Should the FAA Grant Icon A5's Weight Increase?
No doubt you’ve heard by now that Icon Aircraft is asking the FAA for an exemption to LSA weight rules for the company’s sleek Icon A5 light sport amphibian. Specifically, the company is seeking a 250-pound max gross weight increase above the LSA limit of 1,430 pounds. Without the exemption, it’s unlikely the A5 can enter production in its current form, at least anytime soon.
Icon says the A5 requires a max takeoff weight of 1,680 pounds because of structural changes that will make the airplane spin resistant under Part 23 certification standards. LSAs aren’t certified to Part 23, of course, but rather to ASTM standards. Seeking a weight increase to meet Part 23 safety standards is an unusual request for an LSA maker. It’s so unusual, the FAA hasn’t been able to give an answer more than a year after Icon first asked for an exemption. The typical timeframe for the agency to do so is 120 days.
The FAA has the power to grant a weight exemption under LSA rules if the extra weight is needed to accommodate additional safety features. Late last month the FAA Small Airplane Directorate sent a letter to Icon founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins asking for additional data supporting Icon’s contention that the A5 really will be spin resistant under Part 23 rules. To summarize the letter, the FAA essentially is saying that if Icon claims the A5 will meet Part 23 spin resistance standards, the company must show that it tested the A5 using Part 23 guidelines and not LSA parameters.
That makes perfect sense. The controversy has led some to conclude that Icon is merely trying to skirt LSA weight rules because it couldn't meet the A5’s original weight target. There might be some truth to that, but to take the argument a step further by asserting that Icon should be denied a weight exemption because it wouldn’t be “fair” to other LSA makers is the wrong way to look at the issue. LSA rules, after all, allow the FAA to approve weight limit exemptions for safety reasons. The decision about whether to grant Icon an exemption should have absolutely nothing to do with competitive issues and everything to do with whether the A5 indeed meets Part 23 spin standards.
By the same token, the FAA shouldn’t feel pressure to approve Icon’s weight exemption request merely because the A5 is an exciting new design. The last time the FAA came under such pressure to sign off on a “revolutionary” new airplane was the case of the Eclipse 500, and we all know how that turned out.
If Icon says the A5 meets Part 23 standards for spin-resistant design, the FAA has every right to compel Icon to show it the data backing up such a claim. If it turns out the A5 really does meet the standards and the airplane has been successfully tested to those standards, the FAA should happily approve the weight exemption.
The ball is now in Icon's court as the FAA awaits a response.