Light, Sporty and Looking for Love
As the smoke fades and details emerge, it becomes clear that the Light Sport Aircraft Category is a whole new ballgame. And-surprise, surprise-it might just matter.
It should have been huge news, and there was a lot of hype surrounding it when the FAA last summer overturned decades of Beltway-bureaucratic-business-as-usual and created two new rules: a new pilot certificate (Sport Pilot) that will allow more, older and less affluent pilots to get into the air with fewer medical restrictions; and a brand new aircraft category (Light Sport Aircraft) that is already beginning to engender a gaggle of new and surprisingly capable airplanes.
Amazingly, the reaction by many pilots to this remarkable turn of events, has been, "So what." While this reaction might at first seem hard to explain, there are some good reasons for it.
First, pilots like everybody else tend to care deeply about the things that affect them directly and not much at all about those things that don't. After all, what does sport pilot and light sport aircraft mean to a pilot who already owns an airplane and flies mostly for transportation? Not much. And while people's flying habits tend to change as they get older, until that time existing pilots are largely unaffected by the new rules.
The new rules are also confusing. Take, for instance, the inclusiveness of the Light Sport Aircraft Category. If it was just about airplanes, that would be one thing, but LSA encompasses powered parachutes, gyroplanes, weight shift (trike) apparatuses, and even, I've been told, mini-dirigibles. So there's a sense out there, perhaps justifiably, that LSA is a bit of an oddball rule. Whether that's true or not, the impression is hard for a lot of pilots to get beyond.
Also confusing is the fact that the rule encompasses both experimental and factory-built airplanes. Perhaps it would be less confusing if there were two new categories, one for Experimentals and one for newly type certificated LSAs. As it stands now, there are experimental light sport aircraft (E-LSAs) and special light sport aircraft (S-LSAs, pronounced "salsas"). E-LSAs can't be flown for hire, rented out or used for most training. S-LSAs are for all intents and purposes just like regular Part 23 airplanes that can be used for training and rental. (The novel way that these S-LSAs are certified has gotten very little attention. For more on this, see the sidebar on S-LSA certification standards.)