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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

The LSA Boom!

Private and sport pilots alike have driven the market to new heights

The LSA BoomLooking back to Sun ‘n Fun 2005, it’s fair to say that was when the light sport aircraft bell was rung, and since then, they’ve been off to the races. In the short four months between early April and early August, 14 new aircraft received airworthiness certificates in the special light sport aircraft (S-LSA) category. Although several of these airplanes have been flying in Europe for years and the number of additional new aircraft receiving approval will certainly slow down over time, the figure is remarkable nonetheless.

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Jon Hansen of Hansen AirGroup of Georgia has been importing and selling Italian-made Tecnam aircraft for several years and, along with other advocates, was a key player in promoting the rule changes that created the light sport aircraft category and sport-pilot certification. With several of his Tecnam models now meeting LSA requirements, he’s facing a common problem among those currently marketing LSA; that is, too many buyers are chasing too few airplanes.

Hansen says, “We had an allotment of 33 airplanes for all of 2005, and as of early August, we’ve sold all of them and are taking deposits for January 2006. For 2006, the factory had committed to produce 200 aircraft for worldwide sales, and I’ve told them I’ll need 50, and possibly more. So, they’re ramping up production.”

Scott Anderson of Sport Aircraft International, whose company sells the Evektor SportStar, shares Hansen’s dilemma, especially when it comes to being able to offer demo rides. “I’ve been inundated with people who want demo flights, so I’ve set up both West Coast and East Coast sales centers where demos are available.” As to delivering SportStars, Anderson, too, is dealing with the problem of success, with his summer allotment of seven already spoken for and all but one of his following order already sold.

In North Carolina, Doug Hempstead set up Fantasy Air to market the Allegro line of LSA, and found interest so high that he had to accelerate his plans for an assembly building even before his airplane received its airworthiness certificate. Hempstead notes, “Demand is much stronger than we had expected it to be. We expected to need our new building sometime in 2006, but instead, broke ground early in 2005 and completed the building early in the summer.” Fantasy Air expects to have sold and delivered 18 aircraft by the end of 2005, and with its factory promising to dedicate a production line just for U.S. consumption, it forecasts a minimum of 40 delivered in 2006.

A similar story is being told by Edwin Miller, owner of Kappa Aircraft of Pennsylvania, selling the Kappa KP-5. The factory is gearing up for a production run of at least 10 aircraft a month. Miller points to what he and others consider a significant shift in the type of potential buyers of LSA. “In the beginning, the whole thing with LSA seemed to be the medical issue, and the LSA idea spread very quickly through that group [pilots who wished to avoid traditional medical certification and would self-certify instead as long as they held a valid driver’s license]. But about a year ago, we started hearing from a lot of pilots with private-pilot certificates and a good medical saying that they would buy a new S-LSA and be able to do all of the flying they have done anyway.”

Labels: LSAsSport Pilots


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