Al Marsh

Why Icon DID get its LSA weight exemption

July 18, 2013 by Alton K. Marsh, Senior Editor, AOPA Pilot

UPDATE: Icon has been granted its 250-lb weight exemption. Here’s our story by AOPA Senior Editor Dave Hirschman.



LOS ANGELES, July 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued its decision to grant ICON Aircraft’s petition for exemption to allow an increased takeoff weight for ICON’s A5 amphibious Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) up to a maximum of 1680 lbs. The exemption would accommodate, among other safety features, a Spin-Resistant Airframe (SRA) which enables the A5 to better avoid loss-of-control scenarios due to stall/spins. The company announced in February of 2012 that the A5 had been successfully tested to and met the full FAA Part 23 standard for spin resistance. The FAA exemption will allow the A5 to become the first conventional production aircraft to meet this rigorous safety standard.


In its Grant of Exemption No. 10829 issued to ICON Aircraft Inc., the FAA stated, “The combined design features and SRA concepts incorporated into the ICON A5 design . . . are recognized by the FAA as significant safety enhancements.” The FAA went further to state: “The FAA determined that granting relief from the MTOW (Maximum Takeoff Weight) for LSA for this specific safety enhancement is in the public interest and is also consistent with the FAA’s goals of increasing safety for small planes.”

“We’re excited the FAA has recognized the importance of this accomplishment to the future of aviation safety,” said ICON Aircraft Founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins. “For decades now, statistics have shown that loss of control due to stall/spin situations is the leading cause of pilot-related fatal accidents in General Aviation. ICON spent an extraordinary amount of time and resources going well beyond the call of duty to achieve this important safety milestone.”

The FAA’s decision enables ICON to continue with A5 manufacturing, currently scheduled for first production aircraft in spring 2014. The FAA’s published guidance allows up to 120 days to issue a decision on any exemption request; however, ICON’s exemption request was not approved until 14 months after it was filed in May of 2012. Faced with the delay, ICON was forced to move forward with an interim design weight that still guaranteed the safety benefits of a Spin-Resistant Airframe. As a result, the initial production A5 will have a max gross takeoff weight of 1510 lbs, an 80-pound increase over the standard 1430-pound amphibious LSA maximum. “We had to make some tough engineering decisions in order to keep the program moving forward given the FAA delay,” said ICON VP of Engineering, Matthew Gionta. “But in the end, we got to a great place and are on the verge of delivering one of the safest, most user-friendly Light Sport Aircraft possible today.”

In a speech titled “A New Look at Certification” delivered October 11, 2012, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta mapped out the FAA’s vision for the future of aircraft certification where regulations encourage innovation by being less prescriptive and where complexity and performance are used as aircraft criteria instead of weight and propulsion. “We applaud the FAA Administrator and his team for demonstrating truly outstanding thought leadership,” said Hawkins. “This kind of progressive thinking unleashes innovation within aviation that will have a profoundly positive impact on increasing safety while simultaneously promoting a strong, growing industry for our economy.”

 OLDER STORY JULY 18 with Dan Johnson commentary:

Follow me along here on this advance, speculative reporting. The FAA has just announced that it is near a decision on the requested 250-pound weight exemption needed by Icon Aircraft for its A5 amphibious airplane. (Check back here Monday, July 29, mid-morning, for an update.) What else is near? Could it be that AirVenture occurs in nine days, and the announcement will be made there? To me that is a certainty. To you, your own opinion is fine with me.

Now then. Would the FAA make an announcement unfavorable to an airplane company at a show that draws 600,000 pilots armed with super-sized cups of lemonade loaded with sticky sugar, and just right for throwing? Unlikely. The FAA barely has enough money to send anyone to the show (although you can get controllers to run the tower if you pay enough), let alone pay a huge drycleaning bill. So my deduction is that the weight exemption is approved. Still, try to act like you didn’t know when it is announced.

“I am of two minds on this,” said Dan Johnson, a founder of the light sport aircraft movement and author of See his take on the pending weight increase decision here. “This has the potential to grow the LSA sector, yet some may view this as unfair since they played by an earlier rule set. The FAA may hear from a lot of other producers who would also like to qualify for a safety exemption, and some of those could prepare the right package and get it if Icon does. Will the FAA be able to accommodate multiple requests given their budget? On behalf of the Light Aircraft Manufacturing Association [which Johnson heads] we supported the request for exemption because it has potential to grow the sector,” Johnson said.

Now Icon can go from the 1,430 pounds that light sport seaplanes can now weigh to 1,680 pounds, a 250-pound increase. (However, it was later learned Icon will use only 80 pounds of the exemption allowance.) With that, it’s more likely A5 customers will get the cuffed outer wings that keep the A5’s wingtips, and the aileron, flying when near a stall, and a parachute, folding wings, and retractable gear. “Exemptions sometimes lead to new rulemaking and are used to evaluate approaches to new technologies,” Johnson said.


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15 Responses to “Why Icon DID get its LSA weight exemption”

  1. Scotty Says:


    Where did the FAA announce that it was close to a decision?

  2. Alton marsh Says:

    On the phone to me at about noon.

  3. Mike Says:

    I hope they don’t get it. All us knew what they rules were. How much is simply poor engineering, resulting in an overweight aircraft which now needs a ‘pass.’ Does this mean that if we just say we’re building it for ‘safety’ that we can add 250 pounds to LSA class?

  4. Jim Hardin Says:


    So I can build and certify a Light Airplane with a gross weight of 12,7250 lbs., as long as I do it in the sacred name of SAFETY???

    This has nothing to do with “safety” but everthing to do with a designer/manufacture who cannot meet the rules!

  5. Dan Says:

    If the FAA is willing to make a weight exception, why not for all the good, relatively inexpensive older models (Cessna 120/140, Ercoupe D etc..) that are OK for everything but a few pounds of weight?

    Even better would be to find the time to respond to the medical exception proposed by AOPA/EAA for simple aircraft with max of 180 hp engines.

  6. George Edmundson Says:

    I have always advocated that the 1320 pound limitation was way too low to begin with. It should have been a minimum of 1600-1620 pounds to include the Cessna 150-152. Any of you that have any issues against safety have a real problem!

  7. Al Marsh Says:

    If approved, probably all manufacturers will be able to add a cuffed wing and angle of attack indicator, provide extra training on the angle of attack indicator, and apply to the FAA for an exemption to take their LSA to 1,680 pounds. It may not have to be a seaplane LSA, either. It might apply to a land -based LSA. Any exemption is temporary, but Dan Johnson points out there are FAA exemptions that have remained on the books for decades.

  8. Earl Downs Says:

    Here’s the part I don’t get… S-LSA certificated aircraft are built to industry established standards and limitations (not FAA standards) developed under ASTM protocols and published by ASTM. The manufacturer issues a certificate indicating compliance with the industry standards and that allows the FAA to issue a special airworthiness certificate. I don’t understand how the FAA can allow a weight increase when they do not control the standards. As this question relates to S-LSA aircraft certification, I question how this weight increase can be approved without the industry standards being revised.

  9. Jeff R Says:

    I would argue that the gross weight is really being requested to overcome shortcomings in the overall A5 design. Has anyone noticed the range of the aircraft is only 300 nm, about half that of other LSAs in the category? Also, one could argue that at the new gross weight, the 100 HP Rotax is not sufficient, particularly for a draggy seaplane.

  10. Rob Richardson Says:

    Let us be frank, this is about money, Icon investor’s money, not safety. Icon recently went through its 4th or 5th round of angel funding solicitation. It has several 100s of deposited orders. If the FAA turns down the exception request, Icon will fail financially and poof goes all that money.

    As to safety, Progressive Aerodyne’s SeaRey LSX has all the safety features that Icon claims, plus more, and it is well within the amphibian LSA weight standards with a useful load of @600 lbs and a range of @400 miles (26 gals at a 5 gal burn and 90mph). It cleanly passed the FAA SLSA certification last Fall and has a 10 year track record from its home built kit operation.

    If Icon does gets it weight exception, it will be another case of where big money and publicity matter more than technical adherence to regulatory standards.

    If what you suggest is true, then will the FAA retroactively approve a 250# increase in the SeaRey LSX’s max wt? It would give it a competitive advantage with a 800# useful load. It would only be fair, given it has played by the rules.

    I understand from my fellow SeaRey pilots that Progressive Aerodyne will be hosting a big prospective buyer event at Oshkosh to highlight its SLSA certification. You might want to check it out.

  11. Greg W Says:

    Rob, you are absolutely correct it is all about the money. Icon knew the rules’ they just know that with enough money the rules won’t apply to them. I think the standards should be left alone if not include all the older aircraft that meet LSA with the exception of weight like the C-150.

  12. Lars Says:

    The nature of many comments to Alton’s speculation on the FAAs exemption ruling really leaves me shaking my head: why are these folks opposed to a prospective change that would further the intent of the LSA program, namely to reinvigorate general aviation? From what I can tell, it seems driven by some misconceptions about a) “the rules”, b) ICON’s engineering, and c) “the money”.

    In full disclosure, I know ICON’s founders, and am a position holder in an A5. That said, I do not have any inside information.

    a) The rules? Asking for an exemption IS PART OF THE RULES. It happens every day.

    b) Poor engineering requiring a “pass”? ICON’s engineering team, and their product development and engineering process is experienced and extremely thorough. They know down to the gram what different elements “cost” in terms of gross weight, and the company, evaluating the trade-offs, has made a decision to request an exemption. In my view, that’s good engineering and good business.

    c) The money? Bringing any product to market requires money. ICON has raised a fair amount of money, probably more than anyone else in the LSA market, although I don’t know. Their latest round added $60 million in capital to the company, which is not what I would characterize as “angel solicitation”. Their ability to raise capital reflects the strength of the management team, the product, and the potential of the LSA market. Anyone thinking about buying an airplane needs to consider the financial strength of the manufacturer in their decision: ICON will not “fail financially” without this exemption, and deposit holder’s funds will not go “poof”. (Having written a deposit check to ICON, I know very well that my deposit is in fact held in escrow and is quite safe, thank you very much.)

    I for one hope to see more pilots flying in coming years in aircraft of every type, whether experimental aircraft, LSAs like the ICON and SeaRey, or certificated aircraft. Each of us has different mission requirements, and thankfully there are a variety of aircraft out there to meet those needs. When I take delivery of my A5, I hope that it includes the benefits that an FAA gross weight exemption will allow.

  13. John Simpson Says:

    Whatever made ICON think they could impose their own deadline on the FAA’s exception process?

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  15. Danal Says:


    Negativity about Icon’s exemption is not equal to negativity about the LSA program.

    How would you feel if you worked for years to sweat your weight down to X and run 10 kilometers in Y to be allowed to enter a race. You and a few others accomplish this with very hard work.

    Along comes an individual who “applies for an exemption”. Part of the rules. They seem to be in a financial position that others are not. Their exemption is granted where others have been declined. Not only that, it seems to be fast tracked, where others are in limbo.

    As one of the hard workers with less money, would you shake your head at that? Maybe comment on the Internet that it seems unfair? Not disparaging the race itself, nor the rules… just the inconsistency in applying those rules.

    I want to see LSA expand. I am part of a team trying to expand it; we write letters and file exemptions and so forth with the ASTM and FAA on a regular basis… and, yes, the way Icon’s exemption was handled seems quite inconsistent, even corrupt, to those of us who are contributing to the expansion of the LSA concept.


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