country.”

Gordon Arnaut: “But I firmly believe that there is a real possibility to sell 10 thousand to 20 thousand brand new reasonably priced airplanes a year in this country.”

Gordon Arnaut: “A new day is coming for personal aviation. The affordable personal aircraft is on the drawing board and will be landing at an airport near you in the not so distant future.”

Tim Busch: In the end, it takes a solid business plan for a producible design in a factory capable of building 10k – 20k units per year, along with (and this is key) a plan to train enough pilots to keep those aircraft flying.

In addition to my flight school (www.IowaFlightTraining.com), I am also president of a non-profit (Iowa Aviation Promotion Group) whose job in life is to educate and grow aviation. Check our website at www.FlyIowa.org. Randy is exactly right; we can all help grow aviation.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 7, 2011 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Apologies.....apparently the formating didn't come through as I had hoped.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 7, 2011 5:00 PM    Report this comment

Finally someone who is talking sense.

Also glad to hear from Miguel, Larry, Chuck and other longtime airplane owners who see the writing on the wall---personal aviation has become unaffordable for even financially secure people.

Look I know my doctor, dentist, accountant, or lawyer can't afford to go and buy a brand new Cessna for $300,000 to $400,000. Half a million for a Cirrus? You gotta be kidding.

There are mortgages to pay, college tuitions for the kids, a vacation now and again, and even just the cost of living with a modicum of dignity in today's world is practically all that even the well paid professional can manage, while still putting a little away for retirement.

It is absolutely not true---and never was---that personal airplane ownership is only for the very rich or those who were willing to make huge sacrifices.

I started flying in college 30 years ago and at that time working class people, tradesmen and others could go out and buy a new 2-seater because it cost about as much as two new cars.

Instead of being a 2-car family, in a lot of cases it would be a one-car family and one airplane. That was the sacrifice.

Like Tim sensibly said, there is no reason on earth that airplanes have to cost as much as they do, other than that their manufacturing is in the pre-industrial age.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 7, 2011 7:03 PM    Report this comment

Why was the MTOW cut off about 200 lbs short of the Cessna 150? To me, this seems the most obvious LSA mistake by far.

Posted by: Patrick Underwood | February 7, 2011 7:20 PM    Report this comment

Tim, while I admire your enthusiasm and positive outlook, in my 45 years in aviation, most of it in the industry, I've just seen too many emotionally exciting aircraft that never made it in the practical world of dollars and cents.

Remember the Morrissey Vega, the Benson Gyrocopter,the Wing Derringer, Jim Bede's BD-5, Bill Lear's Lear Fan, or more recently, the Eclipse 500? All innovative and exciting but, large and small, we have all seen them and so many more burst on the GA scene and then quietly fade away, not from lack of enthusiasm but from lack of customers.

Then there are the uncontrollable factors of adverse legislation, the economy, the price of fuel, insurance and interest rates.

I remember selling million dollar turboprops in 1980 when the interest rate on aircraft loans was 20%. A customer asked me,"You mean I have to pay $200,000 a year just in interest?" Lost that sale. Think that can't happen again?

As the old saying goes,"If you want to make a small fortune in aviation, start with a large one."

You didn't address my earlier statement about the lack of an upgrade path in general aviation.

Many times we sold people their first single, then a high performance single and later, a twin over a few years. I seriously doubt that is happening today. It's going to be a very long stretch if the first rung is at $120,000.

The industry simply cannot prosper on LSA's alone.

Tim, I truly hope you can prove me wrong. I was fortunate to have enjoyed a golden age in aviation and I wish you the same.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 7, 2011 7:36 PM    Report this comment

I am curious if anyone knows how the ga market is effected by demographics. Was the "golden era" that Miguel cites in anyway a consequence of the baby boom? I'm not sure of my facts but anecdotally I feel like I am surrounded by the baby boom bubble coming up now. Aside from all the swipes at feckless youth that have been posted here I think your more likely to recruit new flyers from the young relatively unencumbered than people in their late 30s early 40s.

Posted by: robert miller | February 7, 2011 7:58 PM    Report this comment

Paul B. Nice article - until the demand drives up production numbers up, we're unlikely to see prices drop.

Posted by: Rob "daSlob" Schaffer | February 7, 2011 8:01 PM    Report this comment

Another thought, (and I realize this might be heretical so I apologize if I offend,) I never bought the notion that piston singles were that great at getting places and back in a dependable on time way. (throw rocks here.) I wonder if with the growth of low cost carriers it has become a little harder to make that particular pitch with a straight face. Another component of the decline that I see is the disappearance of small airports near places you'd like to go. Maybe we should be figuring out how to make affordable helicopters instead of fixed wings. (just kidding.)

Posted by: robert miller | February 7, 2011 8:04 PM    Report this comment

Tim, I applaud your enthusiasm and appreciate that you find the negative threads "unhelpful" and not based on fact. I do take issue with that last point, however. While I am unhappy about the direction that GA is taking after being in avaiation for 40 years (first flight in 1971), the facts are the facts. There is no disputing that the pilot population is shrinking and the average age of the piston fleet is growing almost one year each calendar year (meaning the number of new piston aircraft sold each year (including LSAs) is miniscule compared to what it used to be in the '60s and '70s). Then there are the collateral consequences (all factual) that harm the infrastructure such as a shrinking A&P population since there is less work to go around and wages are stagnant. Advertising and "take a friend flying" campaigns have been going on for awhile and yet we are where we are. None of this is perception; all of it is factual. The proof is in the pudding. Miguel puts it so well, the training is useless unless it allows the student to take the training and do something with it that they will find rewarding. I am all in favor of new ideas but until I see aircraft (LSAs or not) that are affordable and capable (and by that I mean a plane that has a real useful load and can be used for flying real world IFR in weather and wind, not just training for it), we are going to stay stuck in the cycle we are in.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 8:21 AM    Report this comment

Ken,

I think it is all about your goals.

If you are looking for a practical transportation device then light aircraft are probably not going to satisfy you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a rewarding and challenging activity then flying light planes might do just fine.

Flying costs a lot of money and learning to fly takes a lot of effort and personal progress. The rewards for completing this training are great. The sights you can see that are not available from the ground and the appreciation you can get from passengers and wannabe pilots is huge. The personal reward from turning an overnight visit to a somewhat remote event into a comfortable day trip is also very nice.

Flying as a personal challenge compares favorably to sitting on the couch watching TV with a beer in one hand and pizza in the other. Being a pilot makes for a better life than being a sports fan.

Flying a plane you built with your own hands has a special reward.

Practical transportation is not the only reasonable goal for fliers.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 8, 2011 8:55 AM    Report this comment

Ken, I agree completely.

The catastrophic decline in personal aviation is a fact, not a perception as some here would have us believe.

The main factor is cost of buying a NEW airplane. Look I know lots of people who can afford to spend fifty to a hundred thousand, or more, on recreational pursuits. Boats, snowmobiles, what have you.

LOTS of people. Like a good percentage chunk of the population.

A lot of these people would go out and buy an airplane instead, IF it was NEW and if it was AFFORDABLE.

The person who goes out and buys a $50,000 boat is not going to be interested in a 40 year old airplane, especially when he hears a few stories about the ordeal and expense of keeping that plane airworthy with annual inspections.

Continued...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 8, 2011 9:35 AM    Report this comment

Continued...

I agree also that the LSA is not the answer. If it cost $50,000 that would be a good start. We would get a lot of boaters and snowmobilers sniffing around, especially if you put one of these on floats.

But there is a need for a real family airplane that can go places. Look a small airplane is never going to be an airliner and I will be the first to take issue with some of the aviation press who drone on about "transportation flying."

But an LSA is too small, too light and too lightly wing-loaded to be much more than an around-the patch airplane. Nothing wrong with that. That's all some people will ever want.

What is needed is a Skyhawk type airplane for $100,000, and an upgrade path to more capable airplanes priced in a similar way.

Now there is no reason in the world that this is not doable. It is and it will become reality with some innovations in design and manufacturing that are in the works as we speak.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 8, 2011 9:51 AM    Report this comment

"The catastrophic decline in personal aviation"

I don't care that the pilot count has remained stable over the last 8 years or that one part of aviation is up and another part is down. I don't care if a bass boat buyer thinks about buying a new airplane and won't.

PRIVATE flying is just that. If you personally WANT to fly, you can fly. It's not a problem of hardware.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | February 8, 2011 10:07 AM    Report this comment

Lots of conversation in this thread about cost and demand, so at the risk of irritating some, I am repeating our real-world experience from early in this thread, experience that is directly on point with the issues being discussed.

We placed a Remos GX in a local mall last year (Lewisville, TX) and kept track of the conversations we had; 3,300 plus conversations. To be counted the conversation had to include 4 elements, what we called the four P’s: Plane, Prices, Piloting, and Partnerships. We found that there is a huge pent up desire for people under 40 and down to teens to fly. The simply dismissed it as being impossible due to one primary factor—cost.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 8, 2011 10:46 AM    Report this comment

Continued. We provided them a handout comparing the cost of the average boat, motor, and trailer currently selling in our area. (You can download the sheet from our website—www.TheAPA.com). We sold about 170 discovery flights for the local school, they got twenty-odd new pilot starts, and populated a club based on a Breezer LSA in less than a month.

We did NOT find that the general population's desire to fly was lessened. Flying has and will continue to appeal to a broad portion of the population, regardless of age, sex, and socioeconomic status. We were successful because we dealt with the problem--price. New technologies may bring the costs down at some unspecified time in the future. But today, right this moment, the only mechanism I am aware of to make aircraft which are attractive to the general public affordable is co-ownership.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 8, 2011 10:47 AM    Report this comment

Some great posts. Paul and Gordon, I could not say it better. While I know my post looks like I am saying that it is all about practical transportation, I realize that different people are looking for different things out of aviation and the reality is more nuanced. I completely agree that there is a significant segment that is interested in the Sunday trip around the patch and is not looking for anything more and I do not want to appear to denigrate that at all. Frankly, it is much of what I do.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 11:32 AM    Report this comment

con't My concern is that at some point GA will hit a tipping point (and it may already have) and there will be no coming back and us old-timers will just play out the string. So how do we avoid that. My point is that LSAs are not the answer. We need to interest a larger group than is currently interested. Perhaps it can be looked at like a Venn diagram. One circle is the population of people who would simply love to go flying regardless of its "utility" and who are self-motivated to make the necessary sacrifices. Another overlapping circle are those people who really have the means to learn and do the flying they desire in order to stay interested.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 11:33 AM    Report this comment

(con't) I appreciate all the posts that say that "anyone can afford it if they are willing to sacrifice enough" but I think the reality for many people is quite different. Flying is very expensive so unless you have a relatively high income (small percentage of the population) or are willing and able (after the costs of supporting a family with rising healthcare and college costs among other expenses) to make sacrifices for one's hobby that often effect the whole family, I think that this circle is finite and not everyone who is legitimately interested in learning to fly can afford it. It is only where those two circles overlap that you have the population of folks who are likely to start and complete their training.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 11:34 AM    Report this comment

(con't) So is there a third circle that could expand the pool? I think that is why aviation writers have been jumping on the "GA competes with airline travel bandwagon" in order to create a third circle of people who may not fit the classic "aviation buff" mold but who may see GA as a legitimate answer to their personal or business travel needs. This segment has always existed to some extent (folks who fly primarily for business or travel but not otherwise). Much of thsi started with Cirrus and even the VLJ programs. The Cirrus premise has always been to make a competent IFR traveler that is relatively safe (or at least perceived that way) and easy to fly and then appeal to folks who see this as transportation first. Putting aside whether they have really succeded at that to any large extent (not in my opinion), in any event that premise is limited to wealthy individuals who can afford to buy, maintain and remain current in a $500K plane. That market is limited by definition (Plane & Pilot had a sidebar in their buyer's issue that showed the average income of a Cirrus buyer was north of $300K per year -- 'nuf said). So to Gordon's excellent point, can we come closer to this idea by moving from the very limited LSA market to the ability to produce a new, safe, four place plane that is really IFR competent (notice I did not say just legal) for a lot less than a new 172 goes. If someone can do that, then the whole ballgame changes.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Ken,

Excellent analysis.

As it has been since the beginning of aviation, there are always those among us who will fly for the pure joy of flying but the aviation industry is based on those who use it for transportation and they have been priced out of the market. I believe that is the root of the problem.

When we were selling "spamcans" back in the day, the first question I would ask a prospective buyer was not, "What kind of a plane do you want?" but "What are you going to use it for?" They mostly wanted to go on trips to visit family, vacations that included golf and skiing or just to see new exotic places. It was the freedom that only a personal aircraft could give that excited them (and me). That they could jump in their airplane and be hundred of miles alway in a few hours was the motivating factor. Of course, it had to be perceived as affordable (a relative term, I know) but that perception has changed and it no longer exists.

LSA's in their present form will always be perceived by the travelling public as toys much like jet skis, a lot of fun but not a viable means of transportation.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 8, 2011 11:57 AM    Report this comment

David,

Great results and I hope that the 20 that started all complete the PPL. Do you suggest a partnership for training? I agree that co-ownership makes it more affordable (of course) but a partnership with strangers is a big commitment to ask someone to make before they even have a license. I did not look in gory detail at the website but I am intrigued by what APA does. Does it just find folks or does it do more such as vette the potential partners to make sure they have the financial means to carry their share going forward or deal with the inevitable disputes that arise when someone can no longer afford their share? As you know, aircraft partnerships give rise to tricky dynamics that require everyone to have very similar views about scheduling, maintenance, upgrades, etc. and sooner or later, there will be issues among the partners that have to be dealt with (speaking from experience). I am wondering if APA has a way of tackling these issues so as to make the partnership experience better than is typically the case.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 12:24 PM    Report this comment

Paul B., thanks for the forum. It's great to see issues being hashed out here.

Miquel, you are correct that many potential manufactuers have fallen along the way, but not one has started with a real production plan. The entire industry is hand-built. I agree that LSA is not the end-all, but a potential jump-start to a suffering industry. Gordon may be correct that primary category could be a major player. I'm not here to judge that. But I consider the LSA (or whatever gets mass-produced) to be a launching point that results in production of more capable, larger aircraft. (I've been flying since 1980, so I'm not new to this either.)

Ken, you are correct that the pilot population is shrinking. I've been tracking numbers, county-by-county, since mid-2005, and you are correct. It's not a good story. But do we have buy into it? If so, I'd suggest we all sell out and buy boats/cars, or whatever. I'm not ready to give up, I'm a terrible couch potato. We can control our own destiny.

David makes good points about co-ownership. Getting out to the malls works. We've done it and see great results. Most people aren't even aware that flying is an option.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 8, 2011 12:37 PM    Report this comment

Regarding aviaton promotion, as part of our Iowa Aviation Promotion Group, we're making an effort to grow student starts. In 2010 we made significant strides, with a 60% increase in students last spring. I hope that translates into more pilots, but the point is, we CAN do something about it if we're willing to work on it.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 8, 2011 12:41 PM    Report this comment

Congrats, Tim. A 60% increase is excellent! I agree that you have to start somewhere.

Posted by: Ken Appleby | February 8, 2011 12:50 PM    Report this comment

Tim, thanks for your reply. Good points. I agree that most of the manufacturers started with an exciting airplane and then tried to build a business around it.

I wish you the best in your efforts and will follow them here with great interest. I really hope you succeed.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 8, 2011 12:57 PM    Report this comment

yes.. airplanes are very expensive to purchase... and maintain. If someone were to give me an airplane, I would not be able to afford the tie down fee every month on my modest engineering salary. More bad news, the cost of fuel is an article today. Congress is thinking of raising the fuel tax by 65%. Why do they have the guts to raise aviation fuel and not on regular car gas? A hike in car gas would make sense because it would change people's car purchasing behavior... but it would be political suicide. On the other hand, aviation is already dead and it's easy to kick fat cat's dead horse.

Posted by: Andre Abreu | February 9, 2011 7:03 AM    Report this comment

WARNING - POLITICAL COMMENT FOLLOWS:

Andre,

Today's environment in Washington has been reduced to Class Warfare. You can't listen to the president talk without hearing about "Middle Class". The political party in control of the senate and white house are there because of huge contributions from the far left - mostly labor unions. They are playing to their "Base".

The good news is that congress is noticeably aware of the value of general aviation - without respect to political party membership. GA helps our country and our people in a lot of different ways.

The bad news is the government has been spending money faster than ever before. Federal growth has been obscene in the last few years. It is more obvious when Democrats are in control, but Republicans are nearly as guilty. Our form of government is controlled by corruption funded by lobbyists and pocketed by politicians. Most of them just don't represent the voters any more.

If you think the problems in aviation are all we need to worry about, then you sleep a lot better than I do.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 9, 2011 7:25 AM    Report this comment

Yes the culture is rotten, the politics are rotten and the powers that be would rather personal aviation just died.

At the same time our industrial know how has progressed to where we can make an abundance of mechanized and motorized products of every sort more efficiently and cheaply than ever.

David is profoundly correct that people WANT to fly. People have always wanted to fly, since time immemorial. The only thing stopping them is the cost.

But look, something that costs a lot now does not have to cost so much tomorrow. THat is what industry is all about.

Today I can go out and buy a 30 inch LCD screen for half the money I paid five short years ago for one a quarter that size. I am getting 10 times more screen real estate for my money.

Last year I bought a new lawnmower after 20 years. I paid $1,500 in 2010 dollars, the same amount I paid in 1990 dollars for the last one. I have twice the cylinders and twice the power and a machine that is butter smooth.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea...continued...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 9, 2011 8:16 AM    Report this comment

Back in the 70's, I owned a fairly decent boat, with a friend as a partner. I can tell you that you can throw money at a boat just as fast as an airplane. I don't mind putting money into my 172 "beater". It is a hell of a lot more fun than my boat ever was. When I talk to people about owning a small plane, I refer to it as my "recreational vehicle", not much different than people that like to go boating, fishing or hunting. They like to do that, and I like to fly a small plane. I am able to keep the "rich man's toy" talk out of the conversation. I explain that it does take more time to learn to fly a plane than some other recreational vehicle because you operate in 3 dimensions and not 2. You can buy a lot of new boats in the $100,000 price range and have something pretty nice. Unfortunately, you have a very small selection, if any, of nice airplanes in that price range. By the way, it is interesting reading all of the different sides discussed in this forum. As has been discussed, flying requires dedication, because there is a lot to learn. When I got my PPL, I felt on top of the world, and after 23years, I still feel that way when I take my plane up.

Posted by: Glenn Darr | February 9, 2011 8:28 AM    Report this comment

The same thing can and will happen in light planes. But it will only happen if we update our designs and our manufacturing.

Look there is practically zero difference in that C162 of 2011 and the C172 of 1955. Same basic design, same materials, same construction method---after more than half a century!

Where is the progress? There is none.

The fiberglass LSAs (and cirruses) are nice and smooth and supposedly modern, but their manufacturing method is almost entirely by hand---we are back in the 17'th century and guild craftsmen.

Look this is ridiculous. There is no point even debating this. It is plain to see what is missing. A viable industrial design for both engine and airframe that can be built cheaply using today's methods.

A light plane is an amazingly simple machine. It has more in common with an RC model than a bizjet or airliner. Let's stop kidding ourselves. It does not need to cost five or ten times as much as a car.

And it won't.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 9, 2011 8:29 AM    Report this comment

As a Fixed base operator in a rural community, purchasing a LSA for a 100 grand is not feasible. The cost of insuring the aircraft with a limited market pushes the cost of operation out of the budgets of potential student pilots. If those in the governing body of the aviation community were truly interested in expanding the pilot community the C150/152/Tomahawk/Skipper would have been included in the LSA club. Granted they are aging but are affordable in the rural communities with limited market. My competition for recreational money is not my FBO neighbor, but the Motorcycle and Boat dealers certainly are! In a Rural setting with a population of 10000 there is a potential of .05% a year that are interested in obtaining a pilots license of any sort be it sport/Rec/PP. I can make it work with a $22000 C152 and liability insurance only. Give me that and I can compete with a Harley. Fresh Pilot and a potential customer for a 120 grand LSA.

Posted by: Earl Draayer | February 9, 2011 8:56 AM    Report this comment

Have to disagree with Mr. Bertorelli on the original Cub price...Have an original brochure in my hand that says $995 with $333 down plus 8 hours of free instruction in your own Cub..

Posted by: Lucian McLeod | February 9, 2011 10:42 AM    Report this comment

I earn an above average wage for my part of the country and yet LSA ownership is waaaaay out of the question for me. It is just too much money. The only way I can afford to fly is through a joint ownership flying club and/or putting up with the restrictions of flying for the Civil Air Patrol. Without these 2 avenues, I would just be a dreamer looking at the sky with wonder. I also have looked at home-built as a less expensive inroad, but the time requirement would take me 10 years and I want to spend that time flying!

Posted by: Douglas Dutton | February 9, 2011 12:15 PM    Report this comment

Gordon Arnaut said..."Look this is ridiculous. There is no point even debating this. It is plain to see what is missing. A viable industrial design for both engine and airframe that can be built cheaply using today's methods.

A light plane is an amazingly simple machine."

Well, let's get on with the engineering project. It sounds like you are working on something. If so, I presume you will not disclose details because someone might steal them and beat you to market?

Anyway, I suggest (as a long time, successful business owner) that you learn more about marketing and and your target demographic, and do an realistic assessment of what that demographic might yield for potential customers.

Start with the fact that the US Census suggests that a bit more than 3 million households have an income of >$200,000 per year. Do an Excel spreadsheet to determine how many of these bought Cirrus or LSAs. Go from there, do a business plan, and look for financing....

Posted by: Edd Weninger | February 9, 2011 4:57 PM    Report this comment

Ken Appleby,

Yes, co-ownerships can work great for training. We met a CFI at Oshkosh who went in 4 ways on a 150 with three students, $5K each with the proviso that as his students must get their PPL in 6 months or less then sell their share for what they paid for it to the next student. He wore out one 150 and is just about to wear out a second one. His students have to come up with a bit more cash, but they typically get their PPL for far less for two reasons. First, the hourly rate is dirt cheap, about 60% of prevailing rates. Second, since the students have to sell their share to a new student to recover their $5K they take extraordinarily good care of the airplane. The instructor stays busy and makes a decent living plus he only had a one-time $5K expense to purchase an aircraft dedicated solely to his training practice. The students learn in a well-maintained trainer at far less expense than is typical. Everybody wins.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 9, 2011 5:51 PM    Report this comment

Continued. We don’t vet partners, but we provide our members the tools they need to do it themselves (think eHarmony, Match.com). We are also working on low-effort low cost co-ownership formation—the bundling of tax, legal, finance, and insurance services specifically designed for joint ownership.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 9, 2011 5:51 PM    Report this comment

Glenn Darr,

As far as competitive market prices, we know with precision what they are. 2009 (won’t have 2010 #s until summer) was a horrible year for boats and RV’s, worst in a couple of decades. About 330,000 NEW units were sold in the US. Not a typo: Three hundred thirty THOUSAND new units with the vast majority priced in the $25,000-$50,000 range. It’s not hard to figure out what the sweet spot is for individuals making a recreational/powersports choice—its $25,000-$50,000. Single plane co-ownerships with as little as 3 co-owners are cost competitive in that range. See our website www.TheAPA.com for details.

Schedule availability is the big bugaboo for many, I have literally heard it hundreds, if not thousands of times—some variation of “if I share an airplane it will never be available when I want it”. Simply not true. Worst case scenario; you put 6 owner pilots in a single plane, each flying 50 hours a year, and all of them only fly it on weekends (Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday). Slash 20% of annual weekend hours due to non-flyable weather, maintenance, etc. So how much weekend-only daylight hours does this admittedly schedule-overloaded six-owner aircraft actually fly? Answer, about 1 out of 5.

Posted by: David Kruger | February 9, 2011 5:52 PM    Report this comment

My hope is that a new marketing concept will be sparked by the LSA movement that matches up partners for ownership. For example, 2 of 4 partners could live in MIchigan and have the plane there 6 mos. of the year and 2 in Florida for the other 6 mos. that flying is iffy during northern states winters & too hot in Fla in summers. No insurance but airport req. needed if each puts $50,000, say, in escrow, still enjoys the interest or appreciation, but would cover his damage. Many variations can be worked out. FBO's could be a partner wanted sign up. Cruise lines offer Quad bunks where 4 strangers share a room (I took one when money was tight, made 3 great friends to boot). People who will pair up are usually pretty compatible types to begin with. Offer me a 1/4 share in an LSA with an FBO managing it, I'd be tempted.

Posted by: Howie Keefe | February 10, 2011 2:18 AM    Report this comment

Ed, you're right. I am working on something.

And no I am not a businessman. I cannot say much more here, but you can contact me goarnaut(at)yahoo.com

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 10, 2011 7:28 AM    Report this comment

And no I am not a businessman.<<

Your X-rays are back from the lab and we think we've found the problem.

I have been flying for just coming up on 42 years, half of that in aviation journalism. If I've heard "airplanes can be as cheap as cars" once, I've heard it a thousand times. The last credible person to say this was Vern Rayburn and he burned through more than a billion bucks trying to prove that Cessna, Gulfstream and Beech had it all wrong.

He not only failed, he failed in a spectacular, multi-million dollar supernova. Part of it--maybe most of it-was due to failures on the business side. The rest was because the fundamental concept of re-inventing airplanes and airplane manufacturing was fatally flawed, just as all the dinosaurs at Cessna, Gulfstream and Beech said it was.

None of this means it can't be done. Nor is there any reason to believe it can't be done just because it hasn't. But to do this, you have to overcome powerful, historical trends that have proven as fundamental as gravity.

Nonetheless, I remain ever willing to be awed and thrilled.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 10, 2011 7:51 AM    Report this comment

Where is Henry Ford when we really need him? And, let's do something about that 3rd class medical!

Posted by: Unknown | February 10, 2011 8:12 AM    Report this comment

Paul, it's easy to make sweeping generalizations like the idea of reinventing airplane manufacturing is "fatally flawed."

But let's look a little more closely at that "supernova" failure. I opined previously in your Eclipse 500 blog that the problem was Williams inability to deliver that cheap, efficient turbofan engine that was at the core of the Eclipse formula.

When Eclipse had to go and buy Pratt engines at several times the cost, the Eclipse premise of affordable jet was effectively dead.

In fairness to Williams, part of the problem was the weight gain of the Eclipse, which doomed the somewhat anemic small engines. (Which probably would have eventually made their targets, but time was a factor).

Eclipse did manage to introduce some innovation into the airframe construction process, but it was not actually a radical enough departure from the conventional to make a huge difference.

Continued...

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 10, 2011 10:50 AM    Report this comment

Now a jet that flies at 40,000 ft and 400 mph, even a pocket sized one, is a whole different ball game than a light piston plane.

Yes I do believe personal jets can and will become affordable. But they will not be 40,000 ft, 400 mph airplanes.

They will have small and cheap microturbine engines with heat recuperation cycle to increase fuel efficiency.

Have you seen the microturbines now selling like hotcakes from Honeywell and others that are getting fuel efficiency comparable to diesel generators they are replacing? The key is the recuperator which uses free heat energy in the exhaust to boost efficiency.

Unfortunately these recuperators are too big to be used on propulsion engines, but that is a technical challenge that is being worked on as we speak.

I think we will all be thrilled and awed when we have a small turbine with piston fuel specifics and price.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 10, 2011 11:03 AM    Report this comment

Great discussion! Just a couple of observations from a 48-year pilot and 36-year FBO:

When comparing the cost of airplanes and learning to fly with "the old days", consider that most of those single engine airplanes and those flight lessons were paid for with after-tax dollars. A good wage in 1960 was $10,000--and you got to KEEP all but about $1000 of that. There were no sales taxes, either. Today, the government takes a larger share of individual income.

It USED to be that people were defined by what they did--"I'm a GOLFER"--"I'm a BOATER"--"My hobby is HORSES." In today's "multi-tasking" world, people may get in an early round of golf, ride the horse, then spend the evening on the boat. The airplane competes with SEVERAL activities for time and money.

We do a fair job of teaching people to FLY, but a POOR job of teaching them to use the airplane. After receiving the license, pilots give the obligatory ride--then go out for the "$100 hamburger." After that, use falls off, and people quit flying because "It costs too much." In reality, it doesn't cost too much--it's the LACK OF PERCEIVED VALUE that is the issue. We need to teach pilots how to use the airplane to do OTHER things they may be interested in--visiting, fishing, sports, travel, etc. I tell prospective pilots that if they can't find anything interesting to do within the roughly 500 mile range of a GA airplane, perhaps they should look at another hobby--like an ANT FARM.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 10, 2011 4:27 PM    Report this comment

I particularly liked the comment from a poster that said (paraphrasing) "Do away with the 3rd class medical for simple GA airplanes, and the LSA catagory would cease to exist."

I couldn't agree more. In typical FAA fashion, they've corrupted the IDEA of LSA with arbitrary limitations on weight. Since when has gross weight had a bearing on aviation safety--other than the negative effect of FAA's OTHER arbitrary limitations on maximum weight for ULTRALIGHT aircraft. That resulted in under-engineered aircraft that often traded safety for weight compliance--enough so that pilots simply ignored the limitation on weight in the interest of their own safety. I see the same thing happening with LSAs. Limit stall speed--limit performance, limit the number of passengers--but limiting weight?

On the flip side--if a pilot gets a "low-performance rating" (LSA), MOST pilots would aspire to have a "High Performance Rating"--what could be better than having a document in your pocket that showed that you could command "high performance aircraft"?

Posted by: jim hanson | February 10, 2011 4:37 PM    Report this comment

In typical FAA fashion, they've corrupted the IDEA of LSA with arbitrary limitations on weight. <<

Can't blame the FAA for that, Jim. It pretty well left the specs up to the industry and the ASTM process. The weight limitation was set, in part, to be a compromise between limited LSA application to legacy models while stimulating a market for new airplanes.

At the time, that may have made sense, although it might not now. The 1320-pound limit hasn't been terribly stimulative.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 11, 2011 6:56 AM    Report this comment

Gordon, I don't agree that the cost Delta of the Williams versus the Pratt engine was ultimately determinative in Eclipse's failure. My guess is they could have gotten the engines for free and still failed.

The airplane set out to be the re-conceptualized design that would be manufactured in an entirely new way--just the disruptive technology you describe. Its business plan depended on large volume and high throughput, neither of which came remotely close to being realized. After the fact, the bankruptcy due diligence revealed that airplanes sold for $1.1M were costing $2M to build. That's a huge gap to close.

Recall that the intro price was something like $837,000. This sparked quite a lot of excitement and a buying frenzy that lasted a couple of years, to include profitable trading of early position. But again, the bankruptcy proceedings suggest that the planned volumes were never reliably there and to a large degree were based on DayJet's unproved business model.

Had the variables been adjusted--higher initial price, more realistic production goals, a less technologically advanced airframe at least for the first model, maybe things would have been different.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 11, 2011 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Paul, I have to take a bit of a different view.

I do not doubt that those airplanes that were built cost 2.2 million apiece. But how many airplanes did they actually build? About a tenth of their order book.

That is a big part of why their per unit cost was so high. This is not unusual for any new aerospace product even from established vendors, whether engine or airframe. The initial production racks up big losses.

Look, no one said making the affordable airplane was going to be easy. It's not a Sunday walk in the park, no matter what kind of technology or innovations you have.

But it is Possible. For Raburn it's too bad. I think he should have started an engine company instead of an airframe company.

Posted by: Gordon Arnaut | February 11, 2011 8:20 AM    Report this comment

About a tenth of their order book.<<

The reality may be more like a third of their order book. No one ever confirmed if those claimed orders were real.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | February 11, 2011 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Paul--"It (the FAA) pretty well left the specs up to the industry and the ASTM process. The weight limitation was set, in part, to be a compromise between limited LSA application to legacy models while stimulating a market for new airplanes. "

The 1320# weight limitation came from the European definition of a "microlight"--600 KG, or 1320 pounds. That design weight limitation pretty much guaranteed that what we got for LSAs were European designs. It's arbitrary--the FAA COULD have picked any number it wanted. Rather than adopting the European standard, it could have just as easily picked 1500 pounds--or 2000 pounds, or 2300 pounds--ALL of which would allow US designed airplanes, instead of giving the advantage to offshore designs.

The FAA abdicated leadership on LSAs. How sad is it that 10 years later, most aviation magazines STILL have monthly articles explaining the LSA rules.

I'll ask it again--how many LSAs do you suppose would be sold--and how many LSA pilots would obtain the license if the FAA simply made 3 changes: 1. Do away with the 3rd class medical for light fixed-gear (172-type) aircraft. 2. Give manufacturers some relief by barring those same aicraft from charter operations--thereby eliminating the need to "protect the non-flying public." 3. Apply the LSA training standards to pilots of these aircraft.

Do this--and GA will blossom with inexpensive, existing, U.S. made aircraft.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 15, 2011 1:11 PM    Report this comment

Jim, I agree with a lot of what you said except to say the FAA needed to 'push' for the weight increase within the ASTM Committee when the design standard was written. Even now, they could authorize a weight increase for grandfathered aircraft to fly under the LSA 'umbrella' within the USA.

Getting rid of the 3rd Class Physical would also help.

That said, the other element is reasonably priced fuel. In my opinion that is NOT $5 a gallon 100LL now or $10 a gallon 100LL which is a very real possibility. If you haven't already read the Blog on the Aviation Fuel Committee, I suggest you do so! With 100LL at its current price in my area, an old 172 rents for $101 an hour (wet) plus tax. There are some other factors driving this, but over 35% of this price is for the fuel! I'm finding it harder every day to justify this expense for an hour of 'pleasure flying'.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 15, 2011 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Most of those U.S. made "legacy" aircraft will run just fine on unleaded auto fuel--just as the existing legacy LSAs do. A C-85, whether mounted on a Cub or a Cessna 140 or a Luscombe is the same--what purpose is served by making one LSA compliant and not the others? There is little difference between a C-85 mounted on a Cub, or an O-200 on a 150. An O-300 on a Cessna 172 uses the same cylinders as the O-200 on a Cessna 150--and both burn premium unleaded just fine. We use unleaded premium on our 150 and 160 hp. Lycomings on Skyhawks and Warriors--putting thousands of hours on them (though we do run some 100 octane in them in accordance with the STC).

If the FAA would "simply simplify" the LSA rules and allow more U.S.-made aircraft to be flown under LSA rules, you wouldn't see much of a market for Eurodesigns--people would be flying U.S. made aircraft (the preference of LSA sales already)--and those airplanes work just fine on readily available auto fuel.

In Minnesota, we have no problem getting super unleaded. Can't get super unleaded where you live? It's much easier to change the law to allow it than it is to develop new fuels and handling. We got into this mess with a stroke of the regulatory pen--we can get out the same way.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 15, 2011 5:46 PM    Report this comment

Jim,

I am happy for you. Your optimism on changing the law to allow for unadulterated auto gas in Minnesota sounds like a real freedom. Where I live, in Washington state, it would be impossible to convince the Liberals in control of all three houses of the government to eliminate the absolute requirement for alcohol in the gas. They seem to think (wrongly, I believe) this is good for the environment and also good for domestic fuel generation. Actually, the stories I hear include the notion it takes more fossil fuel to produce the alcohol than the fuel replaced. It is really another redistribution program intended to pump up the farmer's income. (It also pumps up the price of food since the demand for corn is increased.)

There are lots of American made legacy aircraft that meet the LSA definition in FAR 1.1. There are also some good selling new S-LSA planes made in America. I think the only reason the European planes sell so well is they present a good product for the price. It may not be a price everyone can pay, but for those who want a sports car like airplane they are very nice.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 15, 2011 6:17 PM    Report this comment

A question, and I'm serious as I really don't know, what does the group think the percentage of potential buyers of LSA's are motivated by the lack of a required medical? Is is a majority, less? Are there any reliable statistics? Please, your thoughts.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 15, 2011 8:19 PM    Report this comment

Miguel keep in mind you are dealing with two distinct pilot groups:

Group One includes private pilots that (for whatever reason) want to downsize to an S-LSA. What I've personally heard was to avoid the Third Class Medical and/or get a simplier aircraft.

Group Two are the Sport Pilots who came in that way and have never been required to take a a Third Class Medical so they probably have no idea what it is or what is required. Bottom line: You can check the FAA website to determine the number of Sport Pilot licences but I don't know of any way to find out an unknown statistic like this one.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 15, 2011 8:36 PM    Report this comment

Miguel,

I can only speak for myself. I am completely motivated by lack of a medical certificate. I don't have one and if I got one I would be forever grounded. If you want details please contact me directly - psm(at)att.net.

The ability to fly without a medical got me back into aviation after a 25 year hiatus. Now that I have a couple of years flying a nice S-LSA I believe there would be a viable market for these wonderful planes even without the medical issue.

I don't think you will find good statistics on this issue. There is absolutely no paper work involved in the process of higher rated pilots flying with reduced privileges of a Sport Pilot and no medical. You just do it.

One aspect of this whole discussion is the question of why the FAA went along with the notion of flying without a medical. The fact is that a lot of people were already doing just that - illegally. Indeed there are a lot of people, particularly in Alaska, who fly without any FAA license at all. One FAA guy I met at a trade show told me they would consider it a major accomplishment if just half of the pilots in Alaska got licenses. I also learned the FAA medical people know that around 10 percent of the people killed in airplane accidents are under the influence of prescription drugs that would get them grounded if the FAA knew in advance. So, what is really new about the SP/LSA situation regarding medicals is the notion that you can LEGALLY fly without a medical certificate.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 15, 2011 8:51 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for the comment Richard.

I guess my confusion is that I never found the medical to be much of a problem. I've had all three classes and, of course, as I got older and no longer flew for a living, I moved to 2nd and then 3rd class.

Hell, the old saying is, "if you can walk in and are still breathing, you've got the 3rd class."

As the certified SEL equivalents of LSA's would only require the 3rd class, I don't understand why that is such an issue when you can buy a good used certified a/c for half of a new LSA.

I'm not picking sides here and I'm not hung up on certified a/c.I owned a homebuilt (T-18) and loved it. Although it is certainly not a LSA, I would love to have an amphibious AirCam as there is no certified equivalent. However, I don't understand $100,000+ for a 2 seat Cub wannabe.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 15, 2011 8:54 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Paul for your insight.

Yes, I understand your situation and can emphasize. Losing one's medical is a heartbreaking event and I can understand why the LSA's would offer you another chance to do the thing you love in life. I'm glad to hear you found the answer for yourself.

My question was not why it is important to some but what percentage of potential buyers of LSA's are motivated by the lack of a requirement for medicals. Perhaps there is no reliable answer as there doesn't seem to be any verifiable statistics on the subject.

I do agree that there are lots more pilots flying without medicals and even without licenses out there than people realize. I've know quite a few. They just don't give a damn. If you want to buy an a/c and just fly it for your own pleasure, who's going to know? I'm not advocating it but I do acknowledge it.

I also agree that the FAA blew it on this issue. Why did they have to follow the Europeans? Hopefully, they will change it someday.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 15, 2011 9:09 PM    Report this comment

You are welcome Miguel,

While it's true some cubs and clones qualify as LSA it is not true that all LSA are cub-like. The one I've had for a couple of years, a Tecnam Echo Super Deluxe, isn't even a cousin to a cub. It has side by side seating and cruises over 110 KIAS on under 5 gph. It is very sporty in handling and has a dual glass panel with backup steam gauges and GPS coupled autopilot along with a glove leather interior. It is not an instrument platform but could easily be used for instrument training in VMC. The single axis autopilot qualifies it as a TAA - Technically Advanced Airplane - for training purposes.

The most amazing part is how simple it is to fly. There are no "Systems" to deal with. There is no mixture control, no carb heat and of course no prop control or retractable gear. It does have flaps which must be used for takeoff. When you fly this plane you don't have to think about the plane's systems - you just fly it. It really is pleasant to fly for recreation.

For pilots with sufficient training, I think all light planes are suitable to fly without a medical certificate. The solution to this is not to expand the Sport Pilot privileges to other aircraft, it is to eliminate the 3rd class entirely and let pilots fly what ever planes they are appropriately qualified for. I'm not completely sure about IFR, but if they allowed it I would certainly get the instrument rating for myself and actually use it.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 15, 2011 10:42 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

It sounds like you have a great airplane. I'm glad you enjoy it so much. There is something about having your very own airplane that is so satisfying, no? I will admit to having kissed a spinner or two.

I guess it's like Richard said earlier, "..you are dealing with two distinct pilot groups" except it seems to me that, on a broader scale, we are dealing with a divide that is as old as aviation itself, pilots who are more interested in going somewhere and pilots (or "flyers") who will always fly just for the sheer joy of it. I, like many others, fall somewhere in between or maybe in both.

However, the theme of the discussion is "do LSAs just cost too much?" I guess it just depends whom you are asking.

I sense that many pilots will pay more for joy than for transportation but that leaves out so many others. Sad.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 12:15 AM    Report this comment

Yes, Miguel, flying can be expensive. It certainly is not for everyone.

My take is the reason most people shouldn't fly has to do with their attitude. This includes some licensed pilots, but mostly non-fliers.

I'm not really very experienced as a pilot, but I have been flying on and off for my entire adult life. I'm convinced flying is an activity that will kill you if you don't take reasonable precautions and keep safety as your first priority.

My own flying is a mix of local and cross country. The Tecnam was only a fill-in for the plane I built from an kit and had to ground when it became clear to the NTSB that it had major design problems - a Zodiac XL. Those problems have been identified and a design upgrade released. My plane should be ready for its first flight in a month or two. That is really the plane I hope will be great. It won't have the leather or backup steam gauges, but otherwise it should be better in every way than the Tecnam. It is still a legitimate (or at least almost legitimate) LSA, but has 30 percent more horsepower than the Rotax powered Tecnam. Also, my 5 years of building effort makes it special.

I hope this discussion has left you and others feeling a bit more positive toward LSA. I think they are just great - so long as it is recreation you have in mind. That can be local or long distance and they still work well. They compare very favorably to new TC'd planes in both flight characteristics and costs.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 1:44 AM    Report this comment

Paul Mulwitz--"I am happy for you. Your optimism on changing the law to allow for unadulterated auto gas in Minnesota sounds like a real freedom. "

Minnesota is also famously liberal--the home of Humphrey, Mondale, and Wellstone. As one of our large radio station spoofs "The land where absolutely NOTHING is allowed.

Minnesota is also the largest ethanol producing state, and I agree that it has been a disaster. That said--in Minnesota and MOST states, you can still get unleaded super premium--and if you can do THAT, it blows away the rationale for Eurodesigned LSAs. As I mentioned before--make light GA aircraft available, and you will sell very few Eurodesigned LSAs.

I've owned 528 airplanes over the years, and brokered about twice that many. I own and fly a 582-powered Kitfox, a Kolb Firestar, and a Cessna 120. It makes absolutely no sense that I can fly the first two as LSAs, and not the 120.

I write for several aviation magazines, and have done pilot reports on several LSAs. Some are good, some are not--but most of that market wouldn't exist if we could operate Skyhawk and smaller aircraft as LSAs.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 10:09 AM    Report this comment

Regarding the medical issue:

I know of many pilots that operate without a medical certificate. Many operate licensed aircraft from farm airstrips--avoiding airports. Many of these same airplanes aren't annualed, either, as the pilots stay "off the grid." Is safety served by this medical requirement?

Anecdotally, we have 10 LSAs in the local area. Two are "legacy" aircraft--the rest are homebuilts (like my Kitfox) or "legalized" "fat ultralights"--like my Kolb. EVERY ONE of these aircraft is owned by a licensed pilot. So much for LSAs spurring a growth in flight training! Paul Bertorelli--do you have figures on how many pilots hold an LSA-only rating? I can't find them.

You just can't make a case for the third-class medical for private pilot operations. Pilot incapacitation for medical reasons is infinitely inconsequential. I also am a glider pilot. Despite the fact that gliders attract those who CAN'T HOLD a medical, there are very few cases of glider pilot incapacitation. A few years ago, there was one--but the pilot killed was the TOW PILOT--who DID hold a valid medical.

As my AME says upon leaving his office "You aren't going to die today, unless you step in front of a truck. Tomorrow, all bets are off."

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 10:21 AM    Report this comment

Jim,

Good points on the medical issue.

It would be interesting to know how many accidents were caused by medical incapacitation of 3rd class medical holders.

I believe there are lots more pilots operating "off the grid" than most people realize and that number will only increase.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 10:34 AM    Report this comment

Jim,

I disagree with you on the fuel issue being the only reason LSA are so popular. I'm sure the fuel issue has a small but possibly significant impact on cost of flying for some people. However, I think avgas is the proper fuel to use for aviation regardless of the cost. Perhaps this is because I prefer to fly near the 10,000 foot level rather than near the ground. By my estimation, fuel is the least important contributor to the cost of aviation. Fixed costs are murder, and maintenance and inspections probably cost the average light plane owner more than fuel. Unfortunately, the average owner flies less than 50 hours per year.

The LSA rule has generated around a hundred new make and model entries in the market place and over 2,000 new airplane sales. You may be correct that the primary mover here is the medical issue. Imagine what would happen to general aviation if the 3rd class were dropped completely and pilots could legally fly any light plane without the government prying into their medical condition.

I think the LSA movement could survive such a change, but I agree it would attract a smaller crowd. Still, the FAA is tasked with promoting aviation and eliminating the 3rd class would have a big positive impact.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 11:18 AM    Report this comment

How do we go about changing or eliminating the 3rd class medical? There are a lot of pilots out there that don't think about loosing their medical. But it can happen to anyone, I know now.

Posted by: Unknown | February 16, 2011 12:07 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

I realize the theme of this discussion is about LSAs but I'd like to comment about their relationship to the rest of GA for a moment.

Fuel cost may not be a prime factor for LSAs that burn 5 gph but for the rest of General Aviation it can be huge.

Our last twin, which we used primarily for business, burned an average of 36 gph. With 2oo+ gals in the tanks, that's $1,000+ to fill up! At some point, it's just not sustainable.

I realize that not everyone needs, or desires, a twin but we needed an aircraft with anytime, anywhere,in almost any weather capability with 6 seats and only a twin offers that combination.

For those who look to LSAs as trainers and as a stepping stone to larger aircraft, this has to be considered, as I have stated before, if there is no ladder upwards, many will give up before they start.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 12:14 PM    Report this comment

Miguel,

One way to look at aviation: Airplanes are machines that turn fuel into flight. The more flight you want the more fuel it takes. Here flight can be measured in weight, seats, speed, and similar metrics.

Your twin burns 36 gph, so I assume it has a total of around 600 hp. It also has 6 seats (8 seats counting crew?) and probably goes really fast. A high end LSA goes nearly 120 knots carrying two people on 100 hp at 5 gph.

A legacy trainer, the C-150, has similar seats and hp to the new LSA but only goes around 90 knots. It also has a much smaller cabin (the Tecnam is 4 inches wider than a C-172). It has an engine that requires more attention than the Rotax - mixture control and carb heat. The mags are likely to fire if you move the prop and cause injury while the Rotax ignition won't do that.

The LSA is a nice newly engineered alternative to the legacy trainer. If you want to get that much more flight on the same fuel, you must pay somewhere. The bill is in the purchase price.

While it might be OK to use some LSAs for primary training, this is not what they were designed for. I just don't have a great solution for the primary training problem. Maybe a rebirth in GA will get the certified plane manufacturers going on a new technology purpose designed trainer. Besides the technology changes, a new trainer must hold big fat Americans that abound today. Many folks now take primary training in 172s because they don't fit in a 152.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 3:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul, Clearly many LSA manufacturers have not considered the training missions, particularly in the area of payload. However, I would argue that some HAVE done their homework and their product IS worthy of training.

We use the Flight Design CTLS for training. It has an excellent passenger payload WITH a reasonable fuel load, rugged landing gear and nice flying characteristics. With the night lighting package and a Garmin GNS-430w, we can train Sport, Private, and Instrument pilots in it (confirmed with FAA). If the FAA ever signs the "glass = complex" rule, we'll also be able to train Commercial & CFI candidates in it (also confirmed with FAA). This makes for an incredibly useful training tool, at 5GPH. We also are a dealer for the DreamFlyer, a low-cost motion simulator. It doesn't matter if the sim hours don't count in a log book because it reduces the actual airplane time required to earn a license by getting proficiency on the ground.

Together they make for a powerful, reasonably-priced training suite that is exciting and appropriate for new students. This is one very practical way to get new pilots started while keeping the excitement up and the cost down.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 16, 2011 3:43 PM    Report this comment

Paul Mulwitz--"I disagree with you on the fuel issue being the only reason LSA are so popular."

I didn't say that it is the only isssue--It was in response to Richard Norris' post yesterday.

The market has proven that LSAs are NOT viable trainers--and don't bring the cost of learning to fly down. Light Plane Maintenance did a study on LSAs used for training--for the most part, they just don't hold up--PARTLY because they are attempting to meet that artificial 600KG weight restriction. LSAs that were originally built as heavier aircraft and "downsized" to fit the LSA standard (Pipersport and Jabiru come to mind) tend to fare better.

The fuel burn on LSAs IS lower, but again, that isn't the big problem. Set 55% power on a Cessna 150, and you'll burn slightly over 4 GPH. How about a Skyhawk? If you only want to go 100 mph--do as Piper did with the Cherokee 140 in combatting the 150. They came out with "instructional cruise speed"--set 2050 RPM--which equates to about 100 mph and 5.5 GPH--the same as a 150. (Continued)

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 4:02 PM    Report this comment

"I think avgas is the proper fuel to use for aviation regardless of the cost. Perhaps this is because I prefer to fly near the 10,000 foot level " We fly our Skyhawks and Cherokee Warriors from 1200 feet to 10,000' all the time. We have NEVER had a case of vapor lock--but then, we buy fuel only from a local refiner, who supplies the paperwork for minimum octane rating and Reid Vapor Pressure. Any good FBO should monitor the quality of fuel--if nothing else, for self-protection.

You may not like running autogas--but it DOES WORK, it IS LEGAL, and if the environmental control freaks have their way, auto gas or its derivatives may be all the fuel we get.

Don't get me wrong--I love LSAs--I like the innovation they bring, but the reality is that most of the best-selling LSAs today are copies of legacy airplanes--mainly due to the tried and true designs--ability to take "conventional" engines (in my opinion, an unwarranted "Rotax revolt", and the ease of repair in the event that the gee-whiz glass manufacturer goes out of business.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 4:08 PM    Report this comment

Tim,

I'm delighted to hear you are getting good use from your CTLS. My comment was about the standard development rather than the individual offerings from manufacturers.

Training is a function that S-LSA airplanes might be suitable for or might not. Probably the biggest area of concern with many S-LSA is the ruggedness of the landing gear. Primary students can be pretty tough on landing gear. The ASTM standard just doesn't address this area. Of course, any manufacturer can use what ever ideas it wants to produce its design so long as the minimum requirements of the standards are met.

Training is a commercial operation. The ASTM standards are developed with recreational flying in mind. There is no reason a particular plane can't be good for both functions.

Did I mention I recently became a voting member of the ASTM F37 committee? That defines my orientation to be more "Global" than any particular manufacturer.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 4:12 PM    Report this comment

The training issue goes beyond LSAs. I'm aware of one flight school that had expensive problems with SR-20s when a student might have tapped the tail skid down early.

Hopefully, the current Cessna engineers for the 162 have kept some of the experience of their ancestors and make the follow-on training plane rugged enough for the environment. I know that is why they use the O-200.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | February 16, 2011 4:40 PM    Report this comment

Paul, no I didn't know, but good on you for participating. Just like any new business, FAA and ASTM didn't necessarily envision where LSA might go, but if they're a bit flexible, it CAN go in positive directions.

Posted by: Tim Busch | February 16, 2011 5:06 PM    Report this comment

The thread is evolving into the use of LSAs as trainers. I like that--if they meet the needs of commercial operators, they will often meet the needs of individual owners.

Several magazines have analyzed the competitiveness of LSAs as trainers as compared to continuing to use old trainers--150s, for example. With the exception of high-volume flight schools that can amortize the $120,000 (or more) cost of the LSA over 1000 hours per year, the answer seems to be no.

We've explored fuel consumption--where there is little or no saving. With a high hull value, insurance is higher for the LSA. There is little or no difference in overhaul reserves. Storage is the same. The cost of the money to purchase the LSA is higher--by a factor of about 6 times. That leaves only maintenance--the great unknown. Given that the cost for the LSA is equal to or higher than an old trainer, it is unlikely that you can make up the difference in maintenance.

There IS the "wow factor" of glass cockpits--but let operators replace the gyros in a Cessna with the very same Dynon by making the Cessna ALSO into a LSA--and that advantage disappears.

As Bertorelli says--LSAs are priced right--but they will not ever be competitive with older trainers as inexpensive trainers or personal airplanes. A number of operators here have tried them--and have sold the LSAs. (Continued)

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 5:35 PM    Report this comment

Equal the footing. Allow all light airplanes to operate under the same terms as the current crop of LSAs, and watch the market for $120-$150,000 600KG two-place airplanes dry up. That's the beauty of the marketplace--the "invisible hand of Adam Smith" weeds out winners and losers--unless the government interferes. Let the FAA show some leadership--and leadership doesn't always mean MORE regulation--just level the playing field.

That said, there IS a place for LSAs--the Kit-built LSA market produces a good, safe, simple, economical, and NEW airplane for an investment of roughly $50,000 (plus or minus)--PLUS 600-800 hours of time. It can't be used as a commercial trainer, but it CAN be used for having fun--something we need more of in aviation.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 16, 2011 5:43 PM    Report this comment

Jim,

You are making a lot of sense, but it isn't clear to me what you are suggesting.

Some people here want to expand the Sport Pilot privileges to more complex and heavier airplanes. Others want to leave the Sport Pilot and LSA domain alone and reduce the bar for all light planes to drop the medical certificate requirement for non-commercial operations.

Are you in one of these camps or the other? Or perhaps you are thinking about some other adjustment . .

Part of the problem here is the new rules are incredibly complicated. That makes them hard to understand and even harder to discuss.

For this discussion, I suggest we consider LSA airplanes as those that Sport Pilots can fly. That means if we expand the definition of LSA to include planes such as C-172s or Beechcraft Bonanzas then Sport pilots could legally fly them. I don't think that is a good approach since Sport Pilots get such a minimal amount of training and we can assume they also have minimal pilot experience.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 5:56 PM    Report this comment

Regarding maintenance - you need to keep in mind even if a C-150/C-152 or others are approved to be flown with a Sport Pilot License they still have to be maintained in accordance with the original FARs/CARs under which they were originally built.

Regarding the different licenses - Sport Pilot should stay in 'simple' two-seat aircraft restricted to 120 Knots max. If you want to fly a four-seater or more complex - get a Private Pilots license.

That said I am in favor of dropping the 3rd Class Medical for Private Pilot up to 6000 Pounds for non-commercial use.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 16, 2011 9:03 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

Perhaps the line could be drawn at the current "complex aircraft" requirements.

Anything below that would not require a medical or a PP license.

Most Sport Pilots shouldn't have any problem with a C-172, fixed gear Cherokee or equivalent but a Bonanza or C-210 is too much for most certified PPs with little experience or training.

Just a thought. There are so many factors here.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 9:15 PM    Report this comment

Richard,

Thank you for agreeing with me.

I only differ with you on the 6000 pound limit. I'd just get rid of the 3rd class altogether. The difference is small, but eliminating it completely is much cleaner from a bureaucracy point of view. I doubt there are many people who want to fly planes over 6000 pounds for non-commercial reasons. Of course we can make an exception for John Travolta . . .

Even with the 3rd class medical gone each pilot will still need to make a personal decision for each flight that he is fit to command the plane. That is a better system than the paper medical certificate. It exists already, so no further changes are needed

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 9:21 PM    Report this comment

Miguel,

I agree with you completely regarding the need for training and experience to fly complex and/or high performance airplanes. However, I see this as a training issue rather than a medical one. If a pilot knows how to fly these aircraft then the possession of a 3rd class medical certificate changes nothing.

I would rather see the LSA definition remain essentially as is. It defines a nice entry level airplane that is suitable for any licensed pilot to fly - at least under ideal conditions. It also defines a plane that is economical to fly and just plain fun.

As mentioned above, I would just get rid of the 3rd class medical altogether. That would naturally allow properly trained and certified pilots to fly any plane under any conditions.

It may seem risky or a poor choice for personal flights in multi-engine planes, but consider the AirCam. I don't particularly want to fly one of those, but I don't think it presents a lot more challenge than most single engine planes. Of course a multi-engine rating would be required.

I just don't think the medical certificate has any significant value. I would not jump so far as to eliminate it for all operations. Perhaps the general public deserves this silly piece of paper when hiring a pilot or boarding an airliner. It is a small jump to eliminate the medical for personal flights.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 9:30 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

I see your point. In other words, there should be no medical requirement at all for non-commercial pilots. I must agree as I never saw much need for it either.

Well, the AirCam is a very special aircraft and, with it's engines near center-line, it's not like any normal twin. An engine failure on takeoff in those can quickly become deadly. My concern is that, if someone got their multi-engine in an AirCam, would they be legal to fly a older Twin Comanche? That would scare the hell out of me.

Lots of facets here.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 10:06 PM    Report this comment

Miguel,

I never tried to sum it up as well as you just did.

I actually approve of the state driver's license requirement for Sport Pilots and others reducing their privileges to those of Sport Pilots. It turns out the states will pull a persons driver's license in a heart-beat when they learn of a serious medical condition that makes driving unsafe. This is not the kind of bureaucratic nonsense the FAA does on medicals. It is reserved for people clearly unfit to drive. I don't know all the possible conditions, but epilepsy with blackouts qualifies. A person subject to becoming unconscious with little or no warning is not safe on the road. He is also not safe as PIC of any flight.

So I would sum up my suggestion as allowing all non-commercial flights without any medical certification except for possession of a driver's license. I still would have all pilots required to have appropriate training, certification, ratings, and other such stuff for the equipment and conditions they are flying. Sport pilots would still be limited to LSA, Day, VFR, and moderate altitude.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 10:27 PM    Report this comment

Paul,

That makes sense to me. Now how do we convince the FAA?

Great conversations here. I do learn so much from all of you. Thanks.

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 16, 2011 10:38 PM    Report this comment

That makes sense to me. Now how do we convince the FAA? <<

I've been working on that for years. Indeed, I got the idea from an FAA standards guy. He said there were background conversations taking place about the same time the Sport Pilot rule came out. The initial results were to see how the no-medical requirement for SP worked out in accident experience. Now we know. There is no apparent impact of lacking medical certification for Sport Pilots. I think the same is true of old guys like me flying with sport pilot privileges.

There is hope the FAA will eventually come around. For now, all we can do is nibble away at them.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 16, 2011 11:15 PM    Report this comment

Light sport needs to get out of the airports to sell flying and aircraft A $100K boat can be parked in your driveway The neighbor's pretty 18 yo daughter will talk to you and get you in trouble from your wife Stick one in the local mall and see what interest it attracts Better yet have a 5 minute trailer-able one in your driveway polishing it and compare notes with your buddies with boats

Posted by: Peter walker | February 16, 2011 11:49 PM    Report this comment

Paul Mulwitz--"Some people here want to expand the Sport Pilot privileges to more complex and heavier airplanes. Others want to leave the Sport Pilot and LSA domain alone and reduce the bar for all light planes to drop the medical certificate requirement for non-commercial operations. Are you in one of these camps or the other? Or perhaps you are thinking about some other adjustment . ."

No need to make an "either/or" choice, I've suggested BOTH. Do away with the 3rd class medical, and let pilots fly simple planes under Sport Pilot rules. Miguel sums it up nicely--if you want to fly a Bonanza, get a private license--still no medical required.

I do think we need to have concurrent regulation allowing LSA-like maintenance and modifications to existing aircraft. Allow Dynon units to replace old instruments--can anybody really make the argument that allowing these units, with traffic and weather would NOT make for safer operations? If you can get a Sport maintenance certificate to maintain your own Kitfox, why not be able to do the same thing to your Skyhawk? The FAA usually counters that with the "need to protect the traveling public." Throw that argument out by not allowing these basic aircraft to fly the non-flying public on charter flights. (continued)

Posted by: jim hanson | February 17, 2011 10:48 AM    Report this comment

As mentioned, simply allowing these aircraft to be operated without medicals and with LSA-like maintenance provisions would substantially reduce the cost of flying and add utility to owning these aircraft.

Given a choice between a $30,000 Skyhawk and a $130,000 2-place Eurodesign--both operated under the same rules--MOST people would opt for the Skyhawk. By mandating the artificial limitations of LSAs, the FAA has CREATED the mess. Fortunately, the fix is easy. 1. Use Miguels standard--any aircraft that doesn't meet the FAA requirement for complex or high-performance aircraft may be flown as Light Sport. 2. No medicals required for these aircraft 3. These aircraft may be used for instruction, but NOT for carrying the non-flying public (charter). 4. These aircraft may be maintained by the owner, using the existing LSA criteria. 5. Use the existing LSA training criteria for initial LSAs (graduated endorsements). Certificated private pilots will not be affected.

That's ALL! Compare that to the FAA mish-mash that LSA regulations have become.

Posted by: jim hanson | February 17, 2011 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Jim: Some valid points; however, I think you need to take another look at LSA maintenance. Here are some reasosns: 1. No one can do any maintenance to an S-LSA that is not provided in the Aircract OEM Maintenance Manual. 2. No one can perform any maintenance beyond the level of maintenance in the Aircraft OEM Maintenance Manual (this includes assembly/subassembly repairs). 3. The Aircraft OEM must authorize any other repairs, modifications, or alterations IN WRITING with complete instructions. A Form 337 cannot be used. 4. If the Aircraft OEM will not authroize (and document) a repair, modification, or alteration it cannot be done - unless the owner converts the S-LSA to an E-LSA first. If the work is done without Aircraft OEM authorization, the S-LSA will no longer be considered compliant with the ASTM Standards and, essentially illegal to fly (may also effect insurance coverage). There are other issues, but I think you get the idea.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 17, 2011 11:34 AM    Report this comment

I'm aware of the maintenance requirements as I built my Kitfox and Kolb as experimental aircraft, and now fly them as E-LSAs.

Yes--FAA and the manufacturer would have to agree to a mondified maintenance program for legacy aircraft if the "LSA" moniker was still followed in the form it is today--but there is no reason that we have to use the LSA format. As stated, the FAA could simply do away with the medical certificate, allow non-complex aircraft to be operated on the same maintenacne program they already have. They could also allow pilots who obtain the relatively easy to obtain LSA repairman's certificate to inspect those aircraft--is there REALLY any difference between maintaining my Kitfox and my Cessna 120?

I would bet that the original aircraft manufacturer (if they still exist) would be overjoyed to move their old products to a non-commercial status--eliminating all of the liability involved with "protecting the non-flying public"--in essence, letting these aircraft be maintained much like current homebuilts are today.

The complexity and contradictions you cite in the FARs are a primary example of the mishmash that FAA has made of a simple concept like LSAs. The regulatory pen is what has caused this regulatory soup--and the answer is to use that same pen to get us out of the mess--DEREGULATE whenever possible!

Posted by: jim hanson | February 18, 2011 3:22 PM    Report this comment

>> DEREGULATE whenever possible! <<

Jim,

I couldn't agree more.

"We're from the FAA and we're here to help you.:)

Posted by: Miguel Ángel Quiñonez | February 18, 2011 3:32 PM    Report this comment

Jim,

I think I like you ideas, but I am not hopeful you can get FAA to go along with them.

Experimental planes are the simplest version of this mess. They don't require annual inspections. Rather, they require annual condition inspections. The inspector must hold THE repairman certificate for the plane or be an A&P.

LSA are similar, but require one of the two different LSA repairman certificates.

TC'd planes require annual inspections. This includes the sort of condition inspection required for experimental and LSA certified planes. It also requires for the licensed mechanic to perform a compliance inspection to insure the plane still matches the type certificate and has all required ADs in place.

If you want to change the maintenance requirements for TC'd planes to be the same as LSA then you have to come up with a whole new mechanism for the FAA and manufacturer to deal with required design changes. AD's no longer would apply and the process built into the LSA standards would not be properly established. I just don't think this will work even if the authorities tried to go along with the idea.

It seems to me many of the suggestions and objections raised here are solely designed to reduce the cost of flying. This is nice, but it just won't fly (sorry about the pun). It took many years and a lot of effort from individuals, groups like the EAA and the FAA to get this going. It still gets regular revisions by both the FAA and ASTM to make the new system work.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | February 18, 2011 3:48 PM    Report this comment

I've said it before but it is worth repeating: The ASTM Standards for S-LSA are for an international audience. The FAA has input in the process at the committee level; however they can only directly change conditions related to S-LSA built and/or sold within the USA. Some of the changes being suggested would require changes to the FARS which can take several years or the standards which require either committee (international) approval or a FAA only ANNEX to the standard which also has to be approved by the committee.

Posted by: Richard Norris | February 18, 2011 4:21 PM    Report this comment

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