One bone of contention among LSA sellers is that legacy flight schools — the sort that typically uses Cessna or Piper trainers — sometimes disregard LSA as trainer aircraft. “They’re built too lightly.” “The nose wheels are too weak.” “My mechanic doesn’t know the Rotax engine.” Some may have even more creative excuses. I’ve interviewed many producers that are frustrated with this outdated response. Several have cited specific aircraft that have done flight school duty for thousands of hours and tens of thousands of landings. Yet the ill-informed attitude of such school operators has not stopped sellers from trying. One such dogged entrepreneur is Michael Coates, the Australia-based largest dealer for Slovenian LSA producer, Pipistrel. “After months and months of evaluation, writing proposals, flight tests and endless emails,” Michael wrote, “I am very proud to announce our single biggest order into the USA flight training market.” He referenced an order for 15 Pipistrel Alpha Trainer aircraft with instrumentation configured for IFR training (photo) ordered for delivery to San Bernardino, California.
Congratulations, Pipistrel!As a Slovenia-based company, Pipistrel been a leader in electric propulsion, winning (literally!) millions from NASA for their success with electric propulsion. However, they cannot sell an electric-propelled SLSA in the United States. They can in Australia and Canada. Recently the down-under country approved Electro for use by a flight school. This Alpha Electro "is a normal production Pipistrel Alpha Electro and was commissioned on January 2nd 2018," wrote Coates. "The aircraft was awarded an SLSA certificate by CASA and it is used at the fifth busiest airport in the southern hemisphere, mostly for flight training. The operators now have around 70 hours in temperatures above 35°C (95°F). Michael explained, "The Australian aviation standards do not have the word 'reciprocating' when describing the engine system of an LSA aircraft so the plane can be registered as a 'certified' LSA for flight training in Australia, unlike the USA." In normal pattern flying the fight school is logging 60-minute flights and completing between 8 and 10 takeoffs and landings per training session. Recharging is taking between 45 minutes and 1 hour 15 minutes depending on the temperatures. Michael said that when the temperatures rises above 35°C charging slows down to keep the batteries under their maximum temperature.
Canada, Too!According to a recent report by Flying online, "Transport Canada [approved] Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro earlier this month." Writer Rob Mark continued, "In Canada, the Alpha Electro was certified as an Advanced Ultra-light, a category that doesn’t exist in the USA. Electros are flying in America, but under a Experimental LSA certificate that makes them ineligible to be used for hire." As Rob reported, "Electro is powered by a 60-kW electric motor equivalent to an 80-horsepower gasoline engine. Roughly the size of a Cessna 150, the Alpha Electro weighs considerably less, just over 1,200 pounds. At cruise, Electro tops out at 85 mph." The Southern Hemisphere flight school got a rush of news coverage in Australia. Here's a series or reports that also shows the aircraft in flight. You can hear it as well. https://youtu.be/xPN5VDHzPNo
One word can make a huge difference. This unassailable logic was recently put forth by Michael Coates of Australia regarding the LSA regulation. The offensive word? —Reciprocating. It sounds so innocent until you consider what that word prevents in the USA. Like so many laws and regulations, the original idea didn’t work out anything like what was intended. In its ground-breaking — I’m tempted to write “daring” — Sport Pilot / Light-Sport Aircraft regulation of 2004, FAA specified that all LSA must use only a reciprocating engine. Their stated goal was to avoid turbines that were thought too complex for the “simple aircraft flying in simple airspace” mantra of the day. (For the record, numerous airline pilots I know confirmed that turbines are far simpler than any reciprocating engine. They do require different techniques that are not familiar to recreational-only pilots but they are actually very easy engines to operate, say these professional pilots.) Regardless, FAA’s word choice not only prevented turbine engines but unknowingly prevented electric propulsion as well.