It was the best of times; it was the most confusing of times.
Half an hour or so into our virtual gum flap, courtesy of matching Gucci headsets and Skype’s Internet-based telephony, my head began to hurt. And hurt big time.
My LSA pal and true industry guru, Dan Johnson (www.bydanjohnson.com), was just getting warmed up in our chat about the first three big air shows of 2009: Sebring, Friedrichshafen and Sun ’n Fun.
AT THE AIR SHOW. Jim Lawrence intended to write at length about the first big air shows of the year, including Sun ‘n Fun, but he was led astray by LSA industry guru Dan Johnson.
But Friedrichshafen’s Aero show had revealed a potential crisis in Europe, and Dan was trying to get through my dense skull its vital importance to the LSA industry, so I endeavored to absorb.
Somewhere along the way, I realized my thread about contrasting the shows, as it were, had been hijacked. You see, Dan is one of those guys who lives and breathes aviation, and has done so since I believe Lincoln grew his first mole and chin whisker. As LAMA’s president, he’s in the thick of all things LSA, and my regular muse.
Plus, being a brainy guy with an excellent memory, he was fresh with impressions of all three shows, but particularly taken with Friedrichshafen and what went on Over There.
“Jim, it’s bone-dry stuff,” he cautioned me. Did I listen? Noooo...
“Bring it on, Rambo,” I replied.
Alas, I became quickly hoist by my own petard: 35 minutes into his cogent recitation of standards and regulations, European and American, how they intertwine and where they don’t, I pounded the mat three times and cried, “Uncle!” for I could no longer remember my middle name or the color of money. Chalk it up to a postponed lunch.
Once I chowed down to get my brain sugar going again, here’s what I think he was trying to tell me about what’s happening in Europe, and what it could mean for us in the States in our economic Year of Living Catastrophically.
Change is afoot for light-sport aircraft in the EU. There’s a better-than-good chance that EASA, the European aviation regulatory body, may introduce a close-conforming version of the U.S. ASTM standards (which all LSA sold here are certified to) in the year 2010.
The happy news might end up being that U.S. producers of LSA, such as Rans, Legend, Cessna, CubCrafters, et al, would at last be able to sell their winged wares overseas—something they can’t do at all now (except as a kit, if they desire). That could be a big boost to the Yankee LSA industry.
Ah, but there’s the rub, Horatio, and it’s a big one: In the interim 18 months before EASA can consider adopting ASTM-like certification for the up-to-600 kg (1,320-pound) sport aircraft, it has been instructed by the European Commission (EC), which is equivalent to our Congress, to create a type certificate for European LSA to allow them to fly legally in the EU.
Fighting acronym brain dysplasia, I urged him on.
Here’s the potential problem: Over here, FAA regs say a type-certificated airplane cannot be sold in the U.S. as an LSA—because it wouldn’t legally be an LSA any more.
“That would mean,” said Dan, “EASA could require all European-made LSA, which make up about 70% of U.S. market sales, to go through a costly certification process. The bigger companies can afford it, but what about the little guys? And then, those that do certify might still not be allowed to sell those airplanes here!”
He adds that the FAA could choose to disregard the European term “type certificate,” or EASA or the EC could name it something else to avoid the damning legalese inherent in the term. If the EC does push through this requirement, however, the LSA market here might shrink to American-made-only aircraft overnight.
Dan had gone to Friedrichshafen to survey the latest in European sport flight. Did you know that one-off, nonproduction airplanes are built and test-flown in Europe just to advance aviation progress? What a concept.
Once there, though, he recounts, “An interesting thing happened: After a thorough grounding in what’s going on in Europe, I called an impromptu meeting of European producers, and we chatted at length about what should be done. That’s when I discovered that people over there don’t talk to each other much about influencing political outcome.
“They’re used to approaching problems with a nation-state mind-set that goes back centuries. Each country likes to do things its own way, including 27 individual aviation standards for microlights and ultralights, which is what they call their sport airplanes up to 472.5 kg. But the EU is changing all that. They have the commission, the EC, that now represents all 27 member nations, and they’re making rules that affect everybody over there.
“So when one EU manufacturer said, ‘It seems strange that we have to have an American come over here and help us with our communications,’ I realized there is a role for LAMA to play to assist them. Over here, when AOPA or the EAA want to fight, say, user fees, they get the grassroots mobilized—we all write to our representatives—and often get positive political results. EU members can do the same in their own countries, but there’s no established LSA-industry process to interface with the EC.
“So I said, ‘It’s time to rally the troops!’ We’re forming a G8-like consortium of manufacturers to talk with members of the EC, the equivalent of our congresspeople. We hope in the interim that political action will help stimulate a change in the EC’s edict to create a type certificate, because if they enact that rule now, it could cost the European LSA industry thousands of jobs.”
The payoff is that the major players, facilitated by LAMA, may convince EASA to allow an exemption for LSA until the new (ASTM-style, we hope) rule comes out in 2010.
The shorthand of the letter that Dan hopes will be signed by his “G8” players calls for the EC and EASA to agree that aircraft of 600 kg or less should not require a type certificate.
“No politician wants crippling job losses on his back in an election year. Just like here, jobs and politicians are linked at the hip. Our goal is to offset the potential damage by stopping a reg change right now—because they’re going to change it in the next 18 months anyway!
“We’ll strongly advise them to use ASTM standards perhaps under an exemption for sub-600 kg aircraft until EASA comes up with its own standard for Europe.”
Got all that? The letter is going out this summer. Pray that it’s successful, or else the face of LSA may change suddenly, dramatically (possibly for the worse).