Light Sport Aircraft may find its largest markets on either end of the active pilots' life cycle. That is, by attracting entry level "I just want to have fun" pilots on the front end, or by providing a last ride for pilots whose financial means, comfort, or age has caught up with their desire, or ability to fly higher performance aircraft (or earn a third class medical). On the grounds of AirVenture, it is not easy to decipher if Sport Pilots will be a well-defined group, and that may not be a good thing for the price-points of the breed. In the end, the desires of the market with the most buying power will ultimately define the most successful Light Sport Aircraft designs. For now, lack of a well defined group may mean a lack of mass production and a lack of new very low cost aircaft. The current crop includes some offerings in the range of $80,000. A lack of very low cost aircraft specifically marketed to entry level pilots may deter those pilots from joining the fray and moving on to fly larger more capable planes. It may also amount to another missed opportunity in the quest to make flying more accessible to a broader group.
But the FAA could still claim a small victory. The rules would still offer legitimate status to those pilots and craft who were (prior to the new rules) flying beyond the limitations of the ultralight category with training that fell short of the certificated pilot. They would also offer sanctuary to those certificated pilots with lapsed medicals willing to adhere to the regulations set forth by the Sport Pilot regulations. Wherever this ride goes, the technology evoked by this initial push may yet benefit us all.
A total of 13 airplanes are now fully approved under Special Light Sport Aircraft (S-LSA) provisions and now the push is on to put pilots in them and the dozens that are sure to follow. It's only been a few months since the first ready-to-fly planes were approved and not much longer since the first examiners were certified so there's a lot of catching up to do as these aircraft hit the market. However, we're now getting some idea of the training that will be required and its cost. Joshua Foss, of SportsPlanes.com told an Oshkosh news conference that a full training package for fixed wing S-LSAs should be less than $4,000. Foss said that although the Sport Pilot rules call for a minimum of 20 hours of instruction, 30 hours is more realistic. Ironically, hourly instruction costs likely won't be a lot cheaper (and may even be more expensive) than private pilot training because the airplanes used will be brand new, in most cases, and worth more than the decades-old aircraft many schools use for training. Foss's company now has 20 regional sales, service and training centers lined up around the U.S. and there are plans for more, including some in Canada. It's likely the largest company involved in the burgeoning market and is the U.S. representative for three recently approved S-LSAs and the fully certified Alarus.
An interesting wrinkle in the carefully refined rules that define Light Sport Aircraft is its "conforming standards" provision. What it all means in the practical world of instrumentation, is glass, glass, glass. Of the thirteen aircraft on display in EAA's Sport Pilot Mall at Oshkosh 2005, multiple examples incorporated multifunction wonder-boxes placed prominently (dare we say, proudly) in places far more capable higher performance aircraft could not legally use them -- in their instrument panels. That's right, you too can carry one passenger at 100-or-so knots in VFR glory while referencing a single $3,000 unit for airspeed, turn rate, heading, altitude, VSI, artificial horizon, airspeed (plus true airspeed), ground speed, GPS slaved CDI, Zulu time and moving map. Blue Mountain Avionics offers just that -- for $6,500 you can replace that flat horizon with synthetic vision 3D terrain. Purists may elect a more sporting Dynon Avionics $2,000 EFIS-D10A unit -- you'll have to do your own navigating with one of those (no GPS interface) and look outside to see the mountains.