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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Now And Future LSA

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

The LSA industry that came about in 2004 through FAA regulation is, to be blunt, a grand self-certification experiment. The FAA allows airworthiness certificates to be awarded to LSA so long as they’re built according to the industry standard put out by the ASTM’s Committee F37.

Dan Johnson, president of LAMA and a longtime mover in the LSA industry, maintains a calm eye in the center of the LSA storm. I asked him for his take on the FAA’s current mood and anticipated future stance regarding light-sport matters: “Our safety record for LSA is decent, in line with GA. But we’re only a five-year-old industry, and the buzzword here is: self-certification. It has never been done before. The rest of GA is decades old, and the kinks have been worked out. The FAA just hasn’t had enough time yet to work it out with LSA.”

What about rumored Part 23 type certification? “Not likely. The entire EU and other countries are looking into adopting LSA standards now. American companies could then sell overseas. India and China already have certified the Flight Design CTLS,” he explained.

“The FAA requiring Part 23–style certification would have a negative global impact. We’ve lost some airplanes, but in truth, the record isn’t that bad. And the FAA keeps affirming that. It’s seeing that LSA aren’t exhibiting any worse accident records than the rest of aviation. So why make huge changes? The FAA wants to make sure it’s done right. It will continue to tweak the program, but there’s no need to chop down the tree.”

What about the possibility that a company might falsify or shortcut procedures, without actually having complied with the ASTM standard? “There are several self-correcting elements in place to prevent that,” asserted Johnson. “First, when companies earn a LAMA label, it says its entire program has passed a rigorous audit, adding credibility to the product. That should increase sales.

“At any time, the FAA can descend on a company and perform its own full-blown audit. If anything’s amiss, it could ground the company’s entire fleet. Also, insurance companies are in the business to make money. They won’t insure airplanes that break and hurt people. And probably the most powerful disincentive of all: legal liability. If a company screws up, it’ll pay for it—big time. If you make enough airplanes, you’ll eventually be sued, whether or not you’re at fault. You had better have all your stuff—paperwork, QA, processes—in perfect order. Or you could lose the entire company. Nobody’s going to take that risk. If you can’t convincingly prove you did everything the way you were supposed to, then you’ve got a big, big problem.”

To date, Flight Design, Evektor, IndUS and BRS, the emergency airframe parachute company, all have passed full LAMA audits, which cost around $7,000. Paradise, a Brazilian company with a strong U.S. presence, also has signed up. “Industry people are realizing the value in our audit program,” said Johnson. Meanwhile, the FAA continues to conduct on-site “assessments” (roughly 30 to date) to spot-check for compliance issues. So far the system is working. Stay tuned.
(Image, right: Thorpedo T211)


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