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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now And Future LSA

An overview: Five years in, LSA are hanging in there

Remember those grade-school history-book pictures of Conestoga wagons with “California or bust” painted on their sides? You might view the five years since the FAA’s sport pilot rule created the LSA category as a similar period of wild dreams...and sobering realities.

“GA is saved!” was the early cry from pilot pundits far and wide...until the bottom dropped out of the dollar versus the euro. Nearly 70% of all LSA are produced overseas, so prices shot up, and sunward they’ve climbed since. Then the economy tanked, and it seemed our early vision of cheap-to-buy LSA pretty much ground-looped on its first flight. While most manufacturers managed to stay afloat through 2009’s economic apocalypse, U.S. makers were hard-pressed to build even the most basic designs for less than $60,000.

Likewise, flight-training operations nationwide were slow to jump into the new, much-ballyhooed LSA trainers. Why spend three times the purchase price of a used C-152 or Tomahawk?

In addition to the 105 new LSA designs that have already achieved ASTM certification, many new models will be introduced this year, including Tecnam’s P2008 (above).
Boom...Or Bust?
Although the training picture began to improve over the last year (with more operations adding LSA to their training fleets), a boom/bust psychology still nibbles away at the industry’s ankles.

Boom: 105 new LSA designs have won ASTM certification. Even more new airplanes (including Tecnam’s lovely P2008, which made its U.S. debut at Sebring) will earn ASTM approval this year.

Bust: No big “shakeout” yet—chalk it up to lean/mean business practices, but a few companies closed up shop, and others are hanging by their kitty claws.

Boom: New player Icon Aircraft wracked up 450 sales for its high-visibility, super-sexy A5 amphibious LSA. The U.S.-produced A5 is priced at $139,000, and Icon plans deliveries for 2011.

Bust–Boom–Bust: Cessna Aircraft experienced flight-testing woes (two spin accidents in which test pilots successfully deployed the airframe parachute) that delayed deliveries of the 162 Skycatcher to more than 1,000 customers. Then, in December 2009, Cessna delivered the first production Skycatcher (to Rose Pelton, CEO Jack Pelton’s wife). Things were looking up.

But this January, just before the Sebring U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, Cessna announced its delivery drought: The project that was born in 2006 would last another six to 10 months, into the third quarter of 2010.


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