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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

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LSA vs. ELA

Aviation people love acronyms. That's super...when you know what all those letters stand for. To help our snapshot of where U.S. and European sport-aircraft regulations sync up—and where they don't—let's get some acronym schoolin'.

• EASA—European Aviation Safety Agency, roughly equivalent to the FAA. Its light-sport mission: simplify the process for certifying an ELA.
• ELA—European Light Aircraft
• ELA 1—aircraft with a Maximum Takeoff Mass (MTOM) under 2,640 pounds (1,200 kilograms)
• CS-LSA—to be Europe's version of our LSA (MTOM 1,320 pounds/600 kilograms)

Head spinning yet? Almost done.

CS-LSA would use the ASTM standard we have for LSA, but impose other regulations, too.

Background: Europe's reqs covering ultralights, microlights and other LSA-like sport-aircraft categories are all over the map. Even pilot qualifications vary from country to country! EASA wants to simplify.

EU manufacturers outsell U.S. LSA makers here by 2:1. They want to sell those same planes in Europe. So would U.S. manufacturers.

Thus their push for EASA to make ELA a close fit to our LSA. EASA, though, is taking a "top-down" regulatory approach, meaning more complexity and official involvement with every aspect of production. It won't go the "bottom-up" way that FAA did, creating a whole new LSA category and ASTM voluntary conformation.

ELA will also mandate a restricted type certificate. That means tons more paperwork, expense, and EASA oversight of everything, including audits of production processes. Cha-ching: even more cost for airframe makers.

The consensus: big boys like Flight Design, FK, Evektor, Tecnam, et al will weather the challenges and grow their businesses. Smaller producers will struggle to compete.

The light-sport rule is working well in America. Its standardized pilot qualification and grandfathering the existing fleet of ultralights were both key. EASA won't go that route: tough news for makers with stars in their eyes but lesser financial resources.

It may take months, or years, but in the end, the abiding dream is of a global standard for these types of aircraft that will level the playing field for manufacturers and pilots alike. For now, kinda makes you grateful we fly in a federation of United States with one overriding regulatory picture, doesn't it?





Labels: LSAs

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