LSA – Make Mine a Light
Somebody hand me an acronym! If you haven’t already got your ALA mixed up with your AD, you’re bound to be confused by the time you try to separate your RA from your LSA or is that GA?
Never before have I been so baffled by an aviation subject. I’ve even taken to drinking light beer to help me see through the haze. It seems that since I last hung out at an aero club or chatted to a manufacturer the whole dynamic of aircraft categories in Australia has started shifting as fast as the centre of gravity on an Aussie bloke’s beer gut. The shift isn’t towards a new united front of aviators, but to a more diverse array of categories and a new aircraft design every minute. The paper trail is a long and confusing one but somewhere behind the CAO’s and CASR’s are some really great aircraft to fly.
The Light Sport Aircraft or LSA is an immensely popular category of flying machine for a variety of operators. Like its light beer equivalent, the light sport aircraft is made to taste like the real thing without the guilt afterwards. The LSA is budget conscious: great for the casual participant and suitable for the private owner as much as the commercial flying school. See, just like light beer. A Light Sport Aircraft is, in Australia, a single engine, one or two seat aircraft with a maximum all up weight of 600 kilograms. LSA may not be flown at night or in any instrument conditions.
It all came about at the same time as the rapid decline of General Aviation; just in the nick of time you might say. Just as owners, flying schools and the like were getting ready to throw in the towel on expensive single engine piston GA aircraft, along came the idea out of the USA that a new category of aircraft might be formed to plug the gap between those tiny ultralights and those expensive GA types. Since the moment it was embraced, the LSA movement has burst to life and flooded the market with literally hundreds of powered aircraft, gliders and weight shift machines. A few of my favorites include the Quicksilver, Lightwing, Evektor Sportstar, Jabiru J160, the stunning little Texan, Allegro 2000, Brumby, Foxbat and the newly LSA certified Lambada motor glider. These all best suit my ‘light beer with a big taste’ desire to fly fun fixed wing aircraft that look the part and perform well with a kind fuel bill.
Like a bottle of home brew in a Belgium brewery, the LSA category is causing quite a stir, as it fits somewhere between being a recreational aircraft in weight, size and performance and being a fully fledged GA aircraft…or both. I was particularly confused by this in the beginning. If you are looking to buy an aircraft, how do you know which category is best for you? Walk along any flight line and try to pick the difference between some of these aircraft.
Many LSA aircraft are available from the manufacturers for RA registration or even fully certified VH registered GA use. It also depends on whether you buy the aircraft factory built or as a kit.
In more technical terms there are two types of Certificates of Airworthiness for LSA – a Special Certificate of Airworthiness or Experimental Certificate. The Special Certificate of Airworthiness for LSA is for production aircraft. These aircraft may be used for hire, flying training and towing gliders. The Special Certificate of Airworthiness remains valid provided the aircraft is maintained in accordance with the requirements of the manufacturer and the aircraft has not been modified unless approved by the manufacturer. Should this no longer be the case, the LSA’s owner will need to apply for an Experimental Certificate to continue to operate the aircraft. In this instance there is no need for the 51% rule applied to amateur built aircraft, but the aircraft must have been produced at least once by a manufacturer and issued a production built aircraft issued with a Special Certificate of Airworthiness.
The Experimental Certificate also provides an avenue for operating aircraft that no longer comply with the requirements of the Special Certificate of Airworthiness. There are a number of circumstances where this could take place, such as the aircraft has been modified without the manufacturer’s approval or has not been maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s requirements. Another circumstance may be that the manufacturer has gone out of business and no one else has taken over the role. Experimental LSA cannot be used for flying training and are limited to Day VFR only and not over built up areas.
Buying from a manufacturer can have some distinct advantages. For instance, the Evektor SportStar is made alongside GA certified aircraft by the Czech Republic’s biggest aircraft manufacturer in an EASA Part 21 licensed factory. It comes with a two year or 200 hour factory warranty on the whole airframe, plus manufacturer’s warranties on the engine and avionics. This is possible because the quality of manufacture is assured and there are no corners cut with materials and production. The SportStar airframe is a metal-anodized and etch-primer corrosion proofed aluminium construction which means 2000 hours down the track, the airframe will be as solid and repairable as the day it was bought. Nothing is lost in performance either, with the all metal 575kg MTOW airframe still zipping along at a 100-115kt cruise like many of its GA opponents.
Unlike trying to cost some aircraft, there are no hidden extras when you buy LSA. For instance the sporty Fly Synthesis Texan Top Class 600 comes in at around $120,000 plus GST and includes freight to Melbourne (or nearest port), packing costs, aircraft registration (one year with RAA), supply and installation of registration numbers, Certificate of Airworthiness and assembly and test flights. For the confused private buyer like me this can really alleviate some headaches and, apart from filling out some paperwork here and there and handing over some cash, there is little for the buyer to worry about – much like buying a new car. Investing in something like the Texan TopClass 600 LSA would suit the GA pilot wanting the benefits of an RA-Registered aircraft along with the performance and stability offered at its 600kg MTOW and 114 knot cruise at 75% power.
On the ‘low-carb light beer’ end of the scale you might go for something like the Quicksilver GT500. At first glance it screams ultralight but at around 454kg MTOW with a Rotax 582 it will skip along at a good 68 knots with doors fitted and 75% power set. Scoff you may but, at half the fuel burn of most GA aircraft and twice the fun, you’ll trade club house stories about your best ground speed for stories about how you can now afford to fly every weekend instead of every month and still buy a slab of your favorite brew. The GT 500 can climb from 0 to 10,000 feet in just 8.5 minutes (obviously not something you will be doing!) and has highly responsive three axis controls matched by excellent low speed stability making it ideal for the training environment. Taking off in only 140 feet means more circuits and cheaper training too.
If you can imagine being told you are only allowed to drink three quarters of your beer, then you can imagine what happens when an aircraft like the gorgeous Brumby is offered either as a certified LSA aircraft or an RA-Aus ultralight not built to factory specifications. Basically you’re getting the same aircraft but, in essence, the only difference will be the jiggling of the books. The LSA can still be registered with RA-Aus and is certified to a maximum take off weight of 600kg, while the RA kit built Brumby is only to the RA maximum take off limit of 544kg. This is where the buyer needs to decide a few things. Do I want an extra 55kg to carry around at the added expense of obtaining a special certificate of airworthiness and the restriction of building exactly to manufacturer’s specifications and so forth…? I imagine each buyer would make this choice based on their skill and experience level along with their budget. Personally, the whole benefit of the LSA category to me seems to be not one of weight or performance but of buying a clearly defined aircraft in a clearly defined category that is more appealing to both the GA pilot and RA pilot.
Consensus seems to be that the LSA is taken up by the GA fraternity in two thirds of cases because it gets around the confusing and expensive realm of general aviation, especially where ab-initio training is concerned. The Light Sports Aircraft is cheaper to run than the Cessnas and Pipers of the world and, as a brand new aircraft, costs about one third of the price.
Another player on the market (and there are lots so sorry to those who don’t get the mention they deserve) is the Storm range from Pacific Light Aircraft. Like a supercar or fine wine they come from Italy and while price tag isn’t really of Ferrari proportions, the performance specs are. The low wing, metal construct Storm Century 5XL only has a Rotax up front yet from its roomy and laid back cabin you can enjoy a spine tingling 130 knots cruise and sit there enjoying it for a good 700 nautical miles. Did I mention, like a lot of LSA’s, you’ll get to altitude before you get the GPS on at 1000fpm?
Also in the LSA luxury game is the Aveo Phantom. These guys don’t mess around when they make an aircraft and the Phantom really is a light beer disguised in a heavy beer bottle. Its glass cockpit, safety features and interior are as tidy as they come and, if you don’t think high wing aircraft look sporty, then take a look at the Aveo.
But who cares about appearances? Another opinion frequently expressed to me by manufacturers is that the newer LSA’s sitting on the flight line are instilling a new sense of faith in the industry to the untrained eye. Rather than a battered line up of old 172’s painted like caravans, a nice row of SportStars, Texans or Storms look sporty and appealing. This helps friends and family feel confident about the aircraft and, strangely enough, the quality of training being supplied by the operator. In addition, the sales package looks much better due to the low operating costs. Who knows, our impoverished instructors may even be able to afford to drink beer again in the future. Do note that an LSA used for Private Pilot License training must be VH registered with CASA (pardon my acronyms again!).
The subject of the quality and quantity of training between the Recreational world and the General Aviation world is a whole other story. In the past there were never so many aircraft sitting right on the line drawn between the categories. Now that there is, it causes contention between the two groups as to whether each is holding up their rights and responsibilities in the air as well as the other. The solution has nothing to do with the Light Sport Aircraft category. I will say that the LSA category does seem to make more sense than any of the others for the time being and be most suitable for the fruit salad of license types held by Australian pilots.
If you are a GA pilot and have requirement for some flight through or in controlled airspace, then LSA can still keep you happy. A Light Sport Aircraft from the factory with a VH registration and meeting all the appropriate equipment requirements is permitted to fly CTA. You got it – if it’s a PPL holder in an LSA with VH registrations it’s OK to fly CTA. OK?
I’ll try to break it all down a bit further for those of you with hangovers. With a light sports aircraft the manufacturer is responsible for certifying the aircraft and backing up its ongoing airworthiness. The manufacturer checks that each aircraft complies with the LSA standards by signing a statement of compliance proving that the aircraft was made by a qualified manufacturer, complies with the design and performance, quality assurance, production testing (not required for a kit aircraft) and continued operational safety standards. There is a bit more politics if the aircraft is made overseas, as they are in many cases, but this is once again only a matter of paperwork.
As mentioned earlier, and at risk of repeating myself in the confusion, the manufacturer of an LSA is required to continually monitor the airworthiness of their aircraft in accordance with the appropriate standards. This means the manufacturer must manage a database of owners in Australia and overseas, investigate defects and address safety critical defects with corrective action and so on. The manufacturer is also responsible for approving all modifications to production aircraft even if the modification has been approved by a CAR 35 engineer. For most pilots going into new aircraft I can only see this as being a positive point for flying a LSA.
So you’ve decided to go ahead and get yourself a bit of light sport action and now you want to know what you should expect with your package. From a regulatory point of view you want to get certain things from the manufacturer including a data plate, conformity details of the aircraft, warning decals, operating instruction manuals, aircraft flight training supplement and the maintenance and inspection procedures.
Rather than read my dribble any longer you are best to grab a beer, hit the great websites out there from the manufacturers, read some reviews and find out which aircraft you’re after. Then, get in touch with RA-Aus or the CASA website and do some reading to make sure you understand the category that best suits you. You will also find, as I have, that the manufacturers are a wealth of information and only too happy to have a chat. Cheers!