Is MOSAIC Creating Pilots Or Passengers?


When the light sport category was established 20 years ago, a lot of the emphasis in commentary on it at the time was about training. Don’t forget it was supposed to open the floodgates of pent-up pilot demand that had thus far been frustrated by the onerous requirements to qualify for a private ticket. The reality turned out to be somewhat different and, as with anything else that’s new, there were some surprises.

For instance, a lot of the sweating was over the minimum requirements for getting a sport pilot certificate. They were far too ambitious for most people, and flight instructors did what they do. They ensured the students were darned good and ready before they soloed and took their checkrides and life went on for those in that stream.

What caught us by surprise was the number of highly experienced pilots that headed for sport pilot for the relaxed medical requirements that were ending up in the weeds. It turned out that skills hard-earned flying a Baron or a 182 or a 777 didn’t translate all that well when they were stuffed into a plane that seemed to behave like a leaf in a tornado. There were some embarrassing moments.

Again, training took over and that peril has diminished considerably. CFIs know what to teach and most of those opting for sport pilot for their aviating swan song now seem to know better. Not all of them, for sure, but shattered egos and bent metal are thankfully the most damage caused in these excursions and both can be repaired.

With MOSAIC, a new set of training challenges present, but I suspect we’re in better shape to deal with them. For one thing, the breathless assertions that merely creating new rules will miraculously save general aviation are mostly absent from MOSAIC discussions and instead they are pragmatic while still being hopeful. Essentially, we’re doubling the weight and performance of airplanes for pilots who, if they choose, can fly them with minimal training. Again, most CFIs aren’t going to let that happen and the experience with transitioning pilots in the opposite direction should give us the foundation to do this seamlessly.

Where the gnarly bits will emerge is in training pilots for little eVTOLs. Hell, I want one if they work as advertised, and you can bet there will be lots of newbies lined up for the well-worn allure of hopping over jammed freeways with the ease of George Jetson. Right now the FAA isn’t including eVTOLs for consideration in the new rule because they’re just so new. The authors of the NPRM left the door open for approving eVTOLs in light sport in the future, but the agency also left a gaping loophole by allowing helicopters with “simplified flight controls” for consideration under MOSAIC.

Simplified flight controls are actually incredibly complex flight controls. We just don’t get to see all that complexity at work. According to the rule, an aircraft, including a “rotorcraft” with simplified flight controls, leaves the pilot with no more to do than deciding which heading and (maybe) how high to fly. Automation looks after all the pesky details of keeping airspeed, attitude and flight envelope in the green and turns an aircraft into the aviation equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera. And even though the FAA has specified that it’s not considering eVTOLs for this round of rulemaking, some very powerful forces are trying to change their minds.

Many of the newest members of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) are in the eVTOL business and some are developing MOSAIC-sized multi-copters and tiltrotor aircraft. In its comments on the proposed rulemaking, that segment of GAMA’s membership is logically represented by GAMA’s assertion that there’s little practical difference between a helicopter with simplified flight controls and an eVTOL with simplified flight controls. “GAMA recommends that the FAA allow a sport pilot to operate a light-sport powered-lift that has been designated as having simplified flight controls consistent with the proposal for light-sport rotorcraft,” GAMA’s comments say. “Simplified flight control capability provides an equal level of mitigation and level of safety for the operation of a rotorcraft and powered-lift.”

Now, the FAA isn’t just going to include eVTOLs because GAMA wants it to, but that pesky logic isn’t going to go away, and giving helicopter makers the option without including eVTOLs doesn’t seem fair. Powered lift aircraft, as eVTOLs are more properly known, will, if those powerful forces are correct, soon be a pretty common sight and significant factor in aviation and that barn door will be opened for personal use aircraft.

So, what does training look like for an extraordinarily capable aircraft that demands next to nothing from its pilot? Do we put him or her through ground school and pattern work and that terrifyingly thrilling first solo as we thrust them in a three-dimensional world for which evolution did not prepare them? Or do we run them through the systems, teach them how to talk on the radio and then toss them the keys so the machine can take them flying?

And how do those who learned the old-fashioned way transition to that and how do we reconcile those very different paths when it comes to sharing the airspace? And just to make it all extra fun, you just know that artificial intelligence will play a big role in just about every aspect of it.

While we dicker about a few knots here or there on stall speeds and what we’ll name this brave new world we might spare some thoughts about where, as pilots, we fit into it. Light sport was, after all, supposed to create a bunch of new pilots. This version of it runs the risk of doing the opposite by creating a new class of passenger.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Those are good points and there’s lots to think about. First though, I am reminded that the three immutable forces of aviation are physics, weather, and insurance. The latter can be the master impediment, as a number of pilots find out either at the beginning or towards the end of their quest. How will things shake out after the initial round of increased speed, weight, and added seats? I’m sure the insurance industry will be running the numbers (with AI’s help?) very attentively.

  2. eVTOL???
    This is EXACTLY the problem for 99% of senior pilots right now. We want to resume flying our 172s solo day VFR as Sport Pilots without risking a medical and we want to start doing that TOMORROW.
    “F” Dan Johnson, Roy Beisswenger, and all the other GAMA, LAMA, NBAA, rotor, trike, LTA etc lobbyists whose selfish niche demands have dominated FAA meetings and OKCity staff time the past five years.
    Safety stats and public demand say implement the fixed wing SE recip Vs and Vh increases and eliminate the MTOW/seats limit immediately. Then let them take months or years bickering about the rest of MOSAIC.

  3. eVTOLs are not airplanes. They are contraptions with no backup system when the motor eventually fails. I can not imagine any true aviator would ever want to get near one. Can anyone imagine Keith Ferris wanting to paint one with his stunning cloud-filled backgrounds? Or Ernie Gann writing a tale about “flying” one? I’m guessing advocates for these fossil-fuel powered, Chicom battery flivvers have no clue what I’m referring to. To them, “nothing is sacred, nothing is real”.

  4. Some interesting thoughts, Russ. I remember as a teen learning to fly a 4-channel radio controlled model airplane that I build out of balsa wood that had a .45 engine. I had an instructor who I remember to be gentle, patient, almost humorless and kind from the local RC club provide me dual lessons over several days until I could get myself out of pilot-induced spiral dives and land it without breaking it. RC helicopters seemed even more cool, but were apparently quite a bit more challenging to fly.

    Fast forward almost 4 decades later, I pulled a DJI Mavic Pro out of the box, not being exactly current in RC flying. Started it up, hovered, made it do everything I wanted too. If I felt confused, I would let go of the sticks, and watch it hover in stable flight awaiting my further instructions. Easy peasy.

    I know that there is a lot of ‘magic’ behind that Mavic Pro and what makes it so easy and forgiving to fly, but I recall my first transport category aircraft groundschool when the instructor told the class, who seemed to bring up all sorts of curious questions “folks, you aren’t going to build, load, refuel or fix this airplane.” Years later, a new philosophy was changing the knowledge requirements for a pilot from knowing certain limitations (i.e. engine limitations) from numbers to colors- i.e. oil pressure limitation is top of the green arc, rather than a certain number in PSI. Works for me.

    From flying some of the modern fly-by-wire transport aircraft I came to realize that I will never ever know everything about that airplane (how it works). What I need to know about is things that affect my operation and where I have an input. I don’t know a lot of things about how my Toyota runs, but I do know what to do if an annunciator light comes on, how to check the oil and refuel it.

  5. Nobody has to earn a rating to buy a seat on a bus, taxi, or Uber/Lyft. That’s the ultimate goal here – whether you own an eVTOL or hire one, you’re going to pay per use, and will likely have no input on the pricing structure.

    Flying a fixed-wing airplane after a power loss, which can be learned in a very effective way through getting a glider rating, would be fairly easy compared to dealing with a loss of electromechanical brainpower in a eVTOL. How could one be trained to do so? What would control systems that included human overrride functions look like? Until satisfactory answers to these and any other questions are answered, I won’t participate in the eVTOL fad. But early adopters, go ahead on.

    • For a multi-rotor (more than 2) eVTOL, I’m not so worried about the loss of a single motor since that can be an anticipated failure mode and compensated for by the FBW brainpower. What I am worried about is: 1) complete loss of power, 2) complete loss of the computer (which would likely be implied by #1 anyway). Helicopters can at least auto-rotate in the case of a complete loss of engine power, but an eVTOL with electric motors would be a falling brick, so it would have to contain a fail-safe whole-airframe parachute. And if the idea is that “anyone” could fly one of these, deployment of the parachute would have to be automatic. I’m not sure I’d want to fly in one of these.

  6. It needs to be a new category and class with its own set of training requirements similar to a drone license from part 107 but with way more emphasis on the being there part. It should probably borrow from the sport pilot realm for moving to different levels of complexity depending on the automation of the craft. My 2 pennies worth.

  7. Objectively, evtol’s will crash. The questions are 1)how frequently and 2)how severely. Time will tell. And then reactions to those crashes will determine their future. Aside from that, if these things become ubiquitous, then they will impact GA. What if one of these things approximates the characteristics of, say, a Bonanza with a reduced risk? Will people rush out and buy it? What if instead of $1M it retails for $500K or even $250K? Then what? And what about flight planning and weather and integrating into the national airspace? IMHO not that many folks are going to buy Bonanza like devices simply because there will be little purpose, beyond the relatively few business transportation uses. And it will probably still be cheaper to charter. Yeah, big change is weird. And we haven’t even dialed in the global impacts of climate change, right wing dictatorships, all impacting the continuing growth of human population. Either fun or some variant of an apocalypse.

  8. From pre-solo to ATP, we spend a lot of our training learning to deal with systems failure. As Scotty said in one of the Star Trek Movies, “the more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to stop it up.” As Russ Niles wrote, simplified really means incredibly complicated. How does the aircraft respond to system failures? Multiple or cascading failures? How do we train for that? When your Toyota — incredibly reliable as they are — has a systems failure, you pull over and call AAA. Not an option in an aircraft. So far, self-driving cars serve as a cautionary tale. As attributed to Caesar Augustus: FESTINA LENTE. Make haste slowly.

  9. Russ–YOUR BEST COLUMN YET! You identify the issues with MOSAIC–and possible problems associated with “One set of regulations covering many kinds of aircraft.”

    Let’s pass MOSAIC first, for light fixed wing aircraft–it gives us some certainty for fixed-wing aircraft, gives the industry the parameters to design to for certification–and gives the instruction industry the parameters to enable pilots to fly them.

    The COMMENTATORS have done a particularly good job on the MOSAIC certification as well. Note that EVERY COMMENTER SO FAR (myself included) FAVORS CERTIFYING THE FIXED WING PISTON POWERED FIRST–DON’T FURTHER MESS WITH THE ISSUE OF ROTARY WINGS AND ELECTRIC POWER–write those separately–so that designers have a standard to DESIGN TO.

    This is what AvWeb SHOULD BE–comments–then FEEDBACK on the comments–that USUALLY forms a CONSENSUS. The lack of consensus is what has caused a 5 year delay in implementing what should be a fairly simple plan for flying basic airplanes–“the simplest solution is usually the BEST solution. Let’s concentrate on the things we can get done NOW, rather than try to write regulations for aircraft that may or may not ever exist. If the Wright Bros. had to design their flying machine to include every type of aircraft, we would still be ground-bound!

    • Your neighborhood electrician 🙂
      Fair question. A&P’s are not supposed to do tasks they haven’t either been trained on or been supervised doing before so … looks like a burgeoning business opportunity for some enterprising folks.

    • Don’t be surprised if they come out with replaceable motor modules, power modules, control modules, etc, that are plug-and-play. Possibly on an exchange basis. It shall be interesting!

  10. I think eVTOL is a red herring. Unless somebody changed basic physics while I was up doing some gentlemen aerobatics the numbers just don’t add up for eVTOL’s. The self flying eVTOL is only possible with a lot of very expensive electronic magic and the reality of the fact that batteries have a very low energy density means it’s practical viability is going to be low for the foreseeable future.

    The bigger question IMO is the future of recreational aviation. MOSAIC means more old guys can continue to fly the existing stock of 50 year old airplanes. This is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    Will MOSAIC inspire the next generation of GA pilots ? I am not seeing it. I still think MOSAIC is a worthwhile initiative, but it’s bandaid on a sucking chest wound.

    • One thing rarely brought up is maintenance of the ground infrastructure for aviation. That subject is rarely discussed here.

      The ‘old’ guys — you know, the folks with $$ and 50 year old airplanes — NEED to be courted because they’re helping to keep the infrastructure healthy in many places. Once they go away, many airports will be little used, become ghost towns and — soon enough — housing developments. Beyond that, they old guys have the corporate knowledge. As long as they’re around, hopefully a few younger types might learn from them.

  11. Interesting how you bring up “Autonomous” transportation around people who like to ‘Operate equipment’ and this Blog and it’s opinions is the response you get. Maybe 25% of the world’s population falls into this category. You bring up Autonomous transportation with the majority 75% of the population and get a totally different response.

    When I’m at the local watering hole discussing this topic with the folks from the community they can’t wait to be “Whisk” through the air to their next appointment. Over 99% of the population has absolutely no understanding of what MOSAIC is or do they care. The world is a very big place and our little pilot club is almost nonexistent. Autonomous transportation will surly eliminate the Aviation of yesteryear.

    • The aviation of yesteryear is already on its way out, unfortunately.
      We are a dying breed. At least we can enjoy it while were here.

  12. VTOL, of which eVTOL is a subset, is coming to the masses some day, like it or not. I believe Free Flight will have to be mature before VTOL aircraft can become common. If the goal is to fly without a real pilot on board, these aircraft will have to be restricted to preassigned routes, probably negotiated before the flight autonomously by computer. I trust that process less than any new aircraft system. As others have said, proof of safety will be paramount. That will be many years in the making, but it’s a matter of time.

  13. What is it with the “leaf in a tornado” language? People never dissed Piper Cubs this way: but somehow LSAs have so offended the alpha jocks who fly “real” airplanes that they just have to throw in language like this. It’s not true. It was never true. Yes, these are relatively slow airplanes but there’s nothing wrong with them for what they do. They are much more stable in flight than a Piper Cub, for example, and comparable to the venerated C152. Enough! When you feel the need to diss LSAs, check your insecurities and stop.

    As for the “creating a whole new class of passenger” issue, all I can say is BRING THEM ON! Our urban airports are being closed because almost nobody gets any utility out of GA anymore. The more people who care about GA, the better. If their piloting skills are mostly provided by AI, that’s fine! Really! Heck, many of us would use our flying skills for sport aviation but would use a highly-automated system to actually go places because how many sport pilots – or their equipment – are really good in IMC? I don’t care if the new pilots don’t know about carb heat or alternate air or MOAs, as long as they don’t need to know. Learning to fly is ridiculously difficult because there’s so much to learn, and a great deal of it isn’t relevant to why we fly: we need to know it so we don’t kill ourselves and our passengers (which we continue to do at a depressing rate, most commonly by not being aware of airspeed). If the machine can keep the new pilots alive, that’s great! This isn’t a religion, where people must memorize the Good Book; it’s a form of transportation and a passtime, and it’s too hard for most people to get involved in at any level. Complaining about the new pilots relying on automation – doesn’t that remind you of complaining that new pilots use GPS instead of celestial navigation? Let’s not complain: let’s move toward the vision as quickly as possible, consistent with prudence.

  14. “What is it with the “leaf in a tornado” language? People never dissed Piper Cubs this way: but somehow LSAs have so offended the alpha jocks who fly “real” airplanes that they just have to throw in language like this.”

    It’s the wing loading that’s being referred to here. A quick search shows that a Cub has a wing loading of aroud 6-7 pounds/sq ft, and a typical LSA has a wing loading of around 10 lbs/sq ft. A PA-28-181 has a wing loading of around 15 lbs/sq ft. It is fairly descriptive to call lightly-loaded wings “a leaf in the wind”, and if you’re used to flying heavier aircraft, it will require some retraining to get used to lighter aircraft.

    It also has to do with control forces. I haven’t flown many LSAs, but they often have lighter control forces than a Cub (which I have flown, albeit on floats). The lighter wing loading plus lighter control forces means it’s easy to over-control the typical LSA, if one is used to heavier controls on higher-loaded wings. That’s not meant as a diss to LSA (helicopters make even the lightest-loaded LSA feel like a Mac truck).

    It’s not really a matter of “real” planes vs “toy” planes (though some may treat it that way), but a matter of being used to flying one type of plane and having to adjust to flying a different type of plane (regardless if that means moving “up” or “down” the complexity of the design).

    • Gary, thanks for the reply. If someone isn’t trying to diss the “toy planes” they tend to comment that pilots who are experienced with heavier aircraft tend not to realize the need to practice with aircraft that are lighter and much quicker on the controls. A Pitts Special, or any other purpose-built aerobatic airplane, will have much lighter controls than an LSA; and no-one would question the need for custom training in them. As you note, a Piper Cub has a much lower wing loading than most (not all) LSAs, and in truth they deserve custom training also. But, no-one ever described any of them as “leaf in a tornado.” I do think there’s a mentality problem in aviation, a defensive superiority complex among pilots of “real airplanes” that’s betrayed by phrases like that.

    • The “leaf in a tornado” analogy spoke to me. I fly hang gliders, have towed up hang gliders in an ultralight, own a powered paraglider, came up through the ranks of CFI, turboprop commuters, oil dripping Douglas’s, and get paid to have lunch and manage FiFi. Never had a job where people made such a grand affair of me having to go take a pee. I love that part of the job. One of my retirement goals is to never ever, have to do a number two in an aircraft lav, as I am a master of my domain, but I digress.

      I was volunteering with an aviation school giving primary in a PA-28 and a Lancair 4 when they were given an Eastern European Sport aircraft. I guess I was the alpha jock, or just the dummy that was going to have to learn to fly that thing and then teach others how to fly it. I found a guy happy to give me fam rides in his high wing LSA, but ours was a low wing. The local volunteer pilot rated mechanic kept asking me when I was going to fly it. Right then with him in the other seat was the deal. Oddly, his wife was expecting him home after one circuit.

      I extended my downwind for a Blimp on final one day and they courteously thanked me. No need for thanks I thought, I just didn’t want to get blown into it.

  15. Reading this, and the comments, made me think about what the insurance companies like to see. They usually want about 5 to 10 hours dual in the model. Why the FAA cannot ask for that, and thus eliminate a lot of hand wringing is beyond me.

    If anyone is interested in how to grow GA, a couple things will help. One is having the sales of the aircraft go through the schools. This is how it was often done when GA worked. The schools can be partners, or corporate owned, but they need standards and need to NOT be pilot mills. They do need to be build a community or club like atmosphere among the students and renters. Otherwise, running a school is likely a labor of love, but who loves all the regulation and liability? Obviously not the kind of people who are usually also great marketers and teachers. That’s a rare combo.

    Two, using the aircraft for travel needs to be a goal of both the FAA and cities. The FAA needs to come first. We all know the real danger zones of flying IFR. There is currently a HUGE gulf between legally flying VFR and safely flying “hard IFR” where an owner or renter actually must fly a couple hours a month keeping current on approaches or when he does take a weekend flight to the lake house or beach he’s very likely to get stuck because his privileges or his aircraft do not enable him to legally fly what would not be a challenging flight for pilot or machine.

    If pilots have the training and currency to fly through clouds this helps ATC immensely. I remember flying VFR flight following and having the controllers get flustered when I dodged clouds. Then, when I was near earning my IFR ticket, it got me angry because it was so unnecessary. Most VFR pilots use all sorts of rationalizations to violate the letter of the rules, and I’ll let everyone debate on that.

    One great part of LSA is that pilots get the training they need to get the privileges they want. I think this has positive effects on success and retention because they can get all the practice they want keeping the shiny side up before taking on whatever parts of flying they might think is more challenging than it likely is.

    Finally, we don’t know yet how multi rotors will really work. At this point it will likely be better if there’s something custom for every model. The FAA will be ridiculous on the first people going through the process so there needs to be a planned fix for that. We don’t need another Beech Starship disaster.

    • Right on, Russ! I fully agree with Larry. This is a well-written and thought-provoking piece. It tackles some really interesting questions about the future of aviation and makes you think in new ways. I particularly appreciate your personal stories and how they highlight the complexities of pilot training and automation. I for one am eager for a Part 2! Thanks for sparking such ab interesting discussion.

  16. Great article – but could someone enlighten me? What does MOSAIC stand for?
    Maybe put it at the start of the article 🙂

    • Modernization Of Special Airworthiness Certificates.
      LSA airplanes have a “special airworthiness certificate” as opposed to standard certificates.