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Does Your Aircraft Qualify as a LSA?

There have been many questions regarding which aircraft may be fl own as Light Sport Aircraft by Sport Pilots, especially those which are certified as experimental amateur built aircraft or standard category.

Let’s say in your search for a light sport eligible aircraft to purchase, you come across an experimental amateur-built aircraft, we will call it Aircraft X, which meets the definition of a LSA. It is currently flying with a ground-adjustable propeller, but when you review the logbooks you discover that, for a short period of time, the aircraft had an in-flight controllable propeller. The plane did not meet the light-sport definition while operating with the in-flight controllable propeller. Can you buy it and fly it as an LSA eligible aircraft?

For the answer we must read the rule carefully and apply it correctly. The fact is, the devil is in the details of the wording of the definition of a light-sport aircraft (LSA) as called out in the regulations.

The FAA has defined light-sport aircraft as simple-to-operate, easy-to fly aircraft that, since initial certification, meets the definition of LSA (1320 lbs, ground adjustable prop. . . etc- the complete definition is included at the end of this article. Ref: 14 CFR Part 1.1)

The very first line of the definition is the key. It states:

“Light-sport aircraft means an aircraft, other than a helicopter or powered-lift that, since its original certification, has continued to meet the following: . . .”

This verbiage clearly says that an aircraft must meet all the criteria called out in the definition of an LSA at the time of its original certification AND CONTINUOUSLY thereafter. One of the items it must meet is a maximum takeoff weight of 1320 lbs (1430 lbs for seaplanes). Since it must meet this requirement continuously since its original certification, it can never have been operated at a maximum takeoff weight of anything greater than the weight called out in the LSA definition. If it operates at a maximum takeoff weight greater than that called out in the definition EVEN ONE TIME, it no longer meets the definition and is not eligible for operation by sport pilots forever thereafter.

For example, let’s say you own an aircraft which has a maximum gross of 1400 lbs but can be operated at 1320 lbs by a sport pilot, this aircraft would not be legal to operate as an Light Sport Aircraft since the rule states that if the aircraft has EVER been operated at a maximum takeoff weight of greater than 1320 lbs, even if it was only one time, it no longer meets the definition of a light sport aircraft and is not eligible for operation by sport pilots.

Likewise, some Zenith 601 aircraft are eligible for operation by sport pilots, and some are not. For example, the 601 HD meets the definition of a light-sport aircraft (LSA), but the 601 HDS does not (due to its higher maximum level-flight and stall speeds). It is the pilot’s responsibility to make sure he/she is operating an aircraft that meets the definition of a LSA. This means that if the previous owner sells the aircraft to you without disclosing information- it is still your responsibility as the pilot. You must review the aircraft records when purchasing to ensure compliance. If the aircraft has ever been modified - at any time in a manner that kicks it outside of the definition of an LSA aircraft - it no longer qualifies. It does not matter if the aircraft is standard category or amateur built.

If the aircraft did not meet the LSA definition at the time of its original certification, no amount of modification can make it eligible to be operated by sport pilots.

Therefore, a complete logbook and aircraft paperwork review is essential purchasing an aircraft for the purpose of flying it under the Light Sport rules.

This is also true for certain standard category aircraft which meet the definition of an LSA and therefore can be flown by a sport pilot. If the aircraft was ever modified and flown outside the LSA definition it can not be operated as a Light Sport Aircraft even if it is on the list of standard category aircraft that fit the definition. (By the way, the aircraft certification and maintenance rules do not change. It is still a standard category aircraft. Therefore, the maintenance requirements remain unchanged and an airframe and power-plant (A&P) mechanic with inspection authorization (A&P-IA) must conduct the aircraft’s annual inspection.)

Again, the aircraft, whether it is amateur built or standard category, must be ORIGINALLY certified within the LSA definition, AND continuously operated within the definition since its initial certification in order to be eligible to be flown by sport pilots. Nothing you can do to the aircraft will make it eligible for sport pilot operations if it was not originally certified within the LSA definition and continually operated within the definition.

Therefore: In the scenario we posed at the beginning of this article: Aircraft X will never qualify as an LSA. This is the situation we have with the Ercoupe C/D (ie., that once changed to a D, it can never be flown as an LSA, even if it was switched back to the C configuration).

The builder of an amateur built aircraft can configure the aircraft in any way he or she sees fit, so long as the individual aircraft in question meets all the parameters of the LSA definition at the time of its original certification AND continuously thereafter. Then it is eligible for operation by sport pilots.

The bottom line: If the aircraft is EVER modified so as to exceed any of the LSA parameters, it becomes ineligible for operation by sport pilots and cannot be made eligible ever again.

14 CFR Part 1.1 The FAA defines a light-sport aircraft as an aircraft, other than a helicopter or powered-lift that, since its original certification, has continued to meet the following:

  • Maximum gross takeoff weight: 1,320 lbs, or 1,430 lbs for seaplanes.
  • Maximum stall speed—51 mph (45 knots) CAS
  • Maximum speed in level flight with maximum continuous power (Vh)—138 mph (120 knots) CAS
  • Single or two-seat aircraft only
  • Single, reciprocating engine (if powered), including rotary or diesel engines
  • Fixed or ground-adjustable propeller
  • Unpressurized cabin
  • Fixed landing gear, except for an aircraft intended for operation on water or a glider
  • Can be manufactured and sold ready-to-fly under a new Special Light-Sport aircraft certification category. Aircraft must meet industry consensus standards. Aircraft under this certification may be used for sport and recreation, flight training, and aircraft rental.
  • Can be licensed Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft (E-LSA) if kit- or plans-built. Aircraft under this certification may be used only for sport and recreation and flight instruction for the owner of the aircraft.
  • Can be licensed Experimental Light-Sport Aircraft (E-LSA) if the aircraft has previously been operated as an ultralight but does not meet the FAR Part 103 definition of an ultralight vehicle. These aircraft must be transitioned to E-LSA category no later than January 31, 2008.
  • Will have FAA registration—N-number.
  • Aircraft category and class includes: Airplane (Land/Sea), Gyroplane, Airship, Balloon, Weight-Shift-Control (“Trike” Land/Sea), Glider, and Powered Parachute.
  • U.S. or foreign manufacture of light-sport aircraft is authorized.
  • Aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate that meet above specifications may be flown by sport pilots. However, the aircraft must remain in standard category and cannot be changed to light-sport aircraft category. Holders of a sport pilot certificate may fly an aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate if it meets the definition of a light-sport aircraft.
  • May be operated at night if the aircraft is equipped per FAR 91.205, if such operations are allowed by the aircraft’s operating limitations and the pilot holds at least a Private Pilot certificate and a minimum of a third-class medical.

October 2009 Light Aviation Edition

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