Back the early 2000s, when I worked at COPA, we had some conversations with the good folks at EAA as they were advocating for the then-proposed Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) category. That category greatly borrowed from the Canadian experience with the Advanced Ultralight Aeroplane (AULA) category that we have had since 1991 and the resulting LSAs, on the market since 2004, are very similar aircraft.
EAA was very interested in our technical details, including our TP10141, the design standards for AULAs, as well as the aircraft that were already flying in the category here in Canada. We were happy to share our experiences, as I have flown quite a number of AULAs, doing reviews for COPA, including the Merlin, EZ-Flyer, CT2K and the Allegro.
Since I have been doing my annual analysis of the civil fleet numbers since that time, one thing that did come up was sales expectations. EAA was planning that the new LSA category would provide new, inexpensive and fun two seat aircraft and that it would revitalize the sagging American aviation market.
At that time we had had our AULA category for about 13 years and I pointed out that the national fleet had statistically increased by an average of 60 aircraft per year in that time. I noted that with a population that is ten times that of Canada, it would be reasonable to expect that US sales would be about 600 aircraft per year. The EAA rep indicated that after all the work that they had done that sales in that range would be a disaster for aviation in the US. He indicated that they had projected sales much higher than that, some 5,000-10,000 aircraft per year in the US. I thought at the time that would have to mean that Americans would have to be an average of at least ten times richer than Canadians, or at least ten times more interested in buying a new two seat airplane. I wished them luck and hoped he was right.
Over the years I have kept an eye out for LSA sales numbers. At one time Cessna had 1200 orders for their Cessna 162 SkyCatcher, which sounded very positive. In the end they only delivered 192 aircraft, with the remaining 80 unsold aircraft used for parts, when the company cancelled 162 production. In the case of that design, price increases and lacklustre performance drove buyers away.
So this week I was interested to see recent sales figures released. These show sales of 199 LSAs in 2014, down from 259 in 2012.
The leading builders in 2014 were:
- CubCrafters - 50
- Van's Aircraft - 26
- Searey - 19
In overall production since 2004 for the US market Flight Design leads with 372 aircraft and CubCrafters is second, with 326 aircraft flying. In the case of Flight design that represents about 37 aircraft per year sold.
While these are great little aircraft I don't think the category has met expectations for revitalizing aviation in the USA.