This month, I had an email exchange with a leader in aviation. I debated if I should reply. For a time, I did not but I felt compelled given the person’s stature. I was driven to attempt informing those this individual might influence. I further pondered if I should write an article about it, but I feel one must confront potential errors if for no other reason than to promote healthy dialogue. I am not to going reveal with whom I had this exchange. Personality isn’t important to the discussion but this person expressed what I suspect represents the opinion of a fair share of general aviation pilots, at least those who have not fully explored recreational aircraft such as LSA, or light kits, or ultralights. The following comes from our second round of email. In the first, the writer referred to LSA “market failings” and I asked what was meant.
Cirrus Design SRS
Phone: (218) 529-7292Duluth, MN 55811 - USA
Most producers in the Light-Sport Aircraft sector welcomed the LSA market entry announced by Cessna and Cirrus at Oshkosh 2007. July of last year looks like the “good old days,” as aviation from LSA to VLJs — essentially all of GA — is roiled by global economic uncertainty. *** Compounding the challenges, Cessna had an “unrecoverable” spin incident with their Skycatcher 162. Even BRS got drawn in with a rocket-deployed parachute that for reasons yet unknown didn’t save the airframe. Both companies are sure to work out these issues; test failures are an accepted part of aircraft development. *** Cirrus stepped down to a 3-day workweek (AvWeb article) to cope with slowing sales. Like Cessna, Cirrus is managing multiple developments. Their jet project consumes plenty of resources so when watching costs, it’s little surprise that the Duluth company might put their SRS Light-Sport project on the back burner.
Despite an economic slowdown shared by all of aviation, the LSA industry is rich with entrepreneurs. Innovative new designs hit the market regularly. Consider this: In just over three years, the industry has certified an astounding 81 aircraft designs and several more are on the horizon. One hundred certified LSA might be available by 2009, in less than four years since the category was created by FAA. No one remembers anything close in FAA history. *** All Light-Sport Aircraft presently total about 1% of the U.S. piston engine fleet including all FAA registrations of all aircraft types and models. Yet three LSA years compare to 80+ Cessna years, so the new segment remains in its infancy. Consequently, the LSA industry may be acting precisely as needed — focusing on innovation and diversity as proven by the number of new models meeting ASTM standards. Big sales will follow, many experts believe.
SEBRING 2008 — Opening day started fast with press announcements from Cirrus — the GA company started taking orders for their SRS — and from Flight Design as the company unveiled their much-anticipated CTLS. But that was hardly all as the fourth Sebring Expo got going. I found a dozen newsworthy airplanes at the event and I may have missed some (I’ll keep searching). *** Gobosh introduced the 800XP, a sleek composite companion to the metal 700S. Sport Aircraft Works offered their just approved Dynamic LSA with fixed gear and prop. Skykits showed their shiny new Rampage with electric slots and Fowler flaps, and Urban Air USA showed their Lamabada LSA motorglider for the first time at a U.S. airshow. SportairUSA revealed their third generation Sting S3 with a new wing design and other updates.
EAA AirVenture is full of surprises. We all knew about Cessna’s confirmed LSA entry (though we had to travel to Oshkosh to see its new Skycatcher). Plenty of other surprises are expected. But one that caught almost everybody unawares was the Cirrus Design entry to aviation’s newest segment. *** They’ll import — and modify, or “Cirrus-ize” — FK Lightplane‘s gorgeous Fk14 Polaris. Cirrus cofounder Dale Klapmeier said, “The Polaris is the basis for a Cirrus LSA, which we’ll call the SRS…for Sport.” The successful Duluth builder wanted a low-wing composite to revise into a low-cost trainer in which new pilots can begin moving toward later ownership of a SR20/22 or the Cirrus Jet. *** “We want a fun, exciting LSA that’s also a good trainer,” added Dale. “We want to appeal all those young at heart potential aviators, including kids. Aviation needs to attract more pilots.” Cirrus previewed their new SRS at their company display right at the entrance to Oshkosh on opening-day Monday.