EAA: 3600-Pound LSA Just A Starting Point (Corrected)

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The FAA’s just-revealed report that it would consider raising the light sport aircraft limit from 1320 pounds to 3600 pounds is just a proposed talking point and any rule is at least a year and a half away, according to EAA. And no, the 3600-pound figure isn’t a typo nor confusion over kilogram conversion, as some have speculated.

In this exclusive AVweb podcast, Sean Elliott, EAA’s VP for advocacy and safety, says the 3600-pound number is real enough, but it’s just one idea placed before the FAA as part of a broader program called Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates or MOSAIC. That project, which encompasses a broad range of potential changes in the experimental, light sport, certified and UAS segments, has been underway for about two years. Elliott says it’s unlikely to yield any specific Notices of Proposed Rule Making until at least 2020, if not beyond. EAA said on Wednesday that chairman Jack Pelton erred over the weekend when he said the NPRM would appear in January when in fact the rulemaking process will start then.

“What comes out as far as weight is yet to be seen. There’s a lot of work yet to be done to get to that final point. But essentially, it’s a good news story. The FAA and the industry together are achieving meaningful change,” Elliott said.

News stories over the weekend ignited hopeful speculation, but also confusion as amateur regulatory sleuths tried to imagine how a 3600-pound airplane could be limited to two seats. But Elliott says proposed changes won’t necessarily keep the light sport aircraft rule just as it is now.

“It’s going to be reasonable. I think you’ll certainly see an increase in the number of seats, although we don’t know that for sure. What’s comes out of the other end of the rulemaking process will certainly give us those indications,” Elliott said. Raising the seat count, the speed and removing other limitations would pave the way for grandfathering legacy aircraft and that’s definitely on the table, Elliott said.

The underlying thinking is that the industry has convinced the FAA that risk ought to be seen as a continuum, with for-hire and scheduled airlines at one end and personal flying in light aircraft at the other, with regulatory and certification limitations adjusted accordingly. “It’s what makes sense for these kinds of aircraft,” Elliott said. “What the final number or a final set of performance values or metrics, remains to be seen.”

Serving the training market is a major animator for both the FAA and the GA industry. “A big part of this for EAA is to help find pathways forward for new aircraft that can fill those voids in the Mom and Pop flight training organizations. Right now, you see most of these organizations operating 40- and 50-year-old-airframes. And it shows. For the unwashed citizen who shows up at a flight school excited about getting involved with aviation, for some, it’s a very quick turnoff,” Elliott said.

Less expensive ASTM consensus approval standards in lieu of Part 23 certification might stimulate new entries. But will legacy manufacturers go along? The test of that has been EAA’s STC program to push non-TSO’d avionics into certified aircraft. “Initially, there was a fair amount of negativity about it, about how this was going to be damaging and they put all their energy in their own products. And that very quickly morphed into the manufacturers saying, ‘We can do this too,'” Elliott said.