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FAA increases weight limit of light sport aircraft by a factor of 3

Interesting news (although probably more interesting to European manufacturers than pilots).

The FAA has an NPRM out now to increase the weight limit on light sport aircraft to 3600lbs (1.6 tonnes). This will mean aircraft such as the Piper Warrior and the Cessna 172 will qualify as light sports and owners will potentially benefit from relaxed rules on who can maintain them (in the USA), since an LSA repairman certificate is much easier to get than a full A&P, and manufacturers of new aircraft can make larger light sport aircraft.

The 3600lb headline doesn’t mean “anything goes”, light sport still means fixed gear, fixed pitch prop only, max 4 seats, max level full power speed of 150kt, and (probably) maximum flap down stall speed of 45kt, so things like a Cirrus SR-20 won’t count because it has a CS prop and stalls too fast. Helicopters are explicitly excluded from being an LSA too.

Andreas IOM

Is it April 1st? The most important implication is the end of private pilot medicals for pilots flying most FAA registered ‘non-complex’ light aircraft in the US. Maintenance of certified aircraft would I believe be unchanged. Some lighter certified aircraft can currently be flown as Light Sports (optionally), and their maintenance protocol is not changed: you do not currently maintain a certified Ercoupe or Cub any differently if it operated under LSA regs.

For those of us who own planes which are slightly ineligible as a result of CS props or higher stall speed, I’m guessing market values will be negatively affected, but I don’t think too many people will complain about that in the public comment period.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 08 Oct 14:46

I think the benefit is less on the maintenance side, and more on what it means for innovation/manufacturers if the LSA rule goes from 2 to 4 seats. Hopefully it will make development costs more reasonable, and make building new factory aircraft more feasible. On the other hand, I think the main problem isn’t so much that building new aircraft costs a lot (it does!), but rather that there are so many used aircraft in decent condition for not a lot of money. Unless and until the pool of used aircraft relative to new demand shrinks, I think new builds will always be on a shaky financial footing. (Or they come with some sort of major performance/maintenance improvement) Otherwise, it’s hard to justify spending 200k on a new plane when you can buy a used Mooney for 60k, spend 60k on avionics, 30k on the engine, and 40k on avgas.

alioth wrote:

light sport still means fixed gear, fixed pitch prop only, max 4 seats, max level full power speed of 150kt, and (probably) maximum flap down stall speed of 45kt

IIRC, LSA is maxed out at 120kts? That would seem like a big difference in terms of who might buy them.

United States

redRover wrote:

Otherwise, it’s hard to justify spending 200k on a new plane when you can buy a used Mooney for 60k, spend 60k on avionics, 30k on the engine, and 40k on avgas.

Especially when unlike the LSA, the used standard category plane can be maintained without ‘support’ from a manufacturer, with parts bought on the open market from many sources new and used without paperwork etc. The solution to that unpleasant LSA restriction is owners moving their a factory built LSA aircraft into E-LSA (experimental) and living happily ever after. I’m sure that if the weight limit is increased, that will become the tendency for new production four seat LSA planes too. The only issue is flight training restrictions in Experimental category planes.

This NPRM indicates that the FAA would like to remove itself from medical certification for most light aircraft pilots and allow most new factory production light aircraft to operate like homebuilts if the owner chooses, in Experimental category. Both concepts have been proven independently by existing LSA and E-AB regs, so combining them is a logical progression. The route to convert a plane to E-LSA is well enough obscured to make it marketable to law makers.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 08 Oct 15:13

alioth wrote:

max 4 seats
Isn’t LSA max 2 seats?
alioth wrote:
aircraft such as the Piper Warrior and the Cessna 172 … maximum flap down stall speed of 45kt
Vso on those two birds is 50+ kias. Even without this, what bird is that 150kts, fixed gear, fixed prop, 3600lb thing?

ESMK, Sweden

Silvaire wrote:

allow most new factory production light aircraft to operate like homebuilts if the owner chooses, in Experimental category

I’m sure there are a lot of other differences that the stats don’t take into account, but it would be interesting to see how E-AB fatalities/accidents stack up versus traditional part 23 certified aircraft, and how much of the difference is attributable to design/operation differences versus pilot attitude/risk preference. Structural failure is obviously a problem, but it seems like E-AB also means more risk of things like poor stall characteristics, etc.* Apparently there are also a decent number of E-ABs that crash on their first flight, or first flight after maintenance, because of clogged fuel lines. To be sure, having an A&P do the work is no guarantee of quality, but hopefully they avoid at least the most glaringly obvious problems.

Anyways, I’m all for de-regulation, but it would be interesting to see an in-depth analysis of what the safety implications are. (Though I would argue that it’s also the prerogative of the pilot/owner to make his own trade-off in that area, within reason. We’re not flying part 25 aircraft, and we should be honest about that.)

*Obviously this is only for new designs. Grandfathered type certificates can have rather nasty stall behavior, especially compared to your average C-172/PA-28 type design, but I think that’s rather here nor there going forwards. However, to the extent that so many fatalities come from stall-spins on the base-final turn, or the impossible turn, it seems like stall characteristics are important.

United States

Silvaire wrote:

and their maintenance protocol is not changed: you do not currently maintain a certified Ercoupe or Cub any differently if it operated under LSA regs.

The content of the maintenance hasn’t changed but isn’t the difference who can do the maintenance, i.e. an LSA repairman suitably trained can do it rather than a full-blown A&P?

Andreas IOM

Arne wrote:

Isn’t LSA max 2 seats?

The other part of the change is max seats go up to 4.

Andreas IOM

alioth wrote:

The content of the maintenance hasn’t changed but isn’t the difference who can do the maintenance, i.e. an LSA repairman suitably trained can do it rather than a full-blown A&P?

Maintenance on FAA certified aircraft must be done by an A&P. It doesn’t matter if the plane is or can be operated under LSA rules, for example if flown by a private pilot with an expired medical. This is not a big issue for LSA-compliant Cub owners and the like who typically work closely with a friendly local A&P and control their own parts/maintenance.

A factory produced LSA aircraft has different maintenance protocols and regulations, most of which are actually problematic relative to what the FAA certified Cub owner faces unless the plane is converted to E-LSA (experimental).

I think the significant issues in this NPRM are no-pilot-medical for many bigger planes of all regulatory types, plus the path towards allowing new production four seat factory built LSA aircraft to be built and sold as LSA, then potentially converted to Experimental-LSA. That makes new four seat planes more marketable in relation to both existing FAA certified and FAA Experimental-AB aircraft. Having read the FAA statement, I note they also plan a NPRM to allow professional builders to construct Experimental-EB aircraft, which is interesting. Obviously to me its becoming no holds barred at this point to accelerate new light aircraft sales for the US market.

Last Edited by Silvaire at 08 Oct 18:50

Thought it was a joke, but it’s apparently fact Read about it in the local aero-news here. But there are limitations:
No constant speed, no retract, max speed limit. “Certification” include flight test to test for “gentle behavior”. It also open up for “professional builders” to build and sell homebuilts.

ENVA ENOP ENMO, Norway
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