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Light Sport Aircraft Takes Off
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 December 2005 From the Editor's Desk
E-mail Maryann Gorman

Light Sport Aircraft Takes Off

It was December 2002 when readers were first introduced to ASTM International Committee F37 on Light Sport Aircraft in the pages of SN. At the time, I — always thinking like an editor — remember being excited by the artistic possibilities of colorful and unusual aircraft photographed against clear blue skies.

But in less than the three years since, Committee F37 has given the light sport aircraft industry, aviation regulators, recreational flying enthusiasts and this editor something much more substantial to be excited about.

Committee F37’s challenge, as related in a special case study in this issue, was to produce a portfolio of standards to support the creation of new regulation put forward by the Federal Aviation Administration for light sport aircraft. Its accomplishment was the development, in less than two years, of some 20 of the most critical standards — necessary for the rule’s release. Additionally, F37 continues developing more standards to support other areas of the rule directly, or to support the industry as it begins to take flight. F37 has accomplished this using ASTM’s information technology tools to meet frequently, sometimes as much as once a week.

These facts alone are impressive enough, but combine them with the reason for and overall results of the effort and you’ll see what makes Committee F37 such a great standards development story.

In the late 1990s, market and product development in the light sport aircraft industry, which had existed since the 1970s, was in a holding pattern. Without regulation from the FAA and standards to ensure safety, this small aviation sector was struggling to develop new aircraft and encourage flying enthusiasts to participate. But by 2002, the industry and its regulating agency decided it was time to work together.

In response, the FAA created a Sport Pilot category of licensing and aircraft through a new federal rule. The objective was to provide a category that would return to basic and safe aviation, where fancy navigation and retractable gear, for instance, were unnecessary — to entertain the market, which was seeking simple, safe, affordable and functionally appealing personal aircraft.

Industry held up its part of the bargain by working through ASTM International to form Committee F37 and developing standards quickly to support the newly created rule. By the time the FAA released the rule in September 2004, the 20 critical standards were ready and waiting to be accepted by the agency to create a full light sport aircraft regulatory package that would result in essentially instant opportunities for massive growth within the industry.

Kudos are due all around for this amazing achievement. Acting progressively and with foresight, the FAA was willing to enhance its rulemaking process by embracing consensus standards in a paradigm where they could be used to help establish design, performance and airworthiness constraints. The industry put aside natural differences in design and other preferences and came up with standards that help ensure safety and ease of use. And flying enthusiasts stepped up to the plate as user-category members of the committee and, as a result, well, now they get to have a lot of safe fun in the air.

In short, as Earl Lawrence, chairman of Committee F37 and vice president of industry and aviation affairs at the Experimental Aircraft Association, recently told me, “We just made aviation more accessible.” And, I might add, it took standardization to do it. Click here for the full story.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

 
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