As a supporter of the light sport effort, and as someone who flies an LSA (the Sportcruiser), the recent audit report from the FAA on the LSA manufacturing industry should set off alarm bells. You can find the report on avweb’s website here.
Dan Johnson, chairman of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, says the report is “tough love’– but we think it’s a bit more ominous than that.
The FAA audited 30 LSA facilities to determine if they are complying with ASTM. standards. For those not familiar with how light sport aircraft are marketed and sold, here’s a brief overview. The FAA created the LSA sector to foster technological developments and bring aircraft to market without the costs associated with government certification. As such, aircraft that meet LSA standards for weight, size, and speed can be ’self-certified’ by the manufacturer, providing they meet the standards set forth by the ASTM. (ASTM is an independent group that industries use to set standards for products.) If the aircraft meets the standard, it can then be sold to the American public without government certifications. This has no doubt lead to lower cost products, but now there’s a question as to whether it’s also lead to lower-quality products.
The FAA made this astonishing determination: Most of the thirty facilities audited could not establish that the airplanes met the standards. Further, the manufacturers have failed to implement basic internal controls, do not fully understand FAA regulations, and lack communication procedures to improve processes. The report concludes that the FAA needs to increase its oversight of the industry.
The history of industry self-regulation is full of failures (read Gulf oil disaster) and the LSA sector needs to proactively address these concerns. Pilots and passengers get into aircraft believing that some over-lord has blessed the machine. With the exception of homebuilt aircraft (which have a shaky track record), we expect ‘certified’ airplanes to perform to certain standards. Wings don’t fall off often, but no one is happy when they do.
So far, the FAA and the NTSB have both expressed pleasure with the safety record of LSAs. But because of the few planes flying, that record does not yet speak for itself. Let’s be clear: one or two high-profile LSA accidents that involve structural failure will lead to significant regulation. Especially if ‘non-pilots’ are hurt.
These pages are not advocating increased regulations or, argh, the end of LSA self-certification. Just the opposite. We want LSA’s to succeed without a government crackdown. But the industry needs to immediately answer the FAA’s concerns. For each point the audit report raises, we’d like to see each manufacturer provide a response– either refuting the accusation or an explanation of how it will do better. Have they done that yet?
If the LSA industry cannot instill it’s own adult supervision, we all know the government will do it for it.