Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) are gaining popularity, and for good reason: Pilots can earn a sport pilot certificate in a light sport aircraft for less money and in less time than a traditional private pilot license. These smaller aircraft are also less expensive and easier to operate than the typical flight training aircraft of the past. Here's the rundown on the newest industry craze:
By definition, a light sport aircraft, or LSA, must have:
- A max takeoff weight of 1320 lbs or less (1430 for water operations).
- A maximum airspeed (Vh) of 120 knots CAS (level flight, max continuous power, standard conditions).
- For a glider, a maximum never-exceed speed (Vne) of 120 knots or less.
- A Vs1 (stall speed without flaps) not more than 40 knots CAS (at max takeoff weight and most critical CG).
- Seating for no more than 2 people (including pilot).
- A single, reciprocating engine.
- A fixed pitched propeller (or ground-adjustable). Powered gliders must have auto-feathering capability if equipped with an adjustable prop.
- For gyroplanes, a fixed-pitch, semi-rigid, teetering blade rotor system.
- A non-pressurized cabin.
- Fixed landing gear, except for aircraft operating on water and gliders, which may have fixed or retractable gear.
Types and Classification
Light sport aircraft can be either standard or experimental aircraft, and include gliders, gyroplanes, powered-parachute, weight-shift control aircraft, balloons and airships.
Further, LSAs are divided into four categories:
- Standard Category/Sport Pilot-Eligible: pre-existing aircraft the happen to meet LSA requirements and can be flown by sport pilots.
- S-LSA: Special light sport aircraft are factory-built aircraft specifically designed for the LSA standards. S-LSAs meet ASTM consensus standards, and are ready-to-fly when sold. They can be maintained by a standard A&P mechanic or a repairman with a FAA LSA maintenance rating.
- E-LSA: Experimental light sport aircraft are sold as kits, and can be built at home in accordance with the manufacturer's manual and instructions. E-LSA manufacturers are also ASTM-compliant.
- E-AB: Experimental amateur-built aircraft are not all light sport aircraft. But a light sport aircraft can be classified as experimental amateur-built. E-AB aircraft are homebuilt aircraft, and if they meet the LSA design and performance requirements, can be flown by sport pilots. Since E-AB aircraft involve more extensive home-building than an E-LSA, the aircraft is restricted to personal use and cannot be used for flight training (with the exception of the aircraft owner himself) or rental.
Examples of new light sport aircraft include the Cessna 162 Skycatcher and the Teraffugia Transition.
Advantages of Light Sport Aircraft
- Low purchase prices and maintenance costs.
- Simple and easy to fly.
- Sport pilot training can be completed with fewer flight hours than other certifications, making it a cheaper training option.
- New and expanding market.
Disadvantages of Light Sport Aircraft
- Smaller interior means less leg room.
- Less baggage space and smaller weight allowances.
- Short range and slow flight speeds.
- Sport pilots are restricted to day VFR flying at non-towered airfields.
- Risk associated with new and/or experimental aircraft.