Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Light-Sport Chronicles: Reading The Tea Leaves


Some things to watch for...and watch out for


The Dreaded Shakeout
Folks have predicted a big shakeout in LSA manufacturers from the beginning. Currently, 104 LSA are ASTM-certified. Market dynamics and the still-withering financial climate should force some companies to close shop. Still, it bears repeating the scenario first expressed by another industry eagle eye, LAMA President Dan Johnson. He believes many small companies will survive due to economies of sophisticated, relatively inexpensive design and manufacturing capabilities. These days, not everybody has to become Boeing to flourish. Take Rans Aircraft: It was started by two bike-building brothers in Hays, Kans., in the mid-’80s. More than 4,500 aircraft (and tons of bikes) later, Rans is going strong...and it all started in a garage.

It All Flows Downhill

Last but not least, Sweeney keeps a keen—and alarmed—eye on the increasingly stifling regulation of private aviation since 9/11. “Anything of a regulatory nature that happens first to the big guys—restricting access to airports, making more airspace off limits through TFRs, MOAs for UAV operations and more—will flow down in some way, shape or form to us ‘little guys,’” he says. “People should look closely at TSA [Transportation Security Administration] actions and remember this: We all need airports to fly from. And government agencies generally don’t distinguish between LSA and high-performance aircraft. It’s a one-size-fits-all mentality. A SportStar or CTLS looks like an airplane. You’ll be lumped in with all other aircraft by whatever restrictions come down the pike.”

He’s talking about small flight schools being forced to watch for terrorism suspects among students, check birth certificates, make background checks and wrangle onerous, voluminous paperwork. For small operations, as Sweeney sees it, “it’s a disproportionately greater burden.” Similar paper-chase demands for repair stations, to preclude some sort of sabotage, are making their way to every airport. “It all drives hard against the less expensive end of aviation,” says Sweeney, “where businesses simply can’t afford the increase in overhead.”

Then there’s the “through-the-fence” tightening of airport access—even to people who live in airport communities: “Pilots think only the big airplanes and operations get hassled. But in the end, airspace only disappears and restrictions only increase. Costs could go up too— dramatically. We may soon have to pay for radio calls to ATC or for every single landing and takeoff.” Imagine the cost impact on LSA flight training!

Sweeney urges pilots to “wake up and get involved” with organizations diligently defending our flight privileges, specifically AOPA, EAA and such groups as Through The Fence (www.throughthefence.org).

“No doubt, we’ll all be affected. The TSA continues to get more involved at the recreational level. If we stay aware of what’s happening, we protect our rights and privileges. It’s not a case of Chicken Little, but of reading specific trends: fenced airports, locks on gates, fingerprints, special badges and more. I thought the TSA would stop at a certain level. But it looks like it’s drilling down to us. And once it takes away the airspace...it never gives it back.”



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