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The Separation Of Government & Aviation


By Dan Johnson, LAMA President

These days, with the Tea Party activities making headlines in a mid-term election year, plenty of folks are wondering how much government we need or want in our lives.  Aviators are particularly interested in preserving their freedom.

Think about it. Along with outdoorsmen, pilots enjoy taking to the skies and exploiting their ability to fly where they want. Don’t you agree?

So, let’s hop in the magical Wayback Machine and go way back in time, back to 2004. Though it took what seemed forever (the new concept was 10 years in the making), FAA finally got comfortable with loosening their grip on the certification of aircraft, a federal task for decades upon decades. With the passage of the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft rule, all that changed.

Suddenly industry had to take on the writing of certification standards but in return, innovation and entrepreneurship flourished. As proof of how well it worked, we have 109 new models of aircraft flying in America… in just five years. Aviation history worldwide has nothing to compare with that outpouring of talent and effort.


Freedom is indeed great. Most American flyers genuinely love our go-where-you-want-when-you-want capability.

When FAA cracked the barrier to allow industry to take over aircraft certification, they started something of a revolution. Government letting go is only half the equation. The other side: freedom lovers have to step up and take leadership.

Light Sport Aircraft

A certification system run by industry is only as good as the players involved. If someone cuts corners various mechanisms may kick in but hopefully a worthy industry has already noted the problem and addressed it. That isn’t easy for a group of more than 70 manufacturers scattered across the globe.

So how is it done?

One key organization is ASTM International.  Using their system, industry agreed on rules that govern the certification of Light-Sport Aircraft. The various committees that worked on elements such as Design & Performance, Quality Assurance, Maintenance, and more not only created the standards but constantly strive to improve them.

All this tedious technical activity takes place surprisingly quickly and on the slimmest of budgets. The speed of action and cost effectiveness are a far cry from government bureaucracy.

But creativity in writing new standards to certify aircraft and continuously improving those standards — while plenty of work — is not enough. Follow through is required in other ways.


As part of its oversight role, FAA is planning to go across the USA and around the globe to audit various manufacturers.

That’s their job and they are going to do it. But doesn’t that lead back to the government doing aircraft certification? No, not really.

That is merely a final check (though it could be one that temporarily shuts down an inferior manufacturing operation).

Before then and afterwards, industry is still expected to do a lot.

COS Website — LAMA’s newest project is to create a website where links to every single manufacturer will appear.

This makes it easier for customers (especially second hand buyers of LSA, a sector that will grow significantly over the years). Also LSA mechanics will appreciate a central collection spot for all safety information, service advisories and more.

But the larger value may be for LSA owners who fly a plane built by a company that leaves the business. As manufacturers have final say about how their aircraft are operated and maintained it is essential to maintain access to their technical information.

Should a company fail, their data may be lost, which could strand owners of their models. The LAMA Safety Website will collect that info and store it securely away. In this way, the vital info to maintain a LSA will be preserved.

Via this Safety Website, healthy manufacturers must financially support weaker businesses for the good of the entire LSA industry.

LAMA Audits — As companies prepare to be audited by FAA — a review that could threaten a company that cannot demonstrate compliance to standards — some will prepare by hiring a LAMA auditor to come and perform a “preaudit.”

The expense may seem minor compared to having its shipments stopped while a company fixes any deficiencies found by FAA auditors.

No one loves an audit. But these reviews are a necessary aspect of producing quality aircraft. And an audit can be “friendly,” like LAMA’s, such that a manufacturer can clean up little errors in time for a visit from the feds.

Because as we all smile and say, the (unofficial) FAA motto is, “We’re not happy until you’re not happy.”


The LSA industry will thrive if it can create the structures to insure safe airplanes that pilots love to fly. The enjoyment is largely assured by a stunning variety of aircraft you can buy from $35,000 to $135,000. It is the former that may seem dull but is critically important. And it is in this arena that LAMA does its work.

If you find LAMA’s goals worthy, your business can support these initiatives by joining the organization. Manufacturers of any aviation products sold to the LSA industry are welcome. But so are importers, dealers, flight schools or any other enterprise that does business with Light-Sport Aircraft producers.

Your support will be appreciated and the industry will be doing what FAA and many other observers want the industry to do, successfully police itself.

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August 2010 Light Aviation Edition
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