AVmail: March 22, 2010
Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.
Letter of the Week: Light Sport's Future Is Bright As Is
Last week, Larry Stencel submitted a letter entitled "Revamp Light Sport to Save GA."
His letter suggested that the Light Sport movement has failed to be the "last great hope" for aviation. Mr. Stencel's view of the light sport industry is far different than our experience. This letter is submitted on behalf of the owners and managers of Chesapeake Sport Pilot. We opened our doors in January 2007 with one aircraft, two instructors, a handful of students, and a pilot's lounge as a pre-flight/post-flight briefing area. Fast forward to today: We have eight light sport aircraft and seventeen instructors. We have over 60 active students and many more active renters. We built a 6,000-square-foot hangar facility this past fall. All of this was built on the shoulders of light sport aircraft and sport pilots.
When our school first opened, nearly all of our clients were retirees, as Mr. Stencel discusses; however, we have seen a major demographic shift as the industry has matured. By the end of our second year, the working-age professionals significantly outnumbered retirees among our customers. And in this past year, we have seen an influx of young pilots. Just in the past two weeks, during spring break at the local school districts, we had nearly half a dozen teenagers come by the school to take introductory flights as they (and their parents) evaluated sport pilot training for the summer break.
As for Mr. Stencel's comment that only 1,000 SLSA aircraft have been sold in the past 5 years, those numbers are misleading. You must remember that during the first two years of the light sport rules, there essentially were no SLSAs, as the industry was still drafting its consensus standards for "certification" of new aircraft. During the last year of that period, we were in a major recession, and nothing was selling in this country, whether it was houses or airplanes. In reality, SLSAs have only been selling for two years. A thousand aircraft in two years for a brand-new fledgling industry is pretty good!
Regarding his proposal to change the rules to allow a higher gross weight, thats undercut a stable and growing industry. There are many aircraft that have been designed for the 1,320-lb. limit and perform exceptionally. Technology has improved vastly since the Cessna 150 first rolled off the production line in 1957. For example, one of the main training aircraft at our flight school, a Tecnam Echo Super, a plane that looks much like a Cessna 150, consistently takes off in well under 1000', climbs like a bat out of hell being close to TPA by the end of our 3000'-foot runway, and sports a 13:1 glide ratio and a 600-lb. useful load. Its engine, a Rotax 912ULS, sips fuel at about 3GPH in a training environment, automatically adjusts its mixture, requires no carburetor heat, and has a 2000-hour TBO without requiring a top overhaul to make TBO. That's certainly no Cessna 150!
Modern safety features are certainly available on new LSAs. Our Tecnams feature a steel roll cage surrounding the cockpit, and nearly all LSAs offer a BRS as optional equipment. The accident statistics also show that many of the accidents in LSAs that people have survived were those that would not have been survivable in older and heavier (more mass and momentum) training aircraft not built to modern design standards.
This industry is new, growing and evolving. It is not fair to compare the cost of a new LSA to that of a 30-year-old Cessna, nor is it fair to say what we see now is what we will always have in the light sport industry. What we need to look at are trends, and those trends are positive. Not only are more people staying in aviation through light sport, but as the younger generation slowly discovers the industry, more people are getting into aviation, as we had hoped. As a used market for SLSAs is slowly developing, the cost of purchasing a used LSA is slowly going down. More and more flight schools are becoming receptive to adding an LSA leaseback to their fleet, providing yet another way to make LSA ownership affordable.
Rome was not built in a day, nor will the light sport industry be. As more flight schools offer sport pilot training and light sport aircraft rentals, we will see more pilots stay in aviation (those that would have stopped due to medical concerns), and we will see more individuals become pilots (due to the lower cost to get a license). Our experience over the past three years has shown that the trends in the LSA industry are positive. With more pilots and more planes, general aviation is getting a boost.
The Owners and Management of Chesapeake Sport Pilot
Here in Australia we have the RAAus (Recreational Aviation Australia). There has been huge growth as older pilots move out of the PPL/certified aircraft world into RAAus and corresponding decreases in the number of private licence holders.
The requirements are similar to LSA, but only recently has the weight limit gone from 540Kg to 600Kg to align with LSA. Of course, they just used to fly overweight, illegally, a fair bit of the time.
I've been aghast at the amount of time and effort the EAA has put into Light Sport when lobbying for no medical for day VFR [with] only one passenger would have resulted in much the same effect for less effort. There's no shortage of airframes.
While we are at it, FAR23 is way overkill for certifying small single-engine aircraft used for private purposes. I can buy a complete uncertified aircraft and fly it. It just has to be built by an amateur in his garage, instead of by professionals in a factory. Think about it!
About Larry Stencel's letter: Finally there is someone who voiced his views about the light sport movement and us old pilots with general aviation planes that all but fit into the category. I feel we should be allowed to fly as light sport pilots with our present planes. I'll pull my back seat out, and with the exception of a few hundred pounds, what's the difference? I hope someone at the FAA sees Larry's letter and, like the rest of us, thinks it's a good idea and about time to change the rules.
I agree with much that Larry said in his letter. However, there are several things that existed in the past that do not exist now. Both boosted flying and aircraft ownership to record levels. I believe that the downward slide began in 1986 with the change in tax law that had been friendly to aircraft ownership.
The tax law that existed prior to 1986 encouraged aircraft ownership through leaseback arrangements. Also, the VA Bill allowed all existing veterans to go for advanced pilot ratings and licenses. I was a flight instructor when benefits where going to run out for many veterans. They came out of the woodwork to fly those benefits off.
I think Larry is correct that the gross weight limitation for LSAs is too low. However, I think it just missed existing low-end aircraft on purpose. The powers-that-be wanted innovation and progress in new aircraft. Now that we know that was only partially successful, it is time to raise the max gross weight limit.
In addition, I believe that we also need a stimulus for GA. This could be done as it was in the past, by making it advantageous to own an aircraft — or maybe a tax credit for first-time buyers (new aircraft only). Politicians are probably leery of anything that benefits GA, because the populace at large views aircraft ownership as something only the rich can do. What they fail to understand is that while aircraft ownership is expensive, beneficial tax treatment creates jobs.
Airplanes are not built like cars. You do not see rows of robots overseen by a few employees. Airplanes are still mostly hand-built, and it takes an army of people. Also, these are good-paying manufacturing jobs that are so scarce today (subject for another letter).
It could also be said that the FAA is part of the blame for a 35 percent drop in total pilots. The FARs are too complex and not well written. They are also not friendly to the business use of aircraft. Charitable flying is hard to do while staying within the letter of the law. Since when did the FAA become an ancillary arm of the IRS?
You may ask why any of this is important. Isn't the promotion of aviation one half of the FAA's mandate?
Reading Larry Stencel's "Letter of the Week," I've long wondered why the LSA weight limit of 1,350 pounds stands. I'm 6'2" and weigh just over 200 pounds. I've yet to find an LSA that will allow me to take another adult with me, unless we take half fuel (or less).
I don't care about the hour limits, but if someone could put in a good word for pilots who aren't 170 pounds it would be great.
I enjoyed reading Mr. Stencel's letter about LSA, but I thought it was rather one-sided. Here is a look at the other side of the same coin.
The new SP/LSA rules had many effects on the GA world. If only new sport pilot students were desired, then his analysis would be great. However, I believe there were two other goals: Establishing a brand new aircraft type, mostly modeled after the European ultralight standards, and starting down the path of eliminating FAA medical certificates for some or possibly all pilots.
There are indeed some new SLSA models in the $50,000 to $60,000 price range. They have not generated a lot of interest or sales. Many of the lower-priced models generally appear similar to part 103 ultralights with an extra seat and more fuel. The higher-end models of SLSA have generated most of the 2,000 or so new SLSA aircraft sales. Some of the popular new models provide appearance and performance similar to Piper Cubs, while others have a more modern look and performance somewhere above a Cessna 172. There have also been an undocumented number of kitplane sales as well as homebuilder plans for planes that could meet the LSA definition.
Many of the new SLSA models are manufactured in Europe. The price required to buy one of these planes in U.S. dollars has suffered greatly from the demise of the dollar's value in world trade. When the Euro was established, you could buy a Euro for 85 cents. Today the same Euro costs around $1.40. That means the price of European goods, including new airplanes, has nearly doubled as a result of the U.S. dollar's weakness. If the folks in Washington, D.C. get their act together and stop spending money faster than they can print it, we can expect the prices of those sleek European planes to come down a great deal.
The LSA rule also provides for two-seat weight shift aircraft (trikes), powered parachutes, and gyroplanes. These new aircraft provide alternatives for recreational flying with a single passenger. Indeed, all of LSA provides a wonderful set of solutions for flying where business is not involved.
The elderly Cessnas and Pipers were designed for commercial and IFR flight. They are more expensive to operate than the new planes, even though they tend to be at least 30 years old. As fuel prices go up, the penalty for flying elderly type certificated planes will increase. It is not clear how the prices for certified spare parts for these planes, which are no longer being made, will increase with time.
Mainteance and annual inspection of type-certificated planes requires an A&P license. All parts must be certified, and owners cannot do much more than change oil. With an E-LSA airworthiness certificate and a three-day course, anybody can work on an LSA and perform annual condition inspections for their own aircraft. If they want to do the same thing commercially on aircraft owned by others (and include SLSA certified planes), only a three-week course is required. This all works because the LSAs are much simpler aircraft than the old Cessnas and Pipers.
I am currently flying a Tecnam Echo Super Deluxe. It easily reaches 118 KIAS at less than maximum continuous power and climbs at well over 1000 FPM solo. It burns something less than 5 gallons per hour and has cross-country range that is much farther than my old body can last on a single flight. The instrument panel is mostly glass, including Dynon EFIS and EMS units as well as Garmin GPS, comm radio, and transponder. This plane is currently for sale under $100,000 with just over 100 hours total time. It was initially assembled less than 2 years ago.
I think the SP/LSA rules are a roaring success when you look at the increased single-engine airplane sales. While the new Sport Pilot students are not a huge crowd, this could change if there is a real effort to promote aviation among ground-pounders. We just don't have as much promotion today as there was in the period after the Second World War. A single fighter pilot movie from the post-war period could generate thousands of pilot wannabes. Today's military environment just doesn't generate that kind of interest in aviation.
The new sport pilot rules that allow any pilot to fly with only a state driver's license for medical qualification have allowed a lot of older pilots (including me) to be active again. If the FAA wants to promote flight of elderly planes, this could be accomplished by eliminating the Class 3 medical entirely. There are plenty of older pilots who are already well-qualified to fly these older planes but are limited by the (sometimes arbitrary) medical certificate rules. If this step is a little too big for the feds to swallow, a middle-ground solution would be to eliminate the need for the FAA medical for single-engine planes with MTOW under 6,000 pounds. That would get a lot more hours of flight on those planes in the fleet that are most appropriate for recreational flying while still requiring the (mostly useless) medical certificate for heavier transport-oriented planes. While initial safety records for the new LSA are a little shaky, there is no indication that this is related to the medical qualification requirements.
We got many letters on this subject and tried to select those that represented the full range of points of view.
How about an article — or list — on those states that are the most friendly to general aviation in terms of taxation? Your Washington State piece, which prompted this comment, was very interesting.
We don't have time to do that kind of research, but we'll welcome feedback from readers on how your state treats GA.
The Future of Pilots
Boeing sure seems to be making progress on their UAVs. With 20-25 years for me to go until retirement, I have to wonder if I'll actually make it or if pilots will be superfluous artifacts in the near future. If the travelling public can visit Orbitz and save $5 by selecting an unmanned flight instead of having to pay for pilots, they'll take the cheaper alternative every time.
Get Your Bids Ready
There's an old adage that says, "If an airplane looks good, it will fly good." With that in mind, how long before the F-35 fleet will be on eBay?
No one single item prompts this note. Just consider it a unit citation for the work you folks do so consistently every week.