Letter From Jim Hanson

Dear Dave:

You have to wonder what he (the filmmaker) is buying for “$7,000 to $20,000 used, but in great condition?” My single-seat Kolb Firestar – a former ultralight turned LSA under the “grandfather” clause – costs at the upper end of his range. It’s powered by a 503 Rotax 2-cycle engine.

I also own a Kitfox IV homebuilt that can be flown as an LSA. It is powered by a 582 Rotax 2-cycle engine, and can carry a passenger. The kit is $15,000, the engine is $7,000, the prop is $1,500. There is no radio, and you still have to build it!

You still have an LSA-powered by a 2-stroke engine, something no commercial operator will rent. These very same aircraft can accommodate a 912 Rotax, but the engine alone is over $20,000. So much for the “affordable LSA.”

It is true that you can buy former ultralights for under $20,000, but the discussion is about safe, supportable airplanes. None of these former ultralights can be rented out as trainers.

I’ve deliberately stayed away from the discussion about the suitability of factory-built LSAs as training aircraft as they are sometimes advertised in the magazines. But the record of success is not good. The price (and the required rate for rental) is high (something I addressed in the first series of articles I have written for MFM). They also haven’t stood up well to the rigors of student training, as Aviation Consumer reports.

If the filmmaker wants a safe aircraft for under $20,000, they are available. The trusty old Cessna 150, a Tomahawk, a Piper Colt. Other than that, he might consider a glider. There are a number of those available for under $20,000.

The marketplace – the “invisible hand” of Adam Smith – has decreed what is a value and what is not. Wishing it were different doesn’t make it true. Witness the sharply increased value of Champs, Cubs, and T-crafts when LSAs were announced; people have chosen those, instead of Euro-designed LSAs, and the price has gone up in return. If the proposal to drop the third-class medical goes through, the same thing will happen with our tried and true simple four-place aircraft…the price will go up. As I mentioned in the earlier series, “who would buy an LSA if you could find a good four-place aircraft instead, for a lot less money?” I would hate to own a factory-built LSA right now for that reason.

The “documentary filmmaker” obviously graduated from the “Michael Moore School of Documentary Filmmaking.” Rather than put forth the truth, he starts out with a pre-conceived notion, then tries to make it fit. He does his viewers a disservice. Common sense says, “You can’t get anything of real value for little or nothing.” Most pilots won’t take the aircraft he champions seriously, and the poor safety record of these aircraft  doesn’t do anything good for the industry. There is a reason there are no factory-built LSAs using 2-stroke engines. He should be advised that for the good of our industry, he should be considering “true ultralights” (those still exist), instead of confusing would-be pilots with something less than a safe and serious aircraft.

On the good side, I have had a number of people comment positively about the series, including some fixed base operators. Barry Bibler, representing the South Dakota Pilots Association, asked for reprint permission for their state newsletter and for their convention. I gave him your contact info.

Jim Hanson

Albert Lea, Minnesota

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