- Oshkosh 2006 Airplane News

July 29, 2006

Oshkosh 2006 Airplane News

Today's Feature
Light sport industry on track, except for flight schools

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Cessna proof-of-
concept model
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Flight Design CT
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Sky Arrow 600 Sport
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Evektor Sport Star
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Sting Sport
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T211 Thorpedo
Far more models have been introduced, 38 light sport models in all, than was expected when the new category of aircraft was created, but flight schools have been slow to incorporate them into their fleets. That's the opinion of one of the top leaders in the sportplane movement, Ron Wagner, who heads the Experimental Aircraft Association sport pilot team, manages the sportplane display at the Oshkosh AirVenture Mall, and manages a national tour each year for sportplane manufacturers to show their aircraft.

One of those tours ended up in Pennsylvania and then continued to AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland. "The rental fleet is slow to introduce it. The support isn't there at flight schools, while manufacturers are ahead of schedule," he said. Wagner said the addition of Cessna to the light sport market adds credibility to the sport movement, and that, in turn, aids all manufacturers. "Cessna will get the flight schools' interest," Wagner added. He estimated more than a dozen light sport aircraft were sold at Oshkosh this week during AirVenture, which ends Sunday.

Almost no one interviewed believes that Cessna is "just studying the market" with the introduction of its proof-of-concept aircraft. That aircraft will first fly later this year. Cessna has decided to proceed, most believe.

Cessna chose mostly metal construction for its light-sport plane. "We haven't heard anyone asking for composites, and several over four days have said they are glad it is aluminum," said a Cessna design engineer who was pulled off the Cessna Next Generation Piston aircraft to work on the light sport model. He said he intentionally included several design features in the way the fuselage is tapered and in the tail to make the light sport aircraft look like other Cessna airplanes.

Its skylight, for example, is an idea borrowed from the Cessna 152 Aerobat. However, Cessna officials said the one feature they are concerned about is market acceptance of the Rotax engine. Pilots who viewed the Cessna sportplane also echoed that view. Weight is the issue, and Cessna may have to stick with the Rotax, but it looking hard at alternatives from other engine manufacturers including Continental, one Cessna official said.

Jeff Conrad, president of Evektor America, said he and his staff had given 50 demo flights in Oshkosh this week and expected six or seven sales out of the 50 flights. He said Cessna's entry validates "the whole sport pilot concept." He repeated opinions given by other manufacturers in recent months that a shakeout is coming in the new light sport industry, adding that the present 20 to 25 companies offering those 38 new models will shrink to five or six companies in five years. He predicted his own company will survive, of course, but added that he thought Cessna would be a major player along with Flight Design's CT, StingSport, and Tecnam.

Asked about the two companies making Cubs, he said they are in an entirely different area of the light sport movement - the nostalgic area - and could not predict how they will do. However, both American Legend Aircraft and CubCrafters have reported strong sales, and both have built new factories. A lawsuit by CubCrafters against American Legend challenging rights to the Cub name and Cub colors and symbols remains unresolved. - Alton K. Marsh

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