The final FAA rule that launched the
light-sport aircraft (LSA) industry was announced at EAA AirVenture
Oshkosh 2004 and became effective on September 1 of that year. The four
years since then have seen explosive growth in the industry, with some
3,000 light-sport aircraft certified. Some people have it called a new
"golden age" of sport aircraft.
The rule created an entirely new type and
category of aircraft manufactured to accepted consensus standards
developed through ASTM International-the first time that ASTM standards
have been used for FAA certification. Given LSA's groundbreaking
qualities, the rapid growth of the industry has been remarkably smooth,
according to EAA President Tom Poberezny. That, he said, is due in large
part to the strongly collaborative efforts of the FAA, EAA, and LSA
Last winter, at the annual EAA/FAA
Recreational Aviation Summit, Poberezny asked the FAA to undertake an
assessment of the LSA industry to collect data on the overall
performance of the industry and on how well LSA regulations, standards,
and processes are being applied by the industry. FAA officials agreed
and began work on the Light-Sport Aircraft Manufacturers Assessment
Project. On Tuesday afternoon, the FAA presented an overview of the
assessment project to EAA officials and LSA manufacturers.
The assessment project will include
formal and informal auditing and interviews of LSA manufacturers by the
FAA. The agency will also ask the LSA community for comments and
suggestions to improve the safety of light-sport aircraft. This project
will not be a compliance audit of individual light-sport manufacturers,
FAA officials assured the group. The data will be used by the FAA to
evaluate and report on the overall health and safety of the industry.
The goal is to identify problem areas and concerns and to develop
courses of action to address them. The project supports the goal-shared
by EAA, the FAA, and LSA manufacturers-of continuous improvement in LSA
The assessment will focus on answering
five primary questions:
- Are the existing systems and processes
adequate to assure continued airworthiness of light-sport aircraft?
- Do existing aircraft and manufacturers
meet FAA regulations?
- Are they in compliance with LSA design
- Are manufacturers using adequate
quality assurance systems?
- Are manufacturers providing adequate
maintenance procedures and documentation?
The FAA has spent the past few months
developing assessment tools and criteria, with input from EAA and from
LSA manufacturers. That phase of the project is nearly complete. In
September, the assessment team will begin visiting selected LSA
manufacturers and distributors to collect data. The team consists of FAA
employees with expertise in airworthiness certification, manufacturing,
maintenance, designee management, operations, and international aviation
policy. The data-gathering phase should be completed next June. A report
on the team's findings and conclusions is expected in September 2009.
"We're trying to get a picture of
the health of the industry overall," one FAA official said. That,
he added, will help to identify areas where manufacturers need
assistance in complying with the FAA regulations ASTM standards for LSA.
Ultimately, he said, that should foster a process of continuous
improvement in LSA safety, manufacturing, and airworthiness standards.
For an exciting first-hand look at the
state of the LSA industry, visit the Light-Sport Aircraft Mall, just
north of the Forums Plaza at AirVenture.