Monday, February 14, 2011

Voice of the (Pilot) People

Smart Brief picked up on an AOPA poll of its membership (without citing the numbers of poll respondents) that shows an overwhelming majority can see themselves "flying as a sport pilot in the future."
That dovetails into a topic I'm working on in my column for the May issue, which covers the recent LSA Tour of Florida that took place right after Sebring 2011.
John Hurst, head of Sebring Aviation, who flew a Flight Design CTLS on the Tour, told me of his desire to overturn what he perceives as an entrenched belief among younger pilots that LSA flight is primarily viable as an alternative for older pilots faced with the possibility of losing their flight medicals, and therefore their flight privileges.
"I want us to stop preaching to the choir and reach out to younger pilots.  Too many younger pilots think of LSA as a compromise you need to make when you're in danger of losing your medical.  I've heard younger pilots say, too many times, 'I won’t have to do something like that for a lot of years'.  I'm trying to change that perception to show them LSA offers several benefits they can't get with a type certificated aircraft."
The question the poll doesn't answer is, "How far in the future do you see yourself flying as a sport pilot?"

On the face of it though, these are encouraging numbers.  At the very least it shows that sport pilot flying is building a strong positive image for itself.
The poll results:
74.91%: Yes -- I could see myself flying as a sport pilot in the future
11.06%: Yes -- I am flying as a sport pilot now.
(aggregate total: almost 86%!)
14.03%: No -- I would not fly.


Bobby said...

A large amount of what I read in regard to LSA/Sport Pilot seems to be for existing members of the GA community. Why isn't anyone asking the non-pilots when, if, how we plan to become sport pilots? I frequent every GA site and pod-cast out there and no one seems to be talking to me. There are millions of avgeeks like myself out there who aren't pilots. Yet. We're looking for information. We're looking for a way in. But airports are gated. We're not millionaires. So who is marketing and educating us? What opportunities to get involved in aviation are available to us? How do you start to remove the country club-ish aura surrounding ga today (as I see as an outsider)?

Sport pilot gives me the possibility of flying... cost isn't very much of an issue like it used to be for a PPL. So when will GA stop talking about needing new pilots in the system and actually do something about it?

End Rant. :)

James Lawrence said...

Thanks Bobby, that's a great rant indeed and right on target!
You may be surprised to know the very questions you articulate plague the thoughts of GA professionals night and day.
Finding a consensus though remains elusive. Everybody's got their own ideas about how to do it. Many concepts have been tried (EAA's Young Eagles program, for instance) but the erosion of pilot numbers continues.
That country-club image you speak of is something many in the Light Sport sector are actively trying to overturn. The LSA Tour you read about above was a deliberate attempt to reach non-pilots, and there will be more of them (next up: probably a tour of Georgia in April).
Of course a lot of resistance to becoming a pilot comes from ever-escalating many people simply can't afford to fly frequently.
Our melodrama-prone media doesn't help. Not to make excuses, but it doesn’t help that there’s a public perception of civilian flight as a crazy, death-defying sport best left to thrill seekers.
My advice: do what I do – fly any way you can. Don't wait for GA to come to you, or kick off it's $300 dollar shoes. Aviation is out there and all around you and just waiting for young folks like yourself to get involved.
In the '70s I flew hang gliders (still do occasionally). In the '80s I built and flew ultralights.
I've trained in sailplanes and would love to own a motorglider.
Now I rent a J3 Cub and a Flight Design CTLS locally.
I'm 65 but hardly a country clubber.
But I’ve been having, frankly, a lot more fun all these years than if I'd stayed with the traditional side of GA flight.
LSA flight training and activities are coming online in more cities and towns by the month, all over the U.S., even with the tough economy.
You can find a flying club or maybe even start one yourself! Shared ownership is another, often overlooked, and highly viable way for people to get into flying without having to take out a 2nd mortgage.
Believe me, LSA professionals are wracking their brains trying to figure out how to reach the video game generation and everybody else who isn't already a prop fact I just talked with a dealer/distributor yesterday who will skip one of the big airshows he’s always attended in favor of taking his LSA models to some recreational events instead, such as boat, RV and car shows.
I believe LSA will help turn things around for General Aviation, once people realize you don't have to buy one to fly one, and you don't have to go 200 knots on a bee line from point A to point B to have a good time in the air...most often in fact, it’s just the opposite.
Flying remains a fantastic adventure every time you go up. Keeping up with the country clubbers doesn't have to play even a small part of it, unless that's what you’re interested in.
There are so many wonderful, friendly, helpful pilots from all walks of life out there.
So I'll say it again: find any way you can to fly.
Don't wait for "GA" to change its image: go find it and jump in. And be one of the folks who give it a whole new life and a whole new image.

Anonymous said...


You're absolutely right. Here are some thoughts Steve Tupper just posted on an AOPA blog, that you may find relevant/helpful!


I suspect that the connection between LSA and "old guys" comes from the failure to extend "driver license medical" operations to other types of aircraft. If that had been done, LSA would have been seen for what it is - a lower-regulatory-burden approach to aircraft certification - and might have much broader appeal among pilots. I fear that it may now be tarred with that "for old guys" brush permanently. :-(

That's a real shame, as I'm finding some LSA types that are WAY more fun to fly than what the "young guy wannabes" are flying!

And, of course, the availability of such fun machines derives from the lower regulatory burden - which I believe should also be extended beyond its current 600kg/120kt sand box.

James Lawrence said...

Thanks Anonymous, good points all.
I had an interesting conversation last night with a leading LSA manufacturer whose intellect and grasp of the big picture has always been admirable to me.
He let his hair down with some global insights that echo yours, specifically about the core LSA weight/performance 'sandbox' as you so colorfully put it.
His take: FAA needed/needs to "upgrade" the current 1320 weight limit to, say, a 1600 lb. gross. That would present immediate benefits to the beleaguered U.S. GA market as well as the LSA category:
1. It would "level the playing field" as he put it by making LSA more directly competitive with the European market, which already had a robust 1320 lb. fleet but does not have equivalency to U.S. producers at the 1600 lb. level.
2. Revising the flight medical for a 1600 lb., four-seat category to the current LSA drivers license standard and certifying such aircraft by the ASTM process would revitalize the existing, aging W. Tin fleet.
3. Higher weight/performance and drivers license medicals would also "repurpose" our current Wichita Tin fleet, since FBOs are still showing resistance to learning a whole new category of aircraft anyway, as a new infrastructure gets built piece by piece.
4. Speaking of training, several schools note that students are primarily flying LSA to save money going for their Private Pilot license. Logical, no?
5. Expanding the current LSA category to include 4-seat, 1600 lb. airplanes would winnow the glut of 100+ current models that are currently scrambling to find meaningful market share, because each aircraft would then have to compete on its own merits, rather than selling mostly to older people looking for a flight medical workaround.
Remember these two facts:
- stats show the drivers license medical for LSA has not resulted in higher-than-GA medical-caused accidents.
- ASTM-approved airplanes over the last six years since LSA came about are no more accident or failure prone than GA airplanes, thought GA airplanes cost millions to certify.
My friend believes that making 4-seaters viable again could spur a renaissance in new pilot starts...because Sport Pilots will be able to afford to train and fly again, drawn not only by cute, sexy sports-car two-seaters, but cute, sexy, more practical but still economical four-seaters. See my blog post yesterday about Flight Design’s C4 four-seater that will debut at Europe's Aero in April. That airplane, priced right, could be a new, vastly more affordable Cirrus for light aircraft.
---Blogger choked, more below...

James Lawrence said...

So wouldn’t it be something if FAA would get behind a whole revisioning of the GA light aircraft category?
That is, if they really want to grow aviation again. Sometimes you have to wonder if the prevailing paranoia about terror from the skies has already ignited the Hindenberg of civilian flight, and what we're witnessing is the inevitable, if slow, burn.
Regardless, as my wise friend hints, we wouldn't have a category that forces a $100,000 sports car mentality...or be forced to fly in 40 year old, rickety 4-seat 172s and Cherokees as the only alternatives to training and lower-cost flying. We’d have both practical and fun aircraft to choose from.
Lots more to share on this subject.
Meanwhile, some closing thoughts:
1. One obvious shortcoming of two seaters: younger pilots will be filling their own nests with kids they’ll want to take on flying trips. Current LSAs do not significantly address that need.
2. A longtime, smallish GA manufacturer once commented to my friend that a four-seat, 1600 lb. airplane doesn't cost that much more to produce than a 1320s lb. two-seater -- and thats why he never produced a two-seater.
We could take these comments to make the point that LSA was misconceived and will die a slow death.
Or, that it could become the interim stage for a broader category of recreational/ purposeful airplanes that an entire new market could get behind.
Face it, that vast majority of potential pilots can’t afford and don’t need a $500,000 composite high-speed airplane like the Cirrus...yet look how many they sold anyway.
Imagine what a 140- knot cruiser that costs $150,000, (remember, no runaway million$ required for FAA certification) would do for the industry, for flying clubs, for shared ownerships, for schools, FBOs and local airports.
Of course counterarguments will rise...but thanks for stimulating the discussion, folks!

Anonymous said...

Hi James,

I do want to very clearly separate LSA from Sport Pilot, as I think the driver license medical/4 seats/1600lb proposal continues to mingle them.

Sport Pilot is about 2 things: low barrier to first license (the 20 hour license); and driver license medical. It doesn't need to have anything to do with 1,320lb weight limits.

The low entry barrier points toward an upgradeable license - which SP really isn't. I think Sport Pilot should be upgradeable, in steps, to enable full Private Pilot operations, including night and IFR operations, still with a driver license medical. The upgraded "full" Sport Pilot license could be limited to no more than 4 (or 6?) occupants, and to 6,000 lb gross weight, to cover the bureaucrats over the medical certification aspect. Capabilities would be added in small steps: higher gross weights (in steps); higher speeds (in steps); more than 1 passenger; night operations; operations above 10,000 ft; and so on. It would provide a series of small goals, reasons for pursuing recurring training.

LSA is a certification approach for airplanes, not pilots. It could readily be extended to 4-seat aircraft, although a 1,600 lb weight limit is too low for 4 seats (2-seat LSAs are marginal at 1,320 lbs, and 1,600lbs would add only 280 lbs for 2 more seats, a bigger engine, and fuel for that engine's bigger thirst). Again, LSA could be expanded in steps, and/or have different requirements for different aircraft types. For example, allow a 2 seat/700kg limit if stricter crashworthiness standards are used; allow a higher cruise speed if stricter anti-flutter standards are followed, and so on. I'm not sure why the current ASTM couldn't be used more or less as written for 4 seats and, say, 2,640lbs gross.

Costs are another issue. LSA has removed a large part of the certification cost, and that was a good start, but there are other problems: almost no efficiency gains in light aircraft manufacturing for several decades (due to no/low volumes); and product liability costs.

Competition will improve productivity, but slowly, over many years, and will affect engine prices ($20k now) and airframe costs (approx. $60k now). It has already brought us very capable avionics at amazing prices, but productivity is harder to achieve in mechanical products.

The remaining challenge is liability costs, which are staggering - I estimate (from the difference between E-LSA and S-LSA) that product liability costs are about $50,000 per LSA airframe!