Update 1/15/19: Thanks to reader feedback — a resource we value very highly — we have updated our statistics to correct another naming challenging. “Zodiac” turned up 53 more registrations since 2005: 52 601s and one 650. “Of the 53 additions, four were registered in 2018. That bumps our total fleet to 8,027,” wrote Steve Beste. Check Tableau Public for the latest data. —DJ “What about my plane,” a number of you asked? “I didn’t see [XYZ brand] of aircraft,” a few others wrote. “How come you didn’t include what I fly,” several inquired? You spoke (or wrote). We listened. The result? 7,974 aircraft (up from 6,305) is our refreshed count of all Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft flying machines registered in America. My advisor and consultantant in this deep data dive, IT expert Steve Beste and I decided to enlarge the “universe.” While sticking to the 2005 date when FAA accepted the first SLSA, we can now broaden the aircraft registration database search to include brands like Kolb, Quad City, Sonex, Titan, Murphy, Aero Adventure, Sport Performance and more, plus additional kit aircraft models from companies that do both SLSA and Experimental Amateur Built (EAB) deliveries.
LSA Market Shares
Welcoming Steve Beste"I'm a retired computer guy and trike pilot who loves databases," Steve told me. He used his special set of skills to download FAA's aircraft registration database to compile statistics on gyroplane registrations, focused on the new European-style gyroplanes. As you can see, AutoGyro is the clear market leader at 52% with 163 aircraft of 312 gyroplanes registered with FAA. The German builder is trailed by Magni in the #2 slot at 18% with 56 registrations. A new American manufacturer, SilverLight Aviation, has quickly tied Spanish producer ELA for third at 8% with 26 aircraft registered for each. After that it trails off more quickly as Steve's chart shows. More details about other brands will be chronicled in an article to follow. For 2018 through July 23rd, Magni shows its strength by slightly beating AutoGyro U.S. registrations. As always, note that confirmed sales and registrations may not match precisely. In addition, much more of 2018 remains. In slightly more than half a year, gyroplanes registered 58 aircraft putting them on track to exceed 100 for the year. To offer perspective, this figure is approaching half as many as SLSA fixed wing registrations in recent full years. So far this year, Magni has 15 registrations to AutoGyro's 14 for 26% and 24% shares totaling half of total U.S. gyroplane registrations. SilverLight has registered 8 aircraft in 2018 for a 14% yearly share of 2018 to date. A less well recognized U.S. producer, Tango, is having a respectable year, with 9 registrations accounting for 16% in 2018 so far. Tango is trailed by ELA with 6 registrations (10%), Australia's Titanium and Italy's Brako tied at 3 for 5% each. One interesting point: only Tango and Brako offer a single place gyroplane; all others are two place machines.
Much More Data to Follow!Steve Beste and I have been discussing him providing database research to allow this website to continue providing LSA Market Share Info. Many visitors have written to ask; indeed, we are way behind on this effort. The delay is ending. After Steve gets time to study the previous work and methods, he has proposed some wonderful improvements. About the special skills he can offer, Steve wrote, "I'm a retired computer guy and trike pilot who loves databases." Well, that certainly sounds perfect to me. "I'm also the president of Flying Club 1, which was the original USUA Chapter 1," Steve added. "Regarding the FAA database, I'd very much like to reach beyond just [fixed wing] airplanes, partly because I'm a trike pilot, myself. I think that's entirely possible." Given this background, his obvious enthusiasm for this work, and the keen interest of many in light aviation, I am exceedingly pleased to welcome Steve to this website. "[However, FAA's] data is not clean," Steve observed. I am well aware of this problem. Uncertainty about data accuracy of "alternative" LSA is why we have reported fixed wing Special LSA, only offering guesses for weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, motorgliders, and more. However, we hope that will now change and our market share reporting will be more inclusive. Hurray! Problems in FAA's database is not caused by incompetent clerks. Agency personnel must sort through inconsistently-reported aircraft. If, as Steve pointed out in one example, the registered name of the aircraft is slightly different, it won't show up on a casual investigation. He added, "There's no end of that kind of thing …just so we know the limitations on this exercise. But with that understanding, I love this kind of thing, I have the skills to do it, and would be honored to support your good work for the sport." All such reporting will be available on the home page when fresh and catalogued on its own space found by this link. Wonderful, simply wonderful! Please welcome Steve Beste as a new contributor to ByDanJohnson.com!
UPDATE September 26, 2018 — In the article above, I inadvertently suggested SilverLight and their American Ranger gyroplane was the first or only U.S. producer of such aircraft. That is not what I intended but some readers viewed it that way. Allow me to bring your attention to two other producers.
Sport Copter & Rotor Flight DynamicsBased in Oregon, Sport Copter is a long established, second-generation family business started in 1958. Chuck Vanek was one of the early pioneers of gyroplane design and development beginning his work in 1957. Chuck's son Jim Vanek took over the business and revamped the Vancraft designs. He said his "award-winning, world’s-first, two-place gyroplane took the prestigious Charles Lindbergh award at the Oshkosh airshow in 1985." The company also reports his Sport Copter II design was voted as one of the Top Ten Best Designs at AirVenture in 2011. An airshow performer, Jim said he wrote the parameters and guidelines for gyroplane looping for the FAA in 1998 after performing the world’s first loop in a conventional gyroplane, in 1997. The company's website reports, "He is the only gyro pilot in the world that holds an International Council of Air Shows card for gyroplane looping and rolling." Don't even think about trying this yourself, however. Rotor Flight Dynamics, founded and run by Ernie Boyette, produces a two place and single variations of their Dominator line. Sold as kit aircraft, the two-place model can be powered by Hirth four-cylinder engines, Subaru/AutoFlight EA-81, or the 115-horsepower Rotax 914 Turbo. The company said, "We offer 22 thru 28 foot rotor blades of our own design with a lift capability from ultralight thru 1,200 pounds gross weight." They added, "We are the only manufacturer that test flies all blade sets prior to shipping." For export, Rotor Flight will fully build their aircraft but in the USA, FAA will only permit them to deliver kits, the same as all gyroplane producers. As with all the modern gyroplanes, Rotor Flight uses a substantial tailplane. "The Dominator [series of one and two-place machines] incorporate the Tall Tail design for stability." Asked how their product differs, the company's website states, "What makes the Dominator so unique is its high profile design. It sits up very high off the ground."
Updated September 26, 2018 — This article has been updated to include more producers. See at bottom. —DJ Over many years, you have found LSA market share information on this website. Many have found this of interest …from businesses learning more about their market; to customers doing careful investigation before paying tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new aircraft; to government fulfilling its task of regulating industry; to insurance companies assessing risk of providing their product; and many other actors in the blockbuster movie that is light, recreational aviation. I will have more to say about the broader LSA market share reports below but now I want to present the best information I have seen for Light-Sport Aircraft Gyroplanes. …uh, except for one problem. No such aircraft category exists, SLSA gyroplanes, that is. FAA has denied fully-built Special LSA status to rotary winged aircraft such as gyroplanes.
Changes in the Rankings
Besides the leaders, the Top-5 brands remained steady with CubCrafters, Flight Design, Czech Sport Aircraft, American Legend, and Tecnam holding their highest rankings. Jabiru moved up one notch, while Remos slipped one. Aerotrek (another year-after-year gainer) climbed another rank while Evektor fell one. Nonetheless the top five, these last four, and Cessna are the only brands breaking into triple digits. Although Pipistrel gives us challenges to count (some are registered as Experimental Exhibition), the Slovenian company has also exhibited an even climb and now ranks 11th in the fleet or 3rd for calendar 2016. One fooler is SportairUSA, which markets both TL Ultralights and Zlin. Neither has broken 100 yet but when combined SportairUSA has and that's before fresh excitement over their new Outback Shock. Van's continues to make more fully built RV-12s with their partner Synergy Air. Progressive Aerodyne, builder of the Searey approved in both USA and China, has had and still boasts solid years. The central Florida company is the clear leader in LSA seaplanes even while Icon's A5 finally began to show up with 13 new registrations in 2016. Finally, while our main chart focuses on the top brands, note that the largest single percentage are registrations from “All other producers.” The same is true in our calendar year chart. Sometimes called "boutique brands," these companies continue to find customers. Even as Light-Sport Aircraft matures as a niche in the aviation industry, its promise remains strong. As our ongoing reporting from Aero and Sun 'n Fun shows, new models continue to be developed and governments in more countries are embracing the ASTM standards to approve these aircraft. No wonder the general aviation world wants what LSA has. Unlike legacy aircraft producers — those making general aircraft that have changed little over half a century — the LSA space continues to supply interesting, innovative, modestly priced, good performing, superbly equipped, and yes! …safe aircraft. Now that most manufacturers have seen BasicMed has not materially affected their business the American LSA segment grows steadily while worldwide sales continue to eclipse new GA single engine piston deliveries by multiple times. Update #1 — May 1, 2017: After this article was posted, Pete Krotje of Jabiru North America wrote, "Your 2016 LSA chart shows Jabiru North America with five units last year. The number is actually seven (N733Y, N766J, N768J, N72TA, N773J, N218KC, and N772J (a J170-D)." We love when vendors aid our effort to achieve accuracy. This information was shared with Jan Fridrich. Update #2 — May 2, 2017: After Tecnam's U.S. base got a number of calls about this article, we exchanged email about the process. While we can only reliably count FAA registrations and these numbers may not precisely match a seller's data, Tecnam USA observed, "FAA registers us in different ways. Sometimes just Tecnam, sometimes Costruzioni Aeronautiche Tecnam, and sometimes Tecnam SRL C.A. So that might be why not all the Tecnams sold were included." Their sales records show the following 17 SLSA were sold in 2016: 7 Astore models, 8 P2008s, and 2 P92s. Thanks to Tecnam for sharing this and again, we forwarded the numbers to Jan.
A dozen years after FAA created aviation’s newest sector, we have a new leader among manufacturers of fully built Light-Sport Aircraft. CubCrafters has been moving upward with several years hitting 50 deliveries. In 2016 the west coast builder finally topped perennial leader Flight Design, which slipped to second place. The CT builder had occupied the #1 position since the beginning of Light-Sport Aircraft. Only four aircraft separate the two brands. Note: this article has been updated twice; see at end. —DJ In the single-year race, Czech Sport Aircraft won convincingly with almost double the next closest producer. The Czech builder performed well in 2015 but significantly increased last year. Congratulations to both companies. To explain further, our “whole fleet” market share chart — the one we have published going back to 2006 — keeps track of all Special LSA (SLSA) airplanes in the U.S. fleet. Regretfully, we are unable to properly account for weight shift trikes, powered parachutes, gyroplanes, or motorgliders because the database is too variable.
Article Updated 8/8/16 — The second chart appearing below for Calendar 2015 results had errors in the spreadsheet formula. They have been corrected below. —DJ My associate in Europe, Jan Fridrich of LAMA Europe, has been the source for a database search for many years as I seek to report market share statistics in the USA. He scours the FAA registration information and laboriously assembles the numbers. As he and I work to produce accurate info, Jan often makes contact with selected companies when questions arise, as they often do. I also reach out to producers in our effort to make the best possible use of the registration data to create our rankings. Jan has been one of his country’s representatives in the Czech Republic’s official work with the Chinese to help that nation build its lighter aviation infrastructure. He’s made many trips to China in the last two years.
The U.S. market for Special Light-Sport Aircraft continues to grow at steady pace, modestly better than the trend for single engine piston certified aircraft as reported by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association for the first half of 2015. SLSA deliveries in the half-year period totaled 97 units, with 91 of those coming from 15 manufacturers, showing that the famous 80/20 rule still generally applies … more than 80% of the market is supplied by less than 20% of the builders. It also implies the majority of those companies who previously earned FAA acceptance for their LSA models are either quite slow or inactive in the U.S. market. We’d prefer to describe vigorous growth but the so-named Great Recession seems to be lingering on; at least it appears the much-talked-about recovery has left most of aviation still looking for improved business. Evidence of a still-troubled global economy is even clearer when you consider the wild stock market gyrations of recent weeks.
Revised Article UPDATED: 6/5/15 / New total LSA and LSA-like chart (at bottom) — At best statistics can be fluid and hard to state precisely. In response to my request for any Australian input below, Neil Jansen responded, “I found some data sourced from the authority that manages such aircraft categories in Australia (Recreational Aviation Australia).” He attached a PDF article. After my review of this document, I can say that I was not grossly off in my guesstimate of 2,000 LSA-type aircraft. I attempted to be conservative and evidently I was. From a review of the charts and article, I would now increase my Australia figures from 2,000 to perhaps 2,700 so the final calculus of around 50,000 worldwide aircraft looks even more solid. That said, my European counterpart, Jan Fridrich, and I since had a conversation that suggests even 50,000 may not fully cover it.
Update Notice — The following article has been updated to reflect additional information. Please read at this link. Thanks to a solid effort by GAMA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, I have data that can be used to assess the numbers of recreational aircraft around the world. That organization is significantly focused on business aircraft but did include all levels of aircraft in their country-by-country review. Whatever the actual level of accuracy — GAMA is wholly dependent on the data the organization received from various CAAs in each country — GAMA’s data is some very useful info and I am in their debt for the information discussed in this review. In addition to GAMA having to use whatever each country reported, the methods of reporting were not consistent. For one noteworthy example, several countries listed as their smallest aircraft those weighing 5,700 kilograms (12,540 pounds), which represents far larger aircraft than your typical four-seat GA aircraft and certainly any recreational aircraft.
As spring approaches and with major airshows like Aero Friedrichshafen in Germany and Sun ‘n Fun in Florida about to trigger a new season of recreational flying, it is time for an annual update of Light-Sport Aircraft market shares. Our well-known “fleet” chart appears nearby; this table refers to all Special LSA registered with FAA in the United States since the first aircraft was accepted by FAA almost ten years ago (on April 5, 2005). We again post our Calendar 2014 tally that shows the success only in that year as a means of drawing attention to those brands and models performing the best in the last twelve months. We remind you that these charts use as their source the FAA registration (N-number) database, that is then carefully studied and corrected to make the most reliable report possible. However, two points: (1) this report will still have some errors as the database on which we rely has some faulty information … though we believe this to be modest and, as noted, we correct it where we can; and, (2) aircraft registrations are not likely to be perfectly in sync with company records of sales for a variety of reasons.
As the new year dawned my good friends at General Aviation News published my article on the light aircraft industry using Rotax deliveries (and estimates of other engine brands) to estimate worldwide sales of recreational or sport aircraft. The article was presented online as 2015 began and has since appeared in a print edition. This article was updated 1/12/15 and 1/23/15. On the “The Pulse of Aviation” (sign up here; it’s free) you can read my article that generated a large number of reader comments, some of which were quite colorful. •A technical glitch that took down the comments has been fixed and you can again peruse the many comments.• GA News is published 26 times a year (subscribe here) and the article was just released in the print version. Online, a few responders apparently didn’t think much of LSA with some relying on outdated information.
Much of what we hear and know about airplane populations is centered on America. Yet in the world of sport and recreational aviation, the rest of the world equates to at least a 1:1 relationship, that is, for every American aircraft flying, many experts agree another flies internationally. It may be more significant than that … consider Germany. In mid-August, our friends at Aerokurier, Germany’s leading aviation magazine, assembled an article about the top 10 ultralights in that country. A European ultralight, as you may know, is not the same as an American ultralight that is today limited to a single seat and no more than 254 pounds of empty weight. In Germany and elsewhere around the European Union, “ultralight” refers to an airplane much like a U.S. Light-Sport but limited in weight to 472.5 kilograms or 1,041 pounds. Originally the weight limit had been 450 kilograms or 992 pounds but because emergency airframe parachutes are mandatory in Germany the weight was increased a few years ago to cover this component.
In July I posted an article about an AOPA survey conducted through the biggest member organization’s daily newsletter, eBrief (sign-up page). That provided a broad glimpse into both the mind of an AOPA eBrief reader (and responder) but might also be used to forecast some possibilities for the LSA industry. In this article, I’m going to again use the survey data but look at such information in a different manner. I suspect LSA business people will read this with interest but it may be meaningful to any pilot interested in buying or partnering their way into a LSA or in finding a Light-Sport Aircraft available for students and others to fly at flight schools and FBOs around the country. LSA are by no means limited to the USA, of course, so I’ll also make some informed guesses about what I see as the global aspect to the LSA development, now beginning its second decade*.
UPDATE: May 27, 2014 — “A vigorous debate ensued …” might be one way to refer to a four-way discussion from around the globe. Over the last few days, LSA industry folks in distant lands worked on market share details. Michael Coates is the Australian-based U.S. distributor for Pipistrel, an aircraft fabricated in Slovenia and assembled as a LSA in nearby Italy for shipment to the USA. My Czech-based associate, Jan Fridrich, was in China again because his country works with that nation as they build a personal aviation sector virtually from scratch. From our corners of the world we tried to resolve a problem that regularly occurs in our study of the FAA registration database. Pipistrel maintained their SLSA airplane numbers were stronger. Jan and I communicated and finally agreed that we were underreporting their numbers. The chart below has been modified to reflect a truer situation, sharply moving Pipistrel upward from 20th to 14th rank.
In talks I give at airshows, I’ve begun to focus on what I term the “real” LSA market. Many folks are confused and even our ByDanJohnson.com statistics and articles about market share ranking add to the fog obscuring the big picture. The chart below attempts to burn off that fog and provide a clearer understanding. However, the table — meant for use when I proceeded line by line in a live presentation — needs some explanations. The chart attempts two tricks. The first goal was to contrast general aviation (GA) with Light-Sport aviation. We compare only to single engine piston GA aircraft as we saw that as the closest match. So the chart has at top left, a figure of 790, which is the number of Type Certified general aviation aircraft delivered in 2012, the latest full year of information at the time of the chart’s creation. Come down one line to see the total of Special LSA airplanes registered in 2012, again noting that LSA report registrations where the GA industry states deliveries; these two stats are not identical but are close enough for the purposes of this discussion.
At least aviation is not bowling! Recent articles say the number of American bowlers has plummeted from nine million to two million, a drop of 78%. Compared to that the aviation industry looks far more durable (line chart). Indeed, aviation in all sectors is facing challenges but we are buoyed by reports in the same newspapers that say Americans are feeling more financially secure since stock markets are up substantially and houses are selling faster and at better prices. However, as we’ll show below, 2013 is one of those transition years. That means that sales have been occurring at an increased pace, but due to companies assuming a defensive posture in the 2007-2011 downturn, production is now lagging behind sales just as it was in 2005-2006 when LSA burst on the scene. I’m optimistic that 2014 is going to be a much stronger year. I am not the only one. “I feel we will be experiencing two significant growth years in 2014 and 2015 based on the continued aging of the pilot population and the pent-up demand in the marketplace,” said Tim Casey, Garmin‘s sales manager for portables, LSA, and experimental aircraft markets.
A number of you have asked about an updated sales report for 2013. While remembering that we report registrations not sales, this year has been a different sort. Registrations are down from 2012, with the exception that CubCrafters remains the registration (and presumably sales) leader. American Legend and their Cubs are also showing more activity than previous years. Beyond the yellow taildragger squadron, it’s something of a mixed bag. More on that below. ••• Let me offer you another statistic that amazes me while speaking to ever-growing interest in Light-Sport Aircraft and light kit aircraft that Sport Pilots may fly. In September, ByDanJohnson.com set an all-time record with 71,400 Unique Visitors, 25% higher than our previous record (July 2013). In 2013, Unique Visitors have averaged more than 35,000 per month, a figure more than double 2012, which had been our best year ever. If I appear to be bragging too loudly, let me say that I believe this website is merely the messenger and that it is a fleet of great LSA and a solid team of suppliers and service providers that is delivering visitor growth.
At the Midwest LSA Expo that concluded a few days back, I delivered a presentation called “20+ Reasons to Buy an LSA.” However, to handle the subject a little bit differently, I turned it into an audience participation exercise. As I presented each slide of one particular reason, I explained what was meant and elaborated on how each reason made LSA different from other sorts of aircraft someone might consider buying. Then, I asked the audience to raise their hand if that reason was one that might cause them to buy a Light-Sport. I advised that no one was recording their names, so they remained anonymous. Each person could raise their hand as many times as they wanted or never raise their hand if they chose. No one had to participate. About 35 people listened and somewhere between 15 and 25 answered most of the time. The following chart shows the responses.
Our annual review of LSA Market Share brings our updated fleet chart and a second chart showing prior-year registrations. While sales of new SLSA remains below par, the market appears to be experiencing spotty but regular recovery from earlier low points. The first half the year foretold a better recovery but the last half of the year stalled somewhat. Regardless, based on traffic to this website, LSA interest is higher than ever. For January 2013, ByDanJohnson.com set all-time records in Unique Visitors and all other measuring criteria Thank you for your support! 2012 Market Share report — Nearby, we present our standard market share numbers. Our original chart remains consistent, illustrating the “installed base,” or “fleet size.” Because we know many of you seek recent-year information we are repeating the Calendar Year chart that debuted last year. For the second year in a row Cessna lead in 2012 with an impressive 94 registrations though this is down 30% from 134 in 2011.
We’ve been getting requests for market share information and I am happy to provide an update, thanks to my European associate Jan Fridrich who does the hard work of sifting through FAA’s database. I remind you that his efforts are not merely tallying whatever FAA publishes. In fairness, Jan has to evaluate many pieces of information and judge accuracy of the entries. This isn’t because FAA’s registrars are bumbling fools that cannot enter data accurately. The challenges come from sheer number of brands (90) and models (127) over a mere seven years… unprecedented in aviation history. To that add the variations of Experimental Amateur Built (EAB), Special Light-Sport Aircraft (SLSA), Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft kits (ELSA) and converted two-place ultralights to LSA status. Then factor in that some standard category or homebuilt aircraft meet the LSA parameters of weight and speed and such so some people consider them “LSA,” when in fact they mean they can be flown by some possessing a Sport Pilot certificate.
We try not to overdo this, but we have a new benchmark to share with you. *** One year ago, we loaded a new graphic onto our home page. The idea was to better identify where in the world we were finding visitors so we put up Flag Counter, which you can see at the bottom of the Featured Aircraft listing in the right column. It’s been fun to watch the numbers and flags adjust. *** If you click on that image you can get much more info. One thing you’ll see is that we’ve had 191 countries come to visit, including some you may not know existed. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in affordable, recreational aircraft. *** You’ll also note a count of Unique Visitors. At the end of the first year of having this counter on ByDanJohnson.com, we exceeded 150,000 Unique Visitors, according to Flag Counter. Our own stats counter — which doesn’t simply sample as most other counters do, instead counting every visit — shows an even larger number: 181,846 or more than 15,150 per month.
FAA issued its 20-year forecast for aviation showing growth prospects for business jets and Light-Sport Aircraft. It also forecasts a decline in the total number of piston-powered aircraft. Viewed from a distance, this might seem beneficial to Light-Sport Aircraft producers and sellers. Reasonably, FAA’s report appears to suggest recreational pilots will enjoy more hours aloft in a growing fleet of LSA. *** Against a backdrop of what seems to be continuously increasing prices for avgas — some believe 100LL might even disappear — the fuel efficiency of LSA becomes more important. For example, Rotax just launched their 912 iS fuel-injected engine boasting a 21% reduction in fuel consumption, taking the popular engine from burning about five gallons per hour to a theoretical four gallons in an hour of flying. Should we LSA enthusiasts celebrate these facts? *** Regretfully, I find FAA’s forecast improbable (see details below). Not that the agency’s number crunchers are wrong; in fact, I hope they might be right.