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.