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.