Fact #1: EAA ArVenture Oshkosh is coming in mere days. Fact #2: In the world of politics (and for that matter in corporate communications), you announce good news to big crowds or at the beginning of the week and you bury bad news on a Friday afternoon when maybe no one is listening hoping they’ll forget before a new week begins. So, if FAA may finally respond to Icon Aircraft‘s request for a 250-pound weight increase for their A5 LSA seaplane, Oshkosh would be a great place for FAA to announce it. The million-dollar question: Will FAA do this? And, what would it mean if the agency did announce it? My journalist friend, Al Marsh, over at AOPA just published a blog on this subject titled, “Why Icon will get its LSA weight exemption.” If you have any problem finding Al’s article go to AOPA’s blog website and click the “Reporting Points” heading, then scroll down as needed.
Al is a talented writer and handled this topic well, I think … while — this is important! — calling his words “speculative.” As he notes in his piece quoting me, I am very much of two minds on this. I like the way a weight increase could bolster the LSA sector by adding safety and perhaps yielding additional payload. A downside is this could require more powerful engines, which might increase costs and challenge airframes that were not fully prepared for heavier, more potent engines. Also, how fair is this to all those many producers who already designed to a set of rules that was limited to 1,320 or 1,430 pounds of gross weight (LSA landplanes and seaplanes, respectively)? Are those companies and aircraft now at a competitive disadvantage? Or is this a net pilot consumer benefit that allows a more capable airplane while still not demanding more than a Sport Pilot certificate? Note that additional training and an Angle of Attack indicator are allegedly part of what will be expected if a weight increase exemption is requested.
Another big question: Can FAA handle additional requests for exemptions at a time when their budget is so constrained that the FAA Administrator says the agency cannot move forward with other long term projects like their NextGen program? Other companies are bound to step up and ask for an exemption and FAA is obliged to review and respond. So many questions. So few answers. It all sounds like a good reason to go to Oshkosh and hear whomever FAA may be financially able to send to make such an announcement … if indeed one is coming. However, if Icon does get its weight increase, this might also speak positively about the chance for an exemption to allow electric motors on light airplanes or LSA (see our article about eSpyder for more). On whole, the exemption process allows our ponderous government to move more quickly than by laborious, time consuming, expensive rule making. That’s something to celebrate, I think.