HERE IS THE OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:
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 bydanjohson.com. 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.