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LSA Seaplane Invasion ...Can It Happen?

By Dan Johnson, October 2, 2012
Airmax SeaMax, a current SLSA seaplane from Brazil.

What's going on out in the marketplace? More than any time since the launch of Light-Sport Aircraft in 2004, I have not observed such a frenzy of activity for a particular niche, this time for LSA seaplanes. Next season, in 2013, we could see no less than nine entries; three brand new and that count does not include any LSA equipped with floats, possibly adding several more. Yet some major potholes appear in the runway... or perhaps that should be waves sloshing over the bow.

The all-metal Mermaid, an early entry and one that has achieved SLSA airworthiness.
One entry is a return of a LSA seaplane previously seen in the USA as the Freedom S100 (SLSA List #44) yet can it reenter the market without a full FAA audit? See Update at end. A new agency directive with the catchy name 8130.2G CHG 1 may require a FAA visit to Spain but who knows when that might occur, given the likelihood of an FAA budget cut through the political process known as sequestration, part of the so-called "fiscal cliff" the mainstream media drones on about endlessly. The order issued by FAA on July 2nd stops the issuance of an airworthiness certificate for any new model or a first model from a new company until FAA approves it. Since a visit to an overseas factory also requires negotiation between FAA and the visited country's national aero authorities, months of delay could result.

Apparently undaunted by looming federal government inspection, a bevy of new LSA seaplanes are being prepared, a fact that further amazes me given the uncertain economic environment. Let's take a quick race through the nine possible LSA seaplanes.

Progressive Aerodyne's SeaRey, based in central Florida, is nearing completion of its SLSA project.
First are two models that have already achieved SLSA status: The Airmax SeaMax and the all-metal Mermaid, formerly by Czech Aircraft Works. The latter has rebirthed into a new entity that could soon arrive on the scene though because it's a new company we return to that FAA audit business. Company officials are ASTM-savvy, have been through an earlier audit, and may be ready... if they can get a visit anytime soon. Meanwhile the SeaMax, a fine and modern composite machine with strong performance, may be the only one fully ready now, presuming they make no major changes that FAA would consider a new model. If they do make major changes, all bets are off as Airmax is based in Brazil and we're back to the FAA visit delay problem. See Update at end.

Icon's deftly marketed A5 LSA seaplane.
Next is the all-American SeaRey. This popular kit with some 600 sold and 500+ flying is close to being ready after a long period of preparation. FAA is already planning a visit in late October and the central Florida manufacturer is reportedly ready for the visit or will be by the time the friendly FAA team shows up with their laptops.

The LSA seaplane market sometimes appears to be dominated by Icon Aircraft and their extravagantly-marketed A5 amphibian. Based on reported orders of more than 700 units (a figure only exceeded by Cessna's onetime 1,000 Skycatcher orders), perhaps that assessment is correct. However, the numerical fact of Icon's success is generating action in several other projects. In a recent announcement Icon said first deliveries could occur in 2013.

Colyaer's Freedom S100 plans a return to the U.S. market.
I've written about a Finland-based seaplane called the Atol with many years of history. They might be prepared to face an FAA audit team, but we return again to a potentially long delay before FAA can visit the Scandanavian country. The mostly-wood seaplane has achieved some European certifications and that will help but not fully suffice.

So that's six "existing" LSA seaplanes — SeaMax, Mermaid, SeaRey, Freedom, A5, and Atol. Then we come to three brand-new projects, which I've promised not to identify (yet). All would seem to be well down the FAA inspection waiting list offset by two important factors. First, all three are being hatched by knowledgeable folks who are highly conversant with ASTM standards and each may feel prepared to successfully complete an audit. Secondly — and perhaps even more importantly, given the FAA visit conundrum — all three are U.S.-based operations. At least one is getting major components from outside the USA but if production is properly done in America, such foreign sourcing poses no problem and because all three are U.S.-based, they could see an FAA visit in a "reasonable" time (whatever that may mean given the budget sequestration cited above).

Finland's mostly wood airframed Atol amphibian.
By any measure, the bringing to market of nine LSA seaplanes appears to have obstacles. Yet such challenges are precisely what inspire many entrepreneurs. Added to floatplanes like the Flight Design CTLS Floatplane or the Tecnam Eaglet on floats and several seaplane weight shift LSA plus factoring the entry of major manufacturer Wipline Floats along with other established float makers like Zenair and new re-entry, Lotus, one thing seems certain in our uncertain world: LSA enthusiasts should have no lack of water-borne airplanes... assuming the FAA doesn't overwhelm them with a tidal wave of paperwork or beach them with months-long audit delays.

Update 10/3/12 — Some clarification is needed regarding the need for a mandatory FAA visit. The improved news? Not in all cases will a full audit be required. When Washington, DC headquarters' Certification Branch evaluates a change to an aircraft, they can elect not to conduct a full top-to-bottom audit visit, instead sending an FAA employee, an Air Safety Investigator from a regional office, for a somewhat less intensive review. This equates to less delay and less time involved to verify the change. A judgment of "new model" will still require the more thorough review.

FAA also confirmed, again, that the intention remains to encourage industry to provide compliance oversight under details to be confirmed. As with all things in the LSA world, exact plans continue to be developed as the industry and its products evolve. Finally, the major FAA order announced at Oshkosh is still coming though it has been delayed from its predicted September release date. That order is not the same as the 8130.2G CHG 1 order referenced above. Confused? Don't feel badly. We are all still learning exactly how this LSA phenomenon will work, but I am encouraged by today's conversation that FAA does not want to prevent new development nor prevent LSA businesses from operating. That's a mighty healthy statement to make. —DJ

 



 

 
 

BushCat is the distinctive Light-Sport Aircraft within reach of almost any budget. With a solid heritage BushCat by SkyReach is fun, capable, and available as a kit, fully-built SLSA or ELSA.

Hansen Air Group represents recognized brands in the LSA
space: FK Lightplanes and their distinctive biplane Comet, FK9, and FK51 plus the great-flying Magnaghi Sky Arrow. Based in Atlanta, Georgia Hansen Air Group is an experienced player in the LSA space.
Multiple LSA


Flight Design USA imports CT, the top selling Light-Sport Aircraft. CT is a 98% carbon fiber design
with superb performance, roomy cockpit, great useful load, and a parachute as standard equipment ... the market leader for 10 years!
CTLSi

Evektor is Number One and always will be. The Czech company's SportStar was the number one SLSA to win approval but engineers have steadily improved the model far beyond that 2005 version that started the race.

Progressive Aerodyne designed and supplies the SeaRey series, arguably the most celebrated of all light seaplanes in America. A close community of hundreds of owners offers camaraderie few other brands can match.

SkyCraft Airplanes is America’s first Light-Sport Aircraft single seater. SD-1 Minisport is affordably priced, very well equipped, and was designed to exhibit docile handing qualities. It can be flown for less than $12 per hour.

Tecnam is the world's leading manufacturer of Light-Sport aircraft offering more models and variations than any other producer.
Besides the world's fastest-selling light twin and a new four seater, Tecnam offers these LSA: Echo Classic, Eaglet, Bravo, Astore, and P2008.
Many LSA
& GA models


Corbi Air represents the Made-for-Americans Direct Fly Alto 100. Created in the Czech Republic, Alto 100 was upgraded for USA sales and the result is a comfortable, handsome low wing, all-metal LSA with features you want.

Vickers Aircraft has created one of the most distinctive new LSA seaplanes yet to emerge.Powered by the 180-horsepower
Lycoming O-360, their Wave model is like no other seaplane ever introduced with multiple features to set it apart from the crowd.
Wave

Super Petrel LS, manufactured by Edra Aeronautica in Brazil and represented by Florida Light Sport Aviation, is a unique and highly effective LSA seaplane. A biplane design, this is well established flying boat with more than 20 years of history.

The Airplane Factory (TAF) produces the Sling series of world-circling aircraft (literally) and now this fine-flying, all-metal beauty is available in the United States as a Special Light-Sport Aircraft. Here is an LSA to follow.

Zenith Aircraft is one of America's leading kit suppliers featuring well proven models from legendary designer, Chris Heintz. Centrally based in Mexico, Missouri, Zenith offers kit aircraft for several popular models.

Renegade Light Sport produces the sexy low wing, all composite Falcon in America. The Florida company has also established itself as the premiere installer of Lycoming’s IO-233 engine.

Jabiru USA builds the spacious and speedy J-250 and more recently J-230 plus the training-optimized J-170, each certified as Special LSA. The Tennessee-based company also imports and services the popular Jabiru engine line.

SportairUSA imports the dashing and superbly-equipped StingSport S4 that has won a loyal following from American pilots. More recently, they introduced their TL-3000 high-wing LSA. SportairUSA is a full-line operation with maintenance and training, too.

X-Air brings a return to reasonably priced Light-Sport Aircraft, with a ready-to-fly flying machine you can purchase for a genuinely low price. No new arrival, X-Air has a rich history in light aviation.


Quicksilver Aeronautics is the world's largest producer of ultralight aircraft, selling some 15,000 aircraft. The company's designs are thoroughly tested, superbly supported, and have an excellent safety record.

U.S. Sport Aircraft Importing represents the popular SportCruiser, one of the best selling Special Light-Sport Aircraft among 130 models on the market. The Texas-headquartered importer has long represented this familiar model.

Kitfox is one of the world's best selling light aircraft kits with more than 5,000 delivered. With unrivaled name recognition, Kitfox is admired for crisp handling, excellent performance, easily folded wings, and more. The design is flown around the world.

Aerotrek Aircraft imports the A240 and A220 tricycle gear or taildragger Special Light-Sport Aircraft. A finely finished aircraft at an excellent price, Aerotrek has wide, affordable appeal.

Aeromarine-LSA represents an economical Part 103 ultralight that is within reach of almost any budget. For local fun flying, or for those who enjoy soaring flight Zigolo is light enough to be lifted by even the most gentle thermals.

World Aircraft Company is Columbian design expertise joined to Canadian entrepreneurship based in Paris, Tennessee USA. Welcome to World Aircraft and a brand-new short takeoff and landing (STOL) Light-Sport Aircraft, the all-metal Spirit.

Lockwood Aircraft is the builder of two of light aviation's best-recognized flying machines: AirCam and the Drifter line. Most sport aviators already know the Lockwood brand, a leader in Rotax maintenance and aircraft services.

Arion Aircraft has designed and built one of the most beautiful low wing entries in the Special LSA and kit-built aircraft sector. The all-American designed and built aircraft is priced fairly and flies wonderfully ... need you search for more?

North Wing is America's leading manufacturer of weight shift LSA and Part 103 ultralight trikes. The company's wing designs are so good that most other trike manufacturers use them. Aircraft prices are highly affordable by all.

Pipistrel has designed and manufactures a range of beautiful, sleek aircraft that have found markets around the world. Starting with gliders and motorgliders, Pipistrel now offers a line of powered aircraft using multiple power sources.

Just Aircraft has delivered more than 300 kit aircraft since 2002, but in 2012 they electrified pilots with the awesome performance of their all-new SuperSTOL. It may look extreme and performs extremely well, but it is truly docile and forgiving to fly.

Phoenix Air USA imports the beautiful Phoenix Special Light-Sport Aircraft, a performance motorglider that can cruise swiftly and serve both functions with excellent creature comfort. Given its clever wing extension design, you get two aircraft in one!

BRM Aero manufacturers the handsome Bristell all-metal SLSA. This highly evolved, next-generation Light-Sport was carefully engineered for luxury, comfort, excellent stability, and safety while being fun, fast, and easy to fly.

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