LSA Weight Increase: Pop The Champagne Cork?

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Is the FAA about to go all-in and all but remove the weight restriction on light sport aircraft? Here, key the ecclesiastical music, insert the visual of the clouds parting and Jack Pelton descending the mount with the stone tablets, or at least a USB drive announcing something intriguing.

But let’s tap the brakes and see what develops. We heard over the weekend that a proposal is coming from the FAA to raise the light sport weight limit to 3600 pounds. For a benchmark, that’s what a Cirrus SR22 weighs and also a Piper Saratoga. Yeah! Riding to the pancake breakfast in style at last.

In a moment of giddy enthusiasm, I’m mixing apples and oranges here. The light sport airplane rule and sport pilot privileges aren’t the same thing. But for argument’s sake, let’s say this proposal—and we have absolutely no confirmed detail on it yet—mashes together the airplane rule, the light sport pilot rule and BasicMed. Pour that out of the blender and you get 3600-pound single-engine piston airplanes that a pilot could fly with up to six occupants, with driver's license certification.

You could operate VFR or IFR within the U.S. at altitudes below 18,000 feet and not exceeding 250 knots. If this rule actually does that—and I’m speculating here just to entertain myself on a slow Sunday night—this could be, well, yyuuuuge. Or at least moderately stimulative, as BasicMed appears to have been. (Hard numbers are elusive.)

This idea is not a new one, by the way. It was circulating about four years ago as a kind of background proposal. Same 3600-pound gross weight, but the idea was that it would allow manufacturers to use ASTM consensus standards—same as LSA—to design, build and certify new models, rather than the more restrictive FAR Part 23, which requires extensive test programs. You don’t need to be a bean counter to understand how this would reduce the cost of bringing new airplanes into the market, although how much is impossible to say.

It could very well encourage new entrants who otherwise might take a powder because of low volume and daunting certification costs. Regardless of the real cost reduction, it would undeniably be a positive thing for general aviation, even if it reduces new model sticker prices by just a third. I wouldn’t expect too much more than that based on where Icon finally settled out with its prices: almost the equal of a new Cessna 172.

There’s a possible dark side, too. And you know what it is. The existing light sport industry could be impacted on several fronts. One, legacy airplanes would suddenly gain more utility and more value, making not-that-cheap LSAs somewhat less attractive. And if new ones aren’t selling, used ones won’t be as attractive, either. We’ve been expecting the light sport market to shake out significantly, but it hasn’t yet. Grandfathering more older airplanes into no-medical-required eligibility seems certain to have an erosive effect.

But what many people miss about this equation is that even though light sports are expensive, they’re still the cheapest new airplanes. By a lot. A new Flight Design CTLS retails for about $180,000, less than half the price of new Skyhawk. The CTLS is faster and burns less gas. Yeah, it carries only two people, but then abundant data show that most GA trips carry one or two people, not four. Still, lots of buyers like to carry around seats they never use.

But that’s a bad example. The better one is Vashon’s new Ranger, which I reviewed here. Nice airplane and one poised for the kind of efficient, automated production you don’t see in general aviation. But the Ranger is heavy and lacks enough useful load. I’m not thrilled with the O-200 engine, either. A higher weight limit could transform the airplane and if it were me, I’d slap an IO-240 into the airframe or maybe even a Rotax 915, which would make it a real hot rod and something more interesting than it already is.

We’re told that this proposal may surface sometime next year as an actual NPRM. Twixt cup and lip and all that. But even if nothing ever comes of it but this delusional blog, that’s something, right?

Comments (20)

It sounded from the AOPA article that there will still be a 150 mph speed restriction, still. That eliminates the Cessna 182 and the Cirrus SR-22 from being considered. Not to mention the restriction on pilot-controllable props, which also eliminates the SR-20 (depending on how the FAA classifies the Cirrus throttle-prop gizmo.

That being said, if this can get a new class of Piper Archer / Cessna 172SP like airframes on the market, and if ASTM comes up with IFR/IMC standards so that the new four-seat LSAs can be approved for IFR when flown by an instrument rated private pilot, I think this does have the potential to significantly impact new airframe prices. But IFR capability is a requirement, in my opinion, not a nice-to-have.

I don't know that the Sport Pilot / driver license medical is as big a deal anymore. I'm happy to say I was wrong about BasicMed. It really does seem to be moving the needle for keeping pilots flying. I still think drivers license medical should replace the third class medical for all non-compensated purposes. But I'm not thinking it's a prerequisite to stem the tide of GA anymore.

I'm imagining Vashon, as you mentioned, cranking out Cessna and Piper clones with their more automated manufacturing, and being able to get them to market for a reasonable amount of money. Again, night and IFR approval must be available when flown by private pilots. I don't think that's optional. Come on, ASTM, keep the ball rolling.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | October 7, 2018 9:00 PM    Report this comment

It sure sounds like a great boost to GA. Then too, there is the NPRM and FAA involved, so I am filled with guarded optimism. Sure would be nice though. Now the big question is will it happen in my lifetime? There is a good deal of longevity in my genes, so maybe, just maybe.

Posted by: Leo LeBoeuf | October 7, 2018 9:07 PM    Report this comment

I, too, will believe it when I see it. If it takes another five years to come to fruition and takes a left turn at the 'pass' before codification like the FAR 23 rewrite did, it'll also be too little, too late for many ... just like light sport. And let's not forget that there'll be an additional time period for manufacturers to ramp up production of any such conforming machines. So ... "guarded optimism" ... you bet.

We were all hopeful that when the ink dried on the ARC FAR Part 23 re-write recommendations (a five + year effort) that it would allow relicensing of low end existing GA airplanes into the new proposed P-NC category. It made absolutely perfect sense on several fronts. And what did we get? Nothing even close. An occasional non-TSO COTS based STC and "performance based" standards and an easy NORSEE shoulder harness install does not reinvigorate aviation on a scale large enough to make a difference. So this latest titillating and significant -- albeit fuzzy -- proposal drifting by in the form of manna from heaven -- I mean Oshkosh -- better get it right ... and pronto ... or the party is over save for the fat lady to sing. We all know how the drivers license medical went; Sen. Inhofe had to direct it to happen in the form of BasicMed.

For a lot of us who own airplanes that fit into this latest greatest 'idea,' it does have the potential to be a game changer if done right. Paul is right ... there are two parts to light sport. If all this does is allow new heavier S-LSA's which wind up costing $250K+ ... it ain't gonna work. If it doesn't allow maintaining an existing C172 like an S-LSA or E-AB, it ain't gonna work. And even there I see problems if manufacturers are given free reign.

Manufacturers can't possibly build enough new airplanes fast enough at a price which would replace the existing fleet of low end GA machines so it HAS to somehow include those airplanes as usable first step. And, in like manner, it HAS to find a way to keep existing pilots 'in the game' while we find ways to entice our replacements to step into the FBO. Leo and I don't have a decade to wait and neither does GA so ... get to crackin' FAA. TRY HARDER! We're running out of pilots. We're running out of mechanics. DO something besides having a one day love fest filled with SES types regurgitating the problems and then retiring to their walnut paneled kingdoms. FIX IT.

I want to go to Airventure 2019 and see a real $250K Flight Design C4 parked at the front gate and available for sale to anyone who drove a car to the blue lot in my lifetime. We don't need no more stinkin' FlyCatchers. One can only hope.

I knew threatening to run for Administrator last week would have a positive outcome. :-)
MAGA ... Make Aviation Great Again!

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 8, 2018 4:23 AM    Report this comment

I don't think this hurts Vashon. He's starting with a 'trainer'/ starter plane and can build a 172 from here with little extra engineering.

Also, they would no longer be engine (weight) constrained and could put a 0-360 in this model.

The production/price capability does look encouraging.

Posted by: C Zaloom | October 8, 2018 7:16 AM    Report this comment

Since the 600KG European LSA limit was contrived from the outset, I'm happy to hear that a more reasonable USA standard might be in the works.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | October 8, 2018 7:24 AM    Report this comment

PS: Paul, how does LSA help us with the old certified airframes?

Getting certified airframe parts and updating avionics for my old C180 are the issue for me (I don't want to even think about 0-470 overhaul). I had to replace HALF a dinky sheet metal door hinge and Textron wants $1000 for it. Mags, harness and plugs for the 0-470 are $2700, on sale, and the mags have to be sent out every 500hrs for inspection.

Flying is an addiction worse than opioids. I can't stop doing it and it costs everything.

Posted by: C Zaloom | October 8, 2018 7:30 AM    Report this comment

I wouldn't make the argument that LSA helps with legacy airframes. Changing the definition of light sport--weight increase--does because it allows virtually all of those airplanes to be considered light sport airplanes. Ergo, they can be flown under the sport pilot rule.

Maybe. We don't know the details of the rule yet. For example, if I have say, a Cessna 180 and I want to add avionics. Under light sport, I can just do that under permission from the manufacturer. No FAA involvement for approval. Will that same mechanism work if CAR3/23 airplanes are re-defined as light sports?

We don't know. It's gonna be interesting.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | October 8, 2018 8:54 AM    Report this comment

Paul,
I first read about this unbelievable development in the accompanying Russ Niles' article "LSA Weight Limit Increasing To 3600 Pounds". Holy Cow!!!

But, after the initial adrenaline rush, my first thought was "Oh NO, Paul is up to his April Fools tricks again...and its only October!" After the ADS-B article SURELY he didn't go there again! Ha ha, all in good fun, and glad to hear this is supposedly for real (and don't call me Surely). You had me worried there for a millisecond or two.

One of the other commenters did mention that 3600 lbs is almost 1650 kg...could this be a units/units misunderstanding? I hope not, but after the Gimli Glider incident (mixing up units of fuel) anything is possible.

Posted by: A Richie | October 8, 2018 9:04 AM    Report this comment

How do you think this will impact the "flying car" market? I can envision a huge untapped customer base with your blender description.

Posted by: Robert Mahoney | October 8, 2018 9:30 AM    Report this comment

Any clues on what the new numbers for stall speeds, max level light speed, etc, might be? No point in a big weight increase without changing all those limits as well. I don't know of any 3600 lb airplanes that stall at 45 knots with no flaps and I doubt anyone would want to develop such an airplane.

Is the idea behind this to encourage new development or to dramatically expand the existing fleet of planes that can be flown by sport pilots? As is so often the case, we need to answer to the fundamental question "What problem are we trying to solve?"

Taking a good long sniff of this, it smells to me like the whole kg/lb confusion might be behind this. "Oh, sorry, we meant 1650 lbs, not 1650 kgs". But that doesn't really make sense either - 600kg->1320 lbs. 1650kg->3630 lbs. So why 3600 lbs? That can't be the answer.

Posted by: David Bonorden | October 8, 2018 10:23 AM    Report this comment

Paul,

With current legacy CAR 3 / FAR 23 airframes, they still need to be maintained by the book. Only planes certificated under ASTM can be maintained as such.

I don't suspect that changes.

That being said, hopefully P-NC eventually does become a thing for any airframe.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | October 8, 2018 10:52 AM    Report this comment

Lots of detail missing. Will the same 45 kt clean stall speed apply? If it does we're going to continue to have huge wings relative to weight which makes for poor cross-wind capabilities, 'twitchiness' and questionable stability. What about LSA's minimum useful load? The formula is now metric but it loosely translates as (Number of Seats' x 190 lbs) + Half the Horsepower in pounds. Limiting the speed to 150 mph (130 kts) is also limiting? Why should there be a speed limit? If there is going to be one, lets make it something useful like 200 kts. That should last a few decades. Incrementally moving the needle once a decade isn't going to enhance GA.

That's just the aircraft side of it. Previous comments cover the pilot and repair certifications. The 2004 Sport Pilot Rule was remarkably complete. Applying these to all of GA would be fantastic. Well done to all involved in making this happen.

Posted by: Serena Ryan | October 8, 2018 11:23 AM    Report this comment

With BasicMed last year, most of my fears over the likelihood of my continued ability to fly into UFO status were assuaged. As a result, I began spending $$ on my machines. I'd love to have something new vs upgrading but I don't have enough time left before I have to hang up my A20's. After 34 years, my C172 has served me well and I can sell it for enough to cover all of the costs over all of those years when the time comes. As soon as I buy a new airplane, depreciation alone cannot be justified. Doesn't mean I don't want or desire one ... I just tread carefully weighing the pro's and con's more as my remaining time aviating wanes. I suspect I'm not the only one in that 'boat' here? It drives much of my impatience with the bureaucrats for acting a day late and a buck short ... time after time.

After the giddiness over the new proposal subsides, one realizes that for any 'mature' pilots who owns a conforming airplane, this proposal has little added utility. It boils down to the difference between the privileges of a pilot flying under light sport vs. BasicMed rules. For a few folks, that might make a difference but -- I suspect that number isn't as great as we might imagine?

In the most recent couple of years, I worry more about how long the IA I work with will keep that up. Once he gives up, either I have to step up to the plate -- and I don't want to ... I'm retired -- or a bunch of us are 'done.' Where I once worried about my medical, I now worry about my IA. IT could be the straw that broke the camel's back? For me, maintenance issues are now paramount.

I suspect that the increase in MGTOW -- with all of the attendant issues answered -- is more for NEW airplanes than to include legacy airframes. Flight schools may benefit? Younger people with disposable income may benefit? Individual buyers ... not so much. Certainly, not in numbers large enough to make a difference. We've all moaned over the price of new airplanes; maybe this'll help ... but not me.

I do not understand why an A&P with -- say -- 10 years experience couldn't take an extra course or two annually and be allowed to perform CONDITION inspections on any airplane which meets the new rule. Maybe every five years, a "real" annual could be done as a QA backup for AD's? Mike Busch has it right. Airplanes should be inspected more for where they reside, how they're used and who maintains them day to day. TBO is a meaningless value. I just sold a '67 Cherokee with its original low compression O-320 that had never been fully apart. 2,000 hours and 12 years were irrelevant.

With bated breath, I await the actual words of the NPRM. If it includes maintenance relief .. it'll be an amazing turnaround. If it does not ... it ain't enough.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 8, 2018 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Larry Stencel--"If it doesn't allow maintaining an existing C172 like an S-LSA or E-AB, it ain't gonna work."

My exact thought as well. I forwarded the proposal to my Canadian friends--and my first thought was "Why not include Owner Performed Maintenance--like they have in Canada? Experimentals have been doing it for years--and you can get an LSA Repairman Certificate for your own airplane using a weekend course. Why not include it?

The best part about the Canadian Owner Performed Maintenance program is that you can go back on the Annual inspection by a designated mechanic. I have two Canadian airplane-owning friends--one flies 50 hours a year and keeps his airplane at a remote lodge--he takes the airplane to a professional maintenance facility every 3 years. The other flies about 100 hours a year and also "comes back" to an AI every 3 years or so--but he has owned airplanes at his lodge for over 30 years. There is no need to do so, but they have "another set of eyes" look at it voluntarily.

We have a perfect "test program" right next door in Canada. (If anything, the remote locations in Canada make it LESS likely that the aircraft will be "professionally" maintained--and obtaining parts is harder). The FAA should consult with the Canadians on whether the Owner Performed Maintenance Program has adversely affected safety--and if not, adopt it!

Posted by: jim hanson | October 8, 2018 12:48 PM    Report this comment

Jim H -- As I've often said ... someone can bring me the fastest and most complex E-AB airplane and I can do an annual condition inspection on the thing and put them on their way (assuming, of course, that I have familiarity with it). But if the same person brings me a certificated no electrical 1940 Piper Cub ... they're outta luck because I don't hold an IA. There is absolutely NO logic in that whatever. The IA I work with often comes to me when it comes to areas where I'm the expert ... and vice versa. I know E-AB builders who can run circles around me in some areas.

There isn't a person that inhabits this blog space who would endanger themselves or others purposely with poor maintenance. As it is, the OWNER of an airplane is responsible for its maintenance and upkeep in between annuals, not the IA. Their work is good for one hour. It's no different than the 729 days (or more) in between aero medical exams. If you get sick, you ground yourself. And ... just to be sure ... you have to fly a flight review every other year, as well. An A&P or IA merely acts as a second set of eyes for maintenance. Now add currency requirements. At what point have we gone TOO far? Even with all of that, a few of us manage to harm ourselves. Nothing is 100% efficient. Let's get real. The Canadians DO have it right ... that's why the P-NC thing enrages me!

If solving the pilot and mechanic shortage is THE end goal we want to solve ... then lets solve it. Let's quit dancing around the periphery slicing and dicing and parsing FAR's and ideas. FIX IT!

Most professional pilots come from GA. In order to fix the problems ... we have to fix GA. Simple as that. All I can hope is that this latest idea isn't just another half-baked ill considered bandaid fix.

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 8, 2018 6:01 PM    Report this comment

I hope it isn't a unit conversion issue, but note that they could have just included Primary Category models that meet other restrictions as the max weight is 3375 lbs for a seaplane in that category they could just have stated a number that covered exemptions to that grouping.

1650lbs would be allow a lot of LSA flyers to safely carry a typical passenger with reasonable fuel reserves and be an improvement but as the FAA is also pushing for AOA, ads-b, and other safety based initiatives which simply are not possible in many legacy aircraft I am optimistic that the the limit will be higher.

The data on accidents really doesn't show that lighter is any safer and often leads to design compromises that lead to increased risk during an event. No matter what the proposal ends up being remember to give feedback during the comment period.

Posted by: Greg D | October 8, 2018 6:06 PM    Report this comment

I should also note that the FAA 'AIR Transformation Strategy' is focused at results and a shift from the legacy regulation centered focus. The FAA's deck titled "Shift FAA Focus" also makes me optimistic that this may not be a unit conversion issue.

Posted by: Greg D | October 8, 2018 6:12 PM    Report this comment

Aha !! See the following EAA announcement yesterday for MOSAIC ... "Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certificates" released by EAA yesterday:

eaa.org/en/eaa/eaa-news-and-aviation-news/news/10-08-2018-eaa-led-reform-ideas-include-lsa-weight-and-homebuilt-regulations

and a prior announcement released September 13:

eaa.org/en/eaa/eaa-news-and-aviation-news/news/09-13-2018-mosaic-movement-holds-hopeful-signs-for-homebuilts-lsa


Looks to me like we're a bit premature high fiving ourselves here :-(
And ... let's just see what any NPRM released early next year looks like compared to what's been said so far.

But it does show how eager we all are for ... CHANGE

Posted by: Larry Stencel | October 9, 2018 12:29 AM    Report this comment

A quote from Larry's referenced EAA/MOSAIC article:

"It's also important to think beyond fixating on a specific number in a single area."

Oh well, maybe someday.

Posted by: A Richie | October 9, 2018 8:57 AM    Report this comment

I was at the Carbondale, IL AOPA Fly-in when Jack Pelton took the stage and announced the 3600LB Light Sport gross weight increase. He is well aware of the details contained in this proposed new ruling. Mark Baker made his comments as well. These two are savvy aviation leaders who have a very good understanding of what GA needs to not only survive but thrive.

LSA's proved the drivers license medical was a safe alternative to the third class medical. LSA's have also have proved that A&P's are qualified to perform conditional inspections.

EAA has lead the way for validating the repairman and A&P qualifications for both modifications and conditional inspections. While the LSA fleet is small compared to GA and Experimental aircraft, the Experimental aircraft have been the biggest, verifiable data base of safety, design, and common sense approach to being able to fly with minimal cost and hassle. Latest numbers prove as more and more experimentals enter GA, accumulating more hours not less, increased safety records.

Experimentals and LSA's has led the way for our modern avionics. Prior to 2004, no one could dream of a panel installed in the AOPA Super Cub would ever exist let alone installed. Experimentals and LSA's have allowed a very thriving cottage industry to rise up and exist with in a slow dying GA environment.

LSA's have proved the validity of industry conforming standards. This opens the door for common sense STC's to be developed and made available addressing aging legacy aircraft issues like aluminium replacements for magnesium ruddervators for Bonanzas.

Now combine the two alphabet group's data base and you have a powerful, persuasive argument for increasing the LSA category to 3600lbs gross weight. I don't think Jack Pelton nor Mark Baker, with all that these two represent, have crafted with the FAA a collective loser.

Posted by: Jim Holdeman | October 9, 2018 10:10 AM    Report this comment

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