The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has requested a survey of light sport aircraft (LSA) employed for commercial services in foreign countries, a possible step towards expanding the sector’s application in the USA a decade after the regulated category was created, says an LSA advocacy group.
The survey is informing FAA deliberations about allowing LSAs to serve a variety of commercial services, including sightseeing tours, pipeline surveillance and crop spraying, says Dan Johnson, president and chairman of the board of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA).
“There’s a number of things that has to happen, but it could happen in a year or two,” says Johnson.
The LSA category is restricted to offering only two commercial services – aircraft rentals and flight instruction. Expanding that definition would require a rulemaking process, Johnson says. The average time it takes to complete a rulemaking is about seven to 10 years.
However, the FAA could put such a rule for LSA on a fast-track due to concerns in another aviation sector – unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), or drones.
“One motivating factor among many is drones,” Johnson says. “It all depends on how motivated [FAA officials] are and drones are giving them near-term motivation, in my opinion.”
The FAA currently prohibits the commercial use of UAVs, although a few exceptions exist. The agency is required to launch a rulemaking process that would allow small UAVs some access to the national airspace for commercial purposes, but its internal schedule continues to slip.
Meanwhile, light sport aircraft have flourished in the decade since the FAA approved ASTM consensus standards for building and operating aircraft in the category. There are now 136 LSA models produced by more than 90 companies, Johnson says, meaning that on average a new design is approved at least every month.
“I can’t think of anything like that in aviation since the time that the Wright brothers flew,” Johnson says.