10 things to know about Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs)

ASTM home-logo21. LSAs were originally devised in the early 2000’s in the USA where they were intended to bridge the gap between unlicensed ultralights and fully certified GA aircraft. The objective was to make non-ultralight flying less expensive, through cheaper aircraft and reduced pilot license requirements. Instead of FAA certifying aircraft, the responsibility was shifted to the the manufacturer to confirm their aircraft were compliant with a number of quite rigorous ASTM standards (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials).  These standards cover everything from original design through to manufacture and flying characteristics. FAA continues to police the manufacturers through full-blown inspections of their factories and processes to ensure ASTM standards are being met.

2. As of 15 April 2014 there are 134 different approved LSA aircraft available in USA. The number approved in Australia is unknown as neither CASA nor RA-Aus publishes this information.

3. The very first officially approved LSA aircraft in both USA and Australia was the Evektor SportStar Plus. Thus with some pride, Evektor claims to be the ‘Number One LSA’ company. In USA sales terms, they rate at No. 5.

4. The ASTM LSA standards were over-ridden by CASA in Australia in a number of areas. The reasons for this are unclear but rumour has it that some local manufacturers felt some of the standards could not be easily met by their products at the time. The main differences are:
– the USA straight & level, full power, maximum speed limit is 120 knots. There is no maximum speed in Australia
– the USA stall speed at maximum take-off weight (MTOW) must be under 45 knots ‘clean’ – ie no flaps. In Australia it is 45 knots in landing configuration – ie with as much flap as you need.
– the USA allows both glider and banner towing by LSAs. Australia only allows glider towing.

5. LSAs may be factory manufactured – in which case they are known as ‘Special’ or S-LSAs – or built from approved kits – in which case they are known as ‘Experimental’ or E-LSAs. In Australia, E-LSA aircraft registration numbers on RA-Aus aircraft (but not CASA VH- aircraft) are preceded with the letter ‘E’ – for example: E24-8460. Under E-LSA regulations, there is no ‘51%’ rule, so an aircraft can be almost complete, with only a few items for the builder/owner to finish.

6. An LSA aircraft may only be modified from its delivered configuration with the manufacturer’s written approval. This includes adding to or changing instrument types on the panel (including changing the radio type), changing any of the installed equipment, even installing bigger (or smaller) tyres. Contrary to popular belief, a CASR Part 21 engineer (previously known as a CAR 35 engineer) cannot legally approve modifications to an LSA.

7. In Australia, LSAs can be either be VH-registered with CASA or 24-registered with RA-Aus – the aircraft are identical, only the paperwork and pilot license requirements are different.

8. CASA-registered LSAs (but not RA-Aus registered LSAs) can be flown in Night VFR conditions, provided they are fitted with the required Night VFR equipment and the pilot has a night rating or higher.

9. Retractable (‘re-positionable’) landing gear is only permitted for amphibious LSAs . Landplanes must have fixed landing gear.

10. The Aeroprakt A22LS Foxbat is an approved LSA aircraft both in USA and Australia. Customer aircraft are registered both with CASA and RA-Aus. Among them in Australia, there are both amphibious and Night VFR rated aircraft.

Single seat ultralights

I have an interest in single-seat ultralights – I think in many ways, today’s recreational and light sport aircraft have moved a long way from the origins of light, simple and (relatively) cheap aircraft. As a result, there is a vibrant and growing number of companies moving into this gap in the market, primarily in the USA and Europe. These countries (including the UK) either have already, or are planning to, ‘deregulate’ these types of aircraft – ie you don’t need to register them or have a pilot’s license to fly them. However, there are some restrictions, for example in the USA the maximum empty weight is 254 pounds – that’s 115 kgs. Maximum speed at full power straight & level is limited to 55 kts and maximum fuel is 5 US gallons or 19 litres. Rules in Europe are a little more liberal, with empty weights at around 120 kgs or maximum take off weights of 300 kgs. Using modern state-of-the-art materials, this enables designers to come up with some sturdy and capable single seat aircraft.

Sadly for Australian readers, the main problem in bringing these types of aircraft to Australia is that, as fly-away aircraft, they would currently be un-registerable because CASA/RA-Aus do not (yet) have the same liberal attitude to small single seat aircraft as the rest of the world. Maybe if you went the kit route…it might be possible. Personally I’d rather fly ’em than build ’em!

My reporter from Europe – actually Rob Hatswell, Foxbat sales contact for South Australia – has been wandering round the Friedrichshafen Aero Expo in Germany. This is certainly the biggest aircraft expo outside the USA and now runs annually every April; it used to be a bi-annual show, like our own Avalon airshow. Rob reports that on display among the exhibits are a good clutch of new, or relatively new, designs of single seat ultralights.

P1070826 Sirocco

Rob sent me information on some of these types at Aero Expo. I’ll cover others in future posts but first up is the Dutch Sirocco NG made by the ACLA company. This is a tricycle gear composite and kevlar high-wing pusher with a maximum take-off weight of 250 kgs on an empty weight of 120 kgs, including a rescue parachute system. It’s powered by a 33 hp 4-stroke engine and has a maximum cruise of 65 kts. Take-off and landing rolls are in the 50-60 metre range. A full tank will run you for 4 hours. In standard form, there is just a small windshield to keep off the wind but there is an optional fully enclosed bubble canopy. European price works out around A$35,000 ready to fly.