FAA officials told leaders of the light sport aircraft (LSA) industry at Oshkosh last week that an assessment of several LSA manufacturers will begin in September to determine the overall health of the industry.
The “health” issues include determining whether companies are in compliance with ASTM (American Society of Testing and Materials) standards, as well as other ASTM requirements. Some of the leading manufacturers have told the FAA that while most manufacturers of the two-seat aircraft are meeting ASTM standards, others are flaunting the rules. The assessment approach resulted from a meeting with light sport leaders and the FAA.
The FAA has picked 29 of the first 52 manufacturers to offer light sport aircraft for the assessment.
While manufacturers referred to the FAA effort as an audit, the FAA prefers the term “assessment.” FAA officials want the industry to see the effort as a positive, proactive move, especially in light of skepticism at the NTSB about light sport self-certification. NTSB officials are reportedly “very nervous” about the self-certification process on which LSAs are based. It is hoped the NTSB will see the assessments as a positive step toward determining if the industry is in compliance with ASTM standards.
One concern heard at Oshkosh last week was the failure of some companies to offer a proper pilot’s operating handbook. In addition, accident investigations have shown that some customers, through no fault of the manufacturers, have made modifications that exceed the maximum allowed weight of their light sport aircraft.
While the FAA can’t confirm such information, the assessments will determine “...if there are issues in these areas as well as other requirements of the ASTM standards,” one FAA official said.
At a meeting with the industry at Oshkosh, the question was raised to FAA officials about whether the FAA can carry its assessment overseas, since most LSA manufacturers are in Europe. In fact, the leading seller, the Flight Design CT, is offered by a German company. An FAA official told AOPA Online that the initial assessment will be based on distributors in the United States, but if the data warrants, the FAA can seek information from the manufacturers in Europe.
The FAA has no intent to shut down companies. Rather, the FAA seeks compliance with the ASTM standards.
So far there seems to be no evidence of a long-expected industry shakeout. That shakeout has been anticipated since the beginning of the light sport industry but was based on sales competition. Some have predicted the 84 models as currently listed on bydanjohnson.com might ultimately be reduced to five or 10 as customers decide which they like best.
The market is awaiting the impact of major manufacturers like Cessna Aircraft and Cirrus Design entering the LSA market over the next two years.