Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Light-Sport Chronicles: Profiles In Vision: Dan Johnson, Part 2

Now-and-forever LSA: Whither goest the industry—and why?

An audit takes a microscopic look at how well manufacturers comply with the ASTM standard in their production of aircraft. It includes broad scrutinies, such as degree of adherence to airworthiness and maintenance documentation, raw-materials compliance and even minutiae such as paperwork verifying on-time and accurate torque-wrench calibration.

"But where's the safety problem with LSA?" Dan protests. "How many are falling out of the sky and killing people? God forbid we have one more fatal accident, but we will. It's terrible, every single one of them, but the fact is, there haven't been that many. We don't have a big safety problem any more than general aviation does. Our success is plain for all to see, and all done with less government oversight.

Immersing ourselves in the new paradigm, rather than trying to force LSA to become a rewrite of the GA phenomenon (heavier empty weight, faster speeds, etc.), is one path toward acceptance. The freewheeling days of civilian flying as we knew it from the 1940s to the '70s are unlikely to return, at least in the form older pilots remember: cheap gas, insurance, hangar space and maintenance, and a less-complex airspace. Life is and must be, in the end, a celebration of constant adaptation to "what is."

Even used 200-knot single-engine airplanes cost $500,000 today. Ever-climbing price in non-essential goods is a formula that in time finds its vanishing point, no matter how many "yesterday's dollars" calculations you invoke. Struggle leads to innovation. People want what they want, and they want to fly. Ergo, hang gliders, ultralights and now LSA.

"I do still think of LSA as an extremely promising, exciting area of aviation," says Dan. "We media types are always looking for what's new at shows like this one (Sun 'n Fun). There's that fresh aura of excitement. We're trying new stuff like Icon and Terrafugia.

"I think LSA fall halfway between the radical innovation of experimental-built aircraft and the 'pretty good but dull' FAA-certified designs," Dan continues. "We've had some great ideas, a few crummy ideas, but with more cool stuff to come. We offer big cockpits, glass avionics, incredible safety systems, and we have a good safety record. We have reasonable performance, and then there's the fuel situation. If $5/gallon fuel and the specter of much, much higher fuel costs doesn't drive people to the LSA camp, it's hard to imagine what will. Then there's electric propulsion: very exciting, but market resistance to all-electric cars seems to show us it won't be quick, and it won't be easy."


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