Transition to Light Sport Airplanes (LSA) Part 2

LSA Maintenance

Proper airplane maintenance is required to maximize flight safety. LSAs are no different and must be treated with the same level of care as any standard airworthiness certificated airplane. S-LSAs have greater latitude pertaining to who may conduct maintenance as compared to standard airworthiness certificated airplanes. S-LSAs may be maintained and inspected by:
  • An LSA Repairman with a Maintenance rating; or,
  • An FAA-certificated Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic (A&P); or,
  • As specified by the aircraft manufacturer; or
  • As permitted, owners performing limited maintenance on their S-LSA

The airplane maintenance manual includes the specific requirements for repair and maintenance, such as information on inspections, repair, and authorization for repairs and maintenance. Most often, S-LSA inspections can be signed off by an FAA-certificated A&P or LSA repairman with a Maintenance rating rather than an A&P with Inspection Authorization (IA); however, the aircraft maintenance manual provides the specific requirements which must be followed. The FAA does not issue Airworthiness Directives (ADs) for S-LSAs or E-LSAs. If an FAA-certified component is installed on an LSA, the FAA issues any pertaining ADs for that specific component. Manufacturer safety directives are not distributed by the FAA. S-LSA owners must comply with:
  • Safety directives (alerts, bulletins, and notifications) issued by the LSA manufacturer
  • ADs if any FAA-certificated components are installed
  • Safety alerts (immediate action)
  • Service bulletins (recommending future action)
  • Safety notifications (informational)

S-LSA compliance with maintenance requirements provides greater latitude for owners and operators of these airplanes. Because of the options in complying with the maintenance requirements, pilots who are transitioning to LSAs must understand how maintenance is accomplished; who is providing the maintenance services; and verify that all compliance requirements have been met.

Airframe and Systems


LSAs may be constructed using wood, tube and fabric, metal, composite, or any combination of materials. In general, a primary effort by the manufacturer is to keep the airplane lightweight while maintaining the structural requirements. Composite LSAs tend to be sleek and modern looking with clean lines as molding of the various components allows designers great flexibility shaping the airframe. Other LSAs are authentic-looking renditions of early aviation airplanes with fabric covering a framework of steel tubes. Of course, LSAs may be anything in between using both metal and composite construction. [Figure 1] A pilot transitioning into LSA should understand the type of construction and what are typical concerns for each type of construction:

Figure 1. LSA can be constructed using both metal and composites

  • Steel tube and fabric—while the techniques of steel tube and fabric construction hails back to the early days of aviation, this construction method has proven to be lightweight, strong, and inexpensive to build and maintain. Advances in fabric technology continue to make this method of covering airframes an excellent choice. Fabric can be limited in its life span if not properly maintained. Fabric should be free from tears, well-painted with little to no fading, and should easily spring back when lightly pressed.
  • Aluminum—an aluminum-fabricated airplane has been a favorite choice for decades. Pilots should be quite familiar with this type of construction. Generally, airframes tend to be lightly rounded structures dotted with rivets and fasteners. This construction is easily inspected due to the wide-spread experience with aluminum structures. Conditions such as corrosion, working rivets, dents, and cracks should be a part of a pilot’s preflight inspection.
  • Composite—a composite airplane is principally made from structural epoxies and cloth-like fabrics, such as bi-directional and uni-directional fiberglass cloths, and specialty cloths like carbon fiber. Airframe components, such as wing and fuselage halves, are made in molds that result in a sculpted, mirror-like finish. Generally, composite construction has few fasteners, such as protruding rivets and bolts. Pilots should become acquainted with inspection concerns such as looking for hair-line cracks and delaminations.


LSAs use a variety of engines that range from FAA-certificated to non-FAA-certificated. Engine technology varies significantly from conventional air-cooled to high revolutions per minute (rpm)/water-cooled designs. [Figure 2] These different technologies present a transitioning pilot new training opportunities and challenges. Since most LSAs use non-FAA-certificated engines, a transitioning pilot should fully understand the engine controls, procedures, and limitations. In most LSA airplanes, engines are water-cooled, 4-cycle, carbureted with a gear reduction drive. Engines such as these have much higher operating rpms and require a gear-box to reduce the propeller rpms to the proper range. Because of the higher operating rpms, vibration and noise signatures are quite different in most LSAs when compared to most standard type certificated designs.

Figure 2. A water-cooled 4-cycle engine


In addition to advanced airframe and engine technology, LSAs often have advanced flight and engine instrumentation. Often installed are electronic flight instrumentation systems (EFIS) that provide attitude, airspeed, altimeter, vertical speed, direction, moving map, navigation, terrain awareness, traffic, weather, engine data, etc., all on one or two liquid crystal displays. [Figure 3] EFIS has become a cost-effective replacement for traditional mechanical gyros and instruments. Compared to mechanical instrumentation systems, EFIS requires almost no maintenance. There are tremendous advantages to EFIS systems as long as the pilot is correctly trained in its use. EFIS systems can cause a “heads down” syndrome and loss of situation awareness if the pilot is not trained to quickly and properly configure, access, program, and interpret the information provided. Transition training must include, if EFIS is installed, instruction in the use of the specific EFIS installed in the training airplane. In some cases, EFIS manufacturers or third party products are available for the pilot to practice EFIS operations on a personal computer as opposed to learning their functions in flight.

Figure 3. An electronic flight instrumentation system provides attitude, airspeed, altimeter, vertical speed, direction, moving map, navigation, terrain awareness, traffic, weather, and engine data all on one or two liquid crystal displays

Weather Considerations

Managing weather factors is important for all aircraft but becomes more significant as the weight of the airplane decreases. Smaller, lighter weight airplanes are more affected by adverse weather such as stronger winds (especially crosswinds), turbulence, terrain influences, and other hazardous conditions. [Figures 4 and 5] LSA Pilots should carefully consider any hazardous weather conditions and effectively use an appropriate set of personal minimums to mitigate flight risk. Some LSAs have a maximum recommend wind velocity regardless of wind direction. [Figure 6] While this is not a limitation, it would be prudent to heed any factory recommendations.

Figure 4. Crosswind landing

Figure 5. Moderate mountain winds can create severe turbulence for LSA

Maximum Demonstrated Crosswind Velocity
Takeoff or landing ................................................12 knots
Maximum Recommended Wind Velocity
All operations.......................................................22 knots
Figure 6. Example of wind limitations that a LSA may have

Due to an LSA’s lighter weight, even greater distances from convective weather should be given. Low level winds that enter and exit a thunderstorm should be avoided not only by all airplanes but operations in the vicinity of convection should not be attempted in lightweight airplanes. Weather accidents continue to plague general aviation and, while it is not possible to always fly in clear, blue, calm skies, pilots of lighter weight LSAs should carefully manage weather-related risks. For example, some consideration should be given to flight activity that crosses varying terrain boundaries, such as grass or water to hard surfaces. Differential heating can cause lighter weight airplanes to experience sinking and lift to a greater degree than heavier airplanes. Careful planning, knowledge and experience, and an understanding of the flying environment assists in mitigating weather-related risks.