We all know that looking into the future is only possible in sci-fi movies. Even the finest crystal ball will not be able to say with any degree of accuracy what the light sport aircraft (LSA) market will look like in the U.S. after the FAA releases its final version of the upcoming MOSAIC (Modernization of Special Airworthiness Certification) rulemaking effort.
There is, however, a way to take a pretty good look at what LSAs might become once MOSAIC is etched in stone. You’ll need to travel to Friedrichshafen, Germany, and attend the upcoming 2022 Aero Friedrichshafen trade show (AERO22), known affectionately as “AERO”—much like EAA’s AirVenture is referred to by many simply as “Oshkosh.” This year’s AERO22 show is April 27-30 at the Messe Friedrichshafen convention complex, adjacent to Bodensee Airport (EDNY).
The reason the airplanes found at AERO22 can be considered a possible preview to our post-MOSAIC LSA world is that in the EU, the “ultralight” class of airplanes are in many ways the same airframe and engine combinations as found here as LSAs, only without many of the limitations sport pilots in the U.S. have to contend with. In the EU, what we know as an LSA can fly with higher maximum takeoff weight, go faster because retractable gear and constant-speed props are allowed, and be used for many commercial purposes.
“It’s safe to say that what’s going on in the EU could be a precursor to what our post-MOSAIC world might look like,” said LSA industry expert Dan Johnson, who has flown across the pond to attend AERO 26 times.
“The EU and U.S. sort of leapfrog each other when it comes to regulations,” Johnson said. “I have seen this several times. Right now, they’re ahead of us when it comes to features, speed limits, and maximum takeoff weights with their ultralights, but we should move ahead of them when the MOSAIC rewrite is final. And because of a collaborative relationship between governments and universities, innovation thrives in the EU.
“Even after our MOSAIC rewrite is in the books, they could again leapfrog ahead of us in the future with new ideas we are not yet even pursuing.”
What Could Be Coming Soon
A good example of the differences between EU ultralight regulations and LSA regulations here in the U.S. is the JMB Aircraft VL3, sold in the U.S by Alion Aviation.
This sleek high-performance model can be ordered in the EU with the Rotax 912ULS, 912iS, 914UL Turbo, or the 141-hp 915iS Turbo engine, with the latter delivering 200 ktas cruise speed on the VL3 with retractable gear, a variable-pitch propeller, and 1,500-pound maximum takeoff weight. This faster version of the VL3 is available now to the U.S. market, but only as an “Experimental Exhibition or 51 percent amateur build with factory assistance” model that would require a private pilot certificate at a minimum to operate and be capable of all kinds of flying, including flight into IFR conditions.
The same VL3 airframe is available to the U.S. pilots as an SLSA, with either 912ULS or 912iS Rotax engine options, but with fixed-pitch propeller and fixed landing gear, and U.S. LSA limitations of 120 ktas cruise speed and 1,320 pounds maximum takeoff weight. While nobody knows what future LSA regulations will look like after MOSAIC, it is possible that aircraft such as the much more capable EU version of the VL3 may end up being qualified for pilots to fly here with a sport pilot certificate.
Additionally, JMB Aircraft just announced that a version of their VL3 flew for the first time in early April at Valenciennes Airfield (LFAV) in France powered by a TurboTech turbine engine. The model will feature full FADEC control, and since no performance targets were released, it is unclear how this turbine VL3 would fit into the FAA’s MOSAIC framework.
AERO22’s 30th Anniversary Show
This year’s 30th edition of AERO will feature more than 700 exhibitors from 38 countries and is expected to host more than 35,000 visitors, 63 percent of whom hold a pilot certificate, according to the AERO22 website. Show organizers welcome pilots to fly into EDNY in their aircraft, and each will get a one-day free entry to the show, though arrival slots are required. There will be free bus shuttles from the airport to the pilot’s entrance at the Messe Friedrichshafen complex.
Clock is Ticking on MOSAIC Release
Johnson says it is “highly likely” that the FAA will release big news about the MOSAIC rewrite at the upcoming EAA AirVenture Oshkosh show this summer.
“When [the] FAA went to Congress to ask for a bigger budget, the response from Congress was that in order to grant that request, [the] FAA would need to rewrite regulations to incorporate UAVs, air taxis, drones, multicopters, and other related aircraft into our national airspace system. Congress said it had to be done by December 31, 2023, and [the] FAA says it needs 16 months to release the NPRM and read every comment.
“If you do the math, and if [the] FAA is staying on that Congressionally mandated schedule, that means we are looking at Oshkosh 2022 for the NPRM release. If they do not release it then, that will mean their schedule is slipping,” Johnson said.