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Standards for Light-Sport Aircraft

A Manufacturer's Perspective

by Thomas A. Peghiny

As you read this, a change in the “light” end of the American aviation industry is about to become law. The sport pilot license and the light-sport aircraft certification category are going to give more people affordable access to flying than ever before. The change may seem small at the beginning but it may have far reaching implications for our sport and U.S. aviation in general.

The creation of the light-sport aircraft category is a unique opportunity for the sport of recreational flying. Our industry has been tasked by the federal government to develop new rules for design, company-delegated certification and quality control for this new segment of light aviation.

When the federal government allows an industry to self-regulate or de-regulate, it is required to develop a set of consensus standards using input from all stakeholders to create the standards. ASTM International was chosen as the organization to manage our consensus standards development. As a group we thought ASTM the right choice because of the long history of the organization, the experience ASTM had developing aviation fuel standards and the international acceptance of ASTM standards. To date, the management of the process to create new standards has been professional and sensitive to the needs of a small industry like ours.

In the new ASTM Committee F37 on Light-Sport Aircraft, we have organizations representing end users, the FAA and our industry. We believe that this will produce balanced documents that will ensure the safety needs of the public, give our industry guidance in design and testing and will ultimately raise the quality of the industry’s products through communication and education.

Impact on Manufacturers

These developments are very important to manufacturers. Companies have been hampered for years by the lack of an appropriate regulatory path when producing ready-to-fly aircraft. The current FAA certification requirements are appropriate for small airliners and much more complex airplanes, but require a much higher level of certitude than is warranted for personal flying and light training duties. As a result, most planes in our category are sold only as ultralights and homebuilt kits that the builder registers in the experimental, amateur-built, category.

Why does this affect us so much? When was the last time you assembled your new car or even a motorcycle? The prospect of assembling an airplane from a kit is more than most people want to take on, or even have time to do.

With this new regulation, aircraft can now be flown for training toward an official FAA-issued sport pilot license. Pilots will also be allowed to rent the certified light-sport aircraft. That means flying clubs can be formed that will reduce the up-front cost of flying. The training toward an FAA license makes the aircraft, the instructor’s rating, our businesses and the time flown in the planes much more valuable.

The increased level of safety brought about by certification will also make insurance companies more likely to insure the planes. This will make financing for owners much easier too. Our industry expects a flurry of pent up demand as the “whole package” will finally come together in the spring of 2003. This will be the first time that all the parts will be in place for our industry: a simple license for operating light airplanes, an appropriate certification standard for selling ready-to-fly aircraft, and improved access to financing and insurance.

The creation and implementation of the light-sport aircraft certification program will be an important event for U.S. aviation. With the government relying on industries to self-regulate when the public interest is served, this might be seen as a prototype program for other parts of the U.S. aviation industry as well. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Thomas A. Peghiny is president of Flightstar, Inc. and HPower, Ltd., Ellington, Conn. He is chairman of the ASTM Committee F37 LSA-Fixed Wing subcommittee. Peghiny is an Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Hall of Fame inductee, 2002. He received the United States Ultralight Association’s Moody Award in 2001 and the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association President’s Award in 1998.