If you like airplane statistics and facts, this article may interest you. Some pilots don’t follow such things while others eat it up (you know who you are). For these readers, we have a new perspective that many may find intriguing.
The comparisons below relate to the numbers of Single Engine Piston (SEP) general aviation (GA) aircraft on the U.S. registry compared to an umbrella group including SLSA, ELSA, and kit-built aircraft that Sport Pilots may fly (or those using a different certificate but exercising the privileges of Sport Pilot) …in other words, all the aircraft we cover on this website.
Even after more than 15 years of LSA and the kits that Sport Pilots can fly, the GA fleet still seems immeasurably larger. The truth is, we can measure it; in fact, we have up-to-date info and both are as accurate as FAA’s database allows.
Which Is Bigger?
The total SEP GA fleet numbers approximately 135,000 aircraft, 15 times larger than LSA/SP kits (by our criteria, about 9,000 aircraft) but the bigger number includes aircraft made since the 1940s and significantly in the ’60s and ’70s.
As most aviators know, the GA fleet averages better than 40 years old where the entire LSA/SP kit fleet is less than 15 years old. It will be decades before LSA/SP kits catch up with the GA fleet, if ever …although that’s before the LSA sector undergoes a major transformation and likely expansion in 2023 (more on that here, and we will offer regular updates).
The size difference takes on a different view when we compare only the period from 2005 forward. This is when the first LSA started winning FAA acceptance signaling the official start of the industry.
Given this history, all our data points start in 2005; we count nothing before even if that aircraft would today be called a Sport Pilot kit aircraft.
(To save space, I will use “LSA/SP kits” to represent Special, fully-built LSA plus Experimental LSA plus Experimental Amateur Built Sport Pilot kit aircraft.)
When you go global with these two aviation sectors, you find the USA has 80% of the GA fleet with the entire rest of the globe flying the other 20%.
The table is turned upside down for LSA/SP kits, where the USA has about 20% of the global total and all other countries account for 80%. However, the U.S. share appears to be increasing gradually since the recession of 2007-2009. As you can note that recession hit GA very hard; the GA industry has yet to recover to pre-recession registrations.
Viewed in total, the numbers for GA compared to LSA/SP kits are remarkably close. For all of 2019, the LSA/SP kit market registered 690 aircraft (up 8.3% over 2018) while GA registered 729 single engine aircraft (up 3.5% over 2018).
Although SEP GA registered about 6% more aircraft in 2019, a major share of that count comes from one brand, Cirrus Design. The Minnesota company alone accounts for close to 40% of all GA airplanes registered last year. Cirrus registrations have been quite steady over the last three years, though 2019 was the lowest of the three.
As always, please remember registrations will not precisely equal a manufacturer’s reported deliveries perhaps due to year-end paperwork delays that affected at least two producers of light aircraft in 2019.
Take Cirrus out of the count and GA registered 448 aircraft from 15 producers, only 65% as many as all LSA/SP kit producers registered.
Although we have clear leaders in LSA/SP kits (see chart), the 690 aircraft come from an impressive list of 171 producers, more than 11 times more manufacturers than for SEP GA aircraft. This clearly illustrates what happens when you free up the design energy and productive spirit of small aviation companies.
Given a means of market entry, we saw the arrival of a new batch of manufacturers with a flock of new models to satisfy the diverse interests of pilots: from those seeking speedy cross country cruisers to back country taildraggers to special flying machines like gyroplanes, weight shift trikes, and powered parachutes. Go LSA and Sport Pilot kits!
Again a shout-out to Steve Beste, our supreme “datastician.” The GA info presented here was stimulated after an exchange between Steve and General Aviation News publisher, Ben Sclair. All data is from FAA’s registration database but, other than the tables and charts, all statements in this article are mine alone.