by Dave Weiman
In this issue, contributing editor Jim Hanson continues his series on “Student Starts & Pilot Retention,” and expands on why he thinks our industry is not growing. He believes that reforms are needed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in regards to aircraft categories, flight training, pilot certification and medical requirements (see page 50).
Especially take note of Jim’s discussion over the maximum permissible weight of 1320 lbs for the Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) category. If we as an industry are serious about increasing our pilot numbers, we better get serious about lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration to place aircraft, such as the Cessna 150 and 152, within the LSA category, so more people can train in – and buy – these affordable aircraft as Sport Pilots.
There are those who believe that the weight limitation for LSAs was set at 1320 lbs – not over concern for flight safety – but rather to deliberately exclude the Cessna 150, 152 and other similar “used” aircraft from the LSA category. The idea may have been to force flight schools and newly certificated Sport Pilots to buy a “new” airplane for $125,000 or more, instead of a used airplane for $20,000. Forced to buy? I don’t think so. Most flight schools do not even offer Sport Pilot training because they do not have enough demand to justify putting a new LSA on their flightline. Likewise, potential student pilots see the price tag of a new LSA, and decide that learning to fly, then buying a new airplane, is cost-prohibitive.
As the LSA rule currently exists, if aircraft ownership is the goal of the student pilot, it is more affordable to bypass the Sport Pilot Certificate and get a Private Pilot Certificate, so the student can train in, then purchase upon completion of training, a used aircraft. This obviously defeats the two-tier approach in recruiting new pilots (first Sport Pilot, then Private Pilot), but it does preserve the multi-tier approach to aircraft ownership.
Very often a new private pilot gets into the aircraft market by purchasing a relatively inexpensive, used aircraft, then upgrades to a newer, larger or better-equipped aircraft over time. Obviously, if the pilot certificate does not permit the newly certificated pilot to fly and purchase a used aircraft for the first time, the pilot will not be upgrading.