The notion of raising the weight limit for light sport aircraft seems to wax and wane and it came up this week again at the Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring. It's not exactly clear to me what this will accomplish, but at the LAMA dinner on Thursday, EAA's Rod Hightower said the idea may be on the table as a means of improving safety.
I'm not sure how that would work. The light sport segment hasn't built enough of a record to judge accident patterns in any meaningful way. We do know that some LSAs don't hold up very well in the training environment because they just lack the structure to be as durable as, say, a Cessna 150. But adding weight is not necessarily the solution to that, although redesigning certain parts based on field experience may be.
Higher weight limits could help some manufacturers whose airplanes are already on the heavy side. Legend, for instance, recently installed the Lycoming O-233 in its popular Cub. Compared to other LSAs, the Legends tend toward the heavy and putting in a heavier, more powerful engine pushes them to the practical limit. A higher allowable gross would help.
But what regulation giveth on the one hand, it taketh away on the other. Depending on how such a rule is implemented, a weight increase could include more legacy airplanes under the LSA umbrella, including Cessna 120s and 140s Luscombe 8Es and some of the Taylorcraft and Aeronca models that are now just over the weight line. Unfortunately for companies trying to sell new LSAs, every legacy airplane out there potentially represents one less sale in an industry that needs every sale it can get.
The 1320-pound gross weight limit for U.S. LSAs wasn't entirely arbitrary. It was intended to include just enough of the legacy fleet to prime the pump, but not so much as to discourage the development of new models. That intent has worked a little too well, perhaps. There are so many LSAs out there and so many companies flogging them that hardly any are doing well at it. The longer we go without the inevitable shakeout, the worse it will be for the industry itself and customers. Buyers like choice, but there's so much of it that I think many just tune out, deciding they'll wait until the strong companies emerge as survivors.
Walking the line at Sebring this week, I got the distinct impression of an industry that's losing energy. Or at least the show is. Bending to economic reality, some of the exhibitors seemed to have down scaled from last year and the show seemed less expansive. I'm still not seeing the ignition point I've been looking for and too many manufacturers talk as though larger volume sales are just around the corner. I don't see it. Sooner or later, we're going to have to get past this whistling-through-the-graveyard phase and on to the firmer ground of realistic sales volume. I'm not sure if a weight increase would help or hinder that.