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light sport aircraft

The term light sport aircraft has become a popular catch-all for newly manufactured airplanes, gliders, powered parachutes, weight-shift control aircraft (trikes), and lighter-than-air vehicles such as balloons and airships. As the name suggests, they have been designed for ease of operation and are typically small-sized and lightweight.

LSA are the fastest growing segment of the general aviation industry, mainly due to their ease of flight and their ability to be adapted for use in training pilots, as well as their low operating costs. The market is fragmented, with a number of local and regional aircraft manufacturers producing light sport models for the recreational and training markets.

FAA defines light sport aircraft as a category of aircraft that includes newly-manufactured light airplanes and powered parachutes. These include the Piper J-2, Aeronca Champ, Ercoupe, Luscombe 8-series, Taylorcraft BC and BCS, and others.

To qualify as an LSA, an aircraft must meet a definition set forth by the FAA in FAR 1.1, which states that it is “a small, light-sport aircraft.” The aircraft must be manufactured to a standard. These standards can be developed by the manufacturer or by a consensus of the industry.

Various other requirements are also specified, such as having an N-number displayed, placarding on the aircraft and annual condition inspections by FAA personnel. The display of an N-number is a major requirement for all light sport aircraft and can be done by placing a 3-inch plate on a structural member or otherwise affixing the N-number to the aircraft.

The FAA’s light sport rule was enacted in 2004 and was intended to improve the safety of these small, less-expensive, and often extralegal homebuilt aircraft. This rule, combined with the sport pilot certificate, was intended to create a more regulated environment for smaller airplanes.

While the light sport rule has been a good start, the FAA has also had to deal with a significant number of mishaps associated with light sport aircraft. As a result, the agency has become more focused on ensuring that the new fleet is compliant with its consensus standards.

According to the NTSB, the most common causes of mishaps in light sport aircraft are loss of control (30.2 percent of all accidents), engine failures (20.3 percent) and stall/spin events (19.3 percent). Stall/spin accounts for a high percentage of fatal accidents in the general aviation fleet, while runway loss of control is the leading cause of non-fatal accidents.

Other causes of mishaps in light sport aircraft have been identified, including poor weather conditions and attempting VFR into IMC (instead of a VFR approach). While these issues may have some relation to the design of the airplanes themselves, they are also more likely to be caused by pilot error.

Despite the efforts of the FAA, these relatively new types of airplanes are still very dangerous. As a result, it is essential that pilots treat them like the aircraft they really are and keep them in good working order. This can be done through regular inspections and a thorough maintenance program.