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04/05/03 - SPORT PILOT RULE CHANGES HOT TOPIC AT SUN 'N FUN … MANUFACTURERS ANTICIPATING NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES
FAA's proposed sport pilot/light-sport aircraft (SP/LSA) rule changes continue to be one of the hottest topics of discussion at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, which will wrap up this year's run on Tuesday, April 8.
While pilots and other enthusiasts who anticipate exercising the privileges of a sport pilot certificate are getting their questions answered at forums and seminars at the fly-in, manufacturers are busy exhibiting and demonstrating the aircraft they'll be marketing under the proposed special and experimental light-sport aircraft categories. And they're excited about the opportunities the rule changes will create.
Standing in front of his company's Zodiac 601 emblazoned with a "sport pilot-ready sticker," Zenith Aircraft President Sebastien Heintz told EAA, "After spending my third day here, I can tell you there is a lot of interest in the sport pilot rule changes, and I'm confident the FAA is working diligently to get the rule out by its stated goal of announcing the final rule at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2003."
In the meantime, Zenith continues to sell their 601 and 701 models as experimental amateur-built aircraft, which will be sport pilot eligible once the rule is completed, and the company is also studying other options for future products. While Heintz feels it will be a few years before the full impact of the rules changes will be evident with new pilots entering aviation, he's considering how his company may take advantage of the opportunities for new aircraft categories. Currently, European manufacturer Czech Aircraft Works manufactures ready-to-fly Zenith designs for the European advanced microlight market and those aircraft conform to the light-sport aircraft specifications as outlined in the sport pilot notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). Heintz, who notes that the two companies operations are completely separate, says ready-to-fly aircraft is an option that his company will consider marketing in the United States when the SP/LSA rule is issued.
Tom Peghiny, president of Flightstar, Inc., was thrilled to hear FAA state their commitment to the rule changes at Thursday's FAA "Meet the Boss" session. "To us that's saying quite a bit; it says that FAA appreciates our sport and has an open mind to helping it grow and improve."
He feels that with the proposed rule changes, FAA is providing the industry with the components needed to compete with all of recreational activities. "These rule changes will be good for all of aviation because they will provide an entry point at the grass roots level. FAA has worked very hard to include everyone in the rule. The rule changes will allow anyone to get involved, get an N number, and be legitimate. It creates a legitimate place for ultralight trainers. I just think it's a great opportunity for the industry."
With the acceptance of consensus standards to regulate the production of new light aircraft, FAA is codifying the best practices of the industry to provide kit and ready-to-fly aircraft, Peghiny added. He is chairman of the airplane subcommittee developing standards for fixed-wing LSA under the ASTM Int'l protocol.
Peghiny feels his company is well positioned for the new light-sport aircraft categories with its Flightstar kit aircraft as well as the CT, a German-designed, Ukraine-built, ready-to-fly composite aircraft from Flight Design. Flightstar is the exclusive CT distributor in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Ray Maule of Maule Aircraft, which sells the popular STOL aircraft certificated under the same name, recently made the first test flights in a modified Maule that he hopes to market as Special LSA. He's excited about the chance to get new folks involved in aviation. "I'm hoping that by making it easier for folks to get a pilot certificate that it'll spark more interest in aviation, and we definitely want to be a part of that." Maule is eagerly anticipating the final rule and the development of the consensus standards so he'll know the final specifications he'll have to build to. "We'll look at all the options as far as certification of the aircraft is concerned." But most of all, Maule is excited about enticing more people to get involved with flying.
At Titan Aircraft, company president John Williams says it's "business as usual," as his company continues to sell their popular Titan Tornado D and S models and their new T-51, a replica P-51, as 51-percent kits. "If we were much busier, we might be in trouble," he chuckled. But he, too, is looking forward to the market opportunities the rule changes will offer. "We'll continue to offer our 51-percent kits and take a look at offering a kits at greater levels of completion. There's a lot of folks who have the money to buy an airplane, but don't have the time to build it, so we'll look at kits at the 80-90 percent completion level to help those folks out."
As far as Special LSA are concerned, Williams hasn't decided whether his company will go that route or not. "We're taking a look at a lot of the issues involved, including liability. But, like everything else, market demand will help us make that decision. If a flight school came to me and said they wanted to buy 10 airplanes, I'd obviously have to consider that."
FAA's public statement of commitment to the rule changes…and its stated goal to try its hardest to announce the final rule at EAA AirVenture 2003…has bolstered spirits throughout the community and industry. Stayed tuned to www.sportpilot.org for continuing updates and information.