This year's Sun ‘n Fun may enter the history books as the event where the new breed of US sports aircraft was finally accepted by the GA community

The 2005 Sun ‘n Fun fly-in held earlier this month in Lakeland, Florida may earn a place in history. It not only offered the first definitive showcase of the new breed of US Federal Aviation Administration-approved light sport aircraft (LSA), but perhaps answered the two hardest questions: would an LSA ever be allowed to exist and is there really a market for the aircraft?

The answers are "yes" and "probably". Many in the general aviation community remain sceptical about the prospects for sustainability of the LSA market. Its success would imply that there are thousands of potential new pilots willing to settle for the restrictions of a sport-pilot licence – strictly visual flight rule flying, a gross aircraft weight of less than 600kg (1,320lb) and a stall speed of less than 45kt (85km/h).

To the rising breed of LSA manufacturers and dealers attending Sun ‘n Fun, however, this is not a relevant concern. Unanimously, their business plans are not based on attracting an influx of new pilots, but rather on coaxing older pilots to trade down.

This strategy is helped by a provision in the sport-pilot rule that grants medical clearances on the basis of owning a driver's licence. That is expected by the manufacturers to drive older pilots concerned about failing an aviation physical to a lower-performance aircraft and with greater flying restrictions so they can continue to fly.

Built-in market

Some manufacturers estimate there will be 12,000-15,000 such pilots converting to the sport-pilot category over the next few years, creating a built-in market for new LSA-compliant aircraft.

Tom Peghiny, founder of Flightstar, predicts there will be 500 LSA aircraft sold in the USA this year, and he hopes to claim 10% of the market by importing the German-made CT2-K.

For now, however, the traditional general aviation manufacturers are refraining from entering the market. Sun ‘n Fun also hosted the major GA builders, who used the event to showcase product upgrades, including several offering the Avidyne glass cockpit.

Melbourne, Florida-based Piper marked its near-complete recovery from catastrophic facility damage last September caused by two hurricanes. Piper chief executive Chuck Suma says production is on track to resume to pre-hurricane levels by next month.



Source: Flight International