Transition to Light Sport Airplanes (LSA) Part 1


Transitioning into a light sport airplane (LSA) requires the same methodical training approach as transitioning into any other airplane. A pilot should never attempt to fly another airplane that is different than the pilot’s current certification, experience, training, proficiency, or currency without proper training. Some pilots may be lulled into a false sense of security because LSAs seem to be simple. However, a pilot seeking a transition into light sport flying should follow a systematic, structured LSA training course under the guidance of a competent instructor with recent experience in the specific training airplane.

The light sport category is not a new type of airplane. It is a classification that intends to broaden the access of flight to more people. LSA has been defined as a simple-to-operate, easy-to-fly aircraft; however, “simple-to-operate” and “easy-to-fly” does not negate the need for proper and effective training. This article introduces the light sport category of aircraft and places emphasis on LSA transition.

Light Sport Airplane (LSA) Background

Several groups were instrumental in the development and success of the LSA concept. These included the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International, and countless individuals who promoted the concept since the early 1990s. In 2004, the FAA released a rule that created the LSA category, which covers a wide variety of aircraft including: airplane, gyroplane, lighter-than-air, weight-shift-control, glider, and powered parachute. [Figure 1]

Figure 1. The LSA category covers a wide variety of aircraft including: A) airplane, B) gyroplane, C) lighter-than-air, D) weight-shift-control, E) glider, and F) powered parachute

The primary concept of the LSA is built around a defined set of standards:
  • Powered (if powered) by single reciprocating engine
  • Fixed landing gear, seaplanes are excluded
  • Fixed pitch or ground adjustable propeller
  • Maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds for landplane, 1,430 for seaplane
  • Maximum of two occupants
  • Non-pressurized cabin
  • Maximum speed in level flight at maximum continuous power of 120 knots calibrated airspeed (CAS)
  • Maximum stall speed of 45 knots. [Figure 2]

Figure 2. Light sport airplane

The LSA category includes standard, special, and experimental designations. Some standard airworthiness certificated aircraft (i.e., a Piper J-2 or J-3) may meet Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulation (14 CFR) 1.1 definition of LSA. Type certificated aircraft that continue to meet the CFR 1.1 definition of LSA allows for that type certificated aircraft to be flown by a pilot who holds a Sport Pilot certificate. The Sport Pilot certificate is discussed later in this site. Aircraft that are specifically manufactured for the LSA market are included in either the Special (S-LSA) or Experimental (E-LSA) designations. An approved S-LSA is manufactured in a ready-to-fly condition and an E-LSA is either a kit or plans-built aircraft based on an approved S-LSA model.

It is important to note that S-LSAs or E-LSAs are not type certificated by the FAA and are not required to meet any airworthiness requirements of 14 CFR part 23. Instead, S-LSA and E-LSA aircraft are designed and manufactured in accordance with ASTM Committee F-37 Industry Consensus Standards. Therefore, LSA aircraft designs are not subjected to the scrutiny, demands, and testing of FAA standard airworthiness certification. Industry Consensus Standards are intended to be less costly and less restrictive than 14 CFR part 23 certification requirements and, as a result, manufacturers have greater latitude with their designs. ASTM Industry Consensus Standards were accepted by the FAA in 2005, which established for the first time that the FAA accepted industry-developed standards rather than its own standards for the design and manufacture of aircraft.

ASTM Industry Consensus Standards for LSA airplanes covers the following areas:
  • Design and performance
  • Required equipment
  • Quality assurance
  • Production acceptance tests
  • Aircraft operating instructions
  • Maintenance and inspection procedures
  • Identification and recording of major repairs and major alterations
  • Continued airworthiness
  • Manufacturers assembly instructions (E-LSA aircraft)

Using the ASTM Industry Consensus Standards, an LSA manufacturer can design and manufacture their aircraft and assess its compliance to the consensus standards. The manufacturer then, through evaluation services offered by a designated airworthiness representative, completes the process by submitting the required paperwork to the FAA. Upon approval, an LSA manufacturer is permitted to sell ready-to-fly S-LSA aircraft.

LSA Synopsis

  • The airplane must meet the weight, speed, and other criteria as described in this article.
  • Airplanes under the S-LSA certification may be used for sport and recreation, flight training, and aircraft rental.
  • Airplanes under the E-LSA certification may be used only for sport and recreation and flight instruction for the owner of the airplane. E-LSA certification is not the same as Experimental Amateur-Built. E-LSA certification is based on an approved S-LSA airplane.
  • Airplanes with a standard airworthiness type certificate (i.e., a Piper J-2 or J-3) that continue to meet the 14 CFR 1.1 LSA definition may be flown by a pilot with a Sport Pilot certificate.
  • Must have an FAA registration and N-number.
  • United States or foreign manufacturers can be authorized.
  • May be operated at night if the aircraft is equipped per 14 CFR part 91, section 91.205, if night operations are allowed by the airplane’s operating limitations, and the pilot holds at least a Private Pilot certificate and a minimum of a third-class medical.
  • LSAs can be flown by holders of a Sport Pilot certificate or higher level pilot certificate (recreational, private, etc.)

Sport Pilot Certificate

In addition to the LSA rules, the FAA created a new Sport Pilot certificate in 2004 that lowered the minimum training time requirements, in comparison to other pilot certificates, for newly certificated pilots wishing to exercise privileges only in LSA aircraft. A pilot that already holds a recreational, private, commercial, or airline transport pilot certificate and a current medical certificate is permitted to pilot LSA airplanes provided that he or she has the appropriate category and class ratings. For example, a commercial pilot with exclusively a rotorcraft rating cannot pilot an LSA airplane.

Pilots who hold a recreational, private, commercial, or airline transport pilot certificate with the appropriate category and class ratings but do not hold a current medical certificate may fly LSAs as long as the pilot holds a valid U.S. driver’s license as evidence of medical eligibility; however, if the pilot’s most recent medical certificate was denied, revoked, suspended, or withdrawn, a U.S. driver’s license is not sufficient for medical eligibility. In this case, the pilot would be prohibited from flying an LSA until the pilot could be issued a third class medical.

Transition Training Considerations

Flight School

The LSA category has created new business opportunities for flight school operators. Many owners and operators of flight schools have embraced the concept of LSA aircraft and have LSAs available on their flight line for flight instruction and rental. An S-LSA may be rented to students for flight training and rented to rated pilots for pleasure flying. While S-LSAs cannot be used for compensation or hire (such as charter—however, there are some exceptions), their low cost of operation, frugal fuel usage, reliability, and low maintenance costs have made them a favorite of many students, pilots, and flight school owners. E-LSAs are not eligible for flight training and rental except when flight instruction is given to the owner of the E-LSA airplane.

When considering a transition to LSA, a potential pilot should exercise due diligence in searching for a quality flight school. Considerations should be given as in any flight training selection. First, locate a flight school that has a verifiable experience in LSA instruction and can provide the LSA academic framework. Consider if the flight school can match your needs. Some questions to be asked are the following: how many pilots the flight school has transitioned into LSAs; how many LSAs are available for instruction and rental; what are the flight school’s rental and insurance policies; how is maintenance accomplished and by whom; how is scheduling accomplished; how are records maintained; what are the school’s safety policies; and, take the time to personally tour the school before starting flight training. Finally, if possible, solicit feedback from other pilots that have transition into LSAs.

Flight Instructors

The flight school provides the organization for the transitioning pilot; however, it is the flight instructor that is the critical link in a successful LSA transition. Flight instructors are at first teachers of flight, so it should be considered vital that a pilot wishing to transition into LSA locate a flight instructor that has verifiable experience in LSA instruction. Considerations for selecting a flight instructor are similar to any other flight training; however, some clarity around selecting a flight instructor is needed. The Sport Pilot rule allows for a new flight instructor certificate, the CFI-S. The CFRs limit a CFI-S to instruction only in LSAs—a CFI-S cannot give instruction in a non-LSA airplane (i.e., a Cessna 150). However, a flight instructor certificated as a CFI-A can give instruction in LSA, as well as instruction in non-LSA airplanes for which the flight instructor is rated. It is important to note that a CFI-S or a CFI-A should not be the criteria for selecting an LSA flight instructor. A CFI-S with teaching experience in LSA is the correct choice compared to a CFI-A, which has minimal teaching experience in LSA airplanes.

A transitioning LSA pilot should ask the flight instructor to make available for review their LSA curriculum, syllabus, lesson plans, as well the process for tracking a pilot’s progress though the transition training program. Depending on the transitioning pilot’s experience, currency, and type of airplane typically flown, the flight instructor should make adjustments, as appropriate, to the LSA training curriculum. A suggested LSA transition training outline is presented:
  • CFR review as pertaining to LSAs and Sport Pilots
  • Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) review
  • LSA maintenance
  • LSA weather considerations
  • Wake turbulence avoidance
  • Performance and limitations
  • Operation of systems
  • Ground operations
  • Preflight inspection
  • Before takeoff check
  • Normal and crosswind takeoff/climb
  • Normal and crosswind approach/landing
  • Soft-field takeoff and climb
  • Soft-field approach and landing
  • Short-field takeoff
  • Go-around/rejected landing
  • Steep turns
  • Power-off stalls
  • Power-on stalls
  • Spin awareness
  • Emergency approach and landing
  • Systems and equipment malfunctions.
  • After landing, parking, and securing