Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Light-Sport Chronicles: School Daze

Three ways LSA flight training is getting done in America

“High-school guidance counselors don’t know anything about this ‘secret world’ of pilots. How can they guide students toward aviation? At display booths, I’ve had parents hustle their children right on by, saying, ‘Oh, you don’t want to do that!’”

Part of the challenge is geographical. “The Northeast is a horse of a different color,” Ciriello says. “Things take a while to catch on up here. Pilots tell me, ‘Hey, I’m an old metal guy!’ I think that’s why Cessna chose metal for the Skycatcher—to appeal to the more conservative pilot ranks. I still hear pilots say, ‘Rotax? Don’t they use those on snowmobiles?’”

Still, Ciriello’s LSA business is brisk enough that he hopes to add another LSA or two soon. In just two months, Premier is already putting 25 hours per month on the CT. “That’s very good,” says Ciriello. “We’re attracting people for transitions as well as for sport pilot training.

“I’m seeing a steady increase in activity, also good. Conservative New Englanders don’t jump on fads. Slow, steady growth is what we’re looking for here.”

Just a couple hours south of Hartford, Mid Island Air Service ( operates a thriving LSA operation as part of its 63-year GA presence on New York’s Long Island.

The school has strong sport pilot student support from all age groups, due in no small part to its proximity to Gotham. Five LSA make up its fleet, with a Remos GX coming soon.

“We started nearly three years ago,” says Mid Island’s president, Lou Mancuso Jr., father of air show ace Mike Mancuso. “We now have a Tecnam Sierra, two Tecnam Eaglets, an Evektor SportStar and a Sport Cruiser.”

Any problems training on LSA? “Nothing significant. They all have their quirks. We don’t expect them to last 10,000 hours like a Cessna...but 5,000 looks doable.”

Mancuso’s take on LSA training is positive: “We draw people we might not otherwise get: EAA folks with medical issues, but also those who’ve never flown because of expense.”

Overall, Mid Island has racked up around 1,500 hours on its LSA fleet, mostly in the last 18 months—that’s a very impressive performance.

“We get stronger with LSA every month. It’s not quite ready to replace the Cessna 152 yet; the Rotax engine needs to prove itself to me a bit more.” Even so, Mancuso envisions that Mid Island’s basic flight training could be all LSA “in about two years.”

Mid Island CFI Mike Bellenir chimes in: “We’ve noticed some slowing with the economy, but not as much as with traditional flying. Our rates are around $110 wet. Instructors get $50 per hour.”

In the beginning, he says, students and CFIs alike needed to adjust to LSA: “Lots of them had sloppy technique from flying heavier airplanes. They’d taxi too fast, hit the brakes hard, not keep the weight off the nosegear. And experienced pilots who’d had few concerns before about moderate crosswinds got themselves in trouble more frequently. LSA are much lighter.”

What about maintenance issues? “They don’t appear to wear out significantly faster,” says Bellenir. “Mostly it’s the weird foreign standards, metric sizes, the little things in construction that catch us off guard sometimes. We’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to get LSA parts now.”

Even with five airplanes operating, the school is busy enough that at least one LSA is usually due for an oil change at any given point. That’s what I call a going concern.

It’s happening, inch by LSA inch, mile by LSA mile. Fly safe!


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