A light sport aircraft is an aircraft which has a particular set of characteristics as set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration of the US. It is a classification of airplanes intended to bridge the gap between the easy-to-fly ultralight and the more expensive, complex general aviation aircraft used for transportation. Over the past few decades, flying (in the U.S. at least) has become progressively more complex, restricted and expensive as new regulations and health requirements have been placed on the ability to fly aircraft in the increasingly complex airspaces of the modern world. Many pilots (and pilot/aircraft owner organizations such as the EAA) felt that it was becoming too difficult for people who did not want to make flying their vocation to get into the activity - and as a result, the average age of pilots in the US was increasing dramatically as few younger people learned how.
After much lobbying, the FAA created two important concepts - that of the Sport Pilot and the light sport aircraft. The Sport Pilot has several restrictions on their flying privileges, notably they are limited to flying aircraft classified as 'light sport.' That classification is laid out in FAR, Section 1.1, where it is defined as follows:
Light-sport aircraft means an aircraft, other than a helicopter or powered-lift that, since its original certification, has continued to meet the following:
- A maximum takeoff weight of not more than—
(i) 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms) for aircraft not intended for operation on water; or
(ii) 1,430 pounds (650 kilograms) for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
- A maximum airspeed in level flight with maximum continuous power (VH) of not more than 120 knots CAS under standard atmospheric conditions at sea level.
- A maximum never-exceed speed (VNE) of not more than 120 knots CAS for a glider.
- A maximum stalling speed or minimum steady flight speed without the use of lift-enhancing devices (VS1) of not more than 45 knots CAS at the aircraft's maximum certificated takeoff weight and most critical center of gravity.
- A maximum seating capacity of no more than two persons, including the pilot.
- A single, reciprocating engine, if powered.
- A fixed or ground-adjustable propeller if a powered aircraft other than a powered glider.
- A fixed or feathering propeller system if a powered glider.
- A fixed-pitch, semi-rigid, teetering, two-blade rotor system, if a gyroplane.
- A nonpressurized cabin, if equipped with a cabin.
- Fixed landing gear, except for an aircraft intended for operation on water or a glider.
- Fixed or retractable landing gear, or a hull, for an aircraft intended for operation on water.
- Fixed or retractable landing gear for a glider.
Light sport aircraft were intended to be cheaper (and, if kits, easier to build) than 'regular' general aviation
airplanes while still being certified for operation in controlled airspace and over congested areas (unlike experimental aircraft
). Some recent notable light sport manufacturers include Gobosh
, and the venerable Cessna
who introduced a light sport compliant model, the Cessna 162 Skycatcher
. Of course, 'cheaper' is relative - the Skycatcher still lists for around $149,000 US. The Icon light sport seaplane, the A5, has an estimated price of $139,000. While sub-$100,000 Light Sport airplanes exist, they tend to have rudimentary avionics
and features, making them unsuitable for flight in high classes of controlled airspace. Of course, this is fine if the pilot is only interested in recreational flying and lives in an area outside of major airports and congestion.
One factor that complicates the light sport market is that used general aviation aircraft prices plummeted in the mid-oughties, both due to a drop in demand (fewer pilots) and the economic crash of 2008. Many, many aircraft owners decided that their aircraft were a luxury they could no longer afford, and (just as with luxury automobiles) the used market became a buyer's market. At this point, many a decent general aviation aircraft can be purchased used for under $100,000 - and as GA aircraft have legally required maintenance minimums and record-keeping, it's easier than with automobiles to be confident in one's purchase.