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 16-1]

Figure 16-1. 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.

Figure 16-1. 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.

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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 16-2]

Figure 16-2. Light sport airplane.

Figure 16-2. Light sport airplane. [click image to enlarge]

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 chapter. 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 category.
  • 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.)

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