FAA to change light sport approval

April 8, 2011

The FAA plans an audit of all light sport manufacturers, including those overseas, and any new aircraft those companies might produce, said Dan Johnson, chairman and president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association. Johnson said the information of the planned audits was confirmed in a phone call from an FAA official. It was first announced in 2010.

"We are planning on auditing existing LSA manufacturers.  Also, any new make or model aircraft being produced will be first inspected by an FAA team along with an assessment of their system prior to issuance of the first Special Light-Sport Airworthiness (SLSA) certificate.  Post FAA approval, [FAA] designees may issue subsequent SLSA certificates," said a spokesman at FAA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Embry Riddle Aeronautical University Professor of Aerospace Engineering Richard P. Anderson, a party to the same FAA phone call as Johnson, confirmed Johnson’s report.

The FAA’s concerns about quality assurance show FAA officials remain uncomfortable with self-certification of LSAs, even though the safety record for such aircraft is good. Those concerns were expressed in an FAA assessment report in May 2010.

The new audit, aimed to assure a company is complying with industry agreed-upon standards, and the new-model aircraft inspection would be conducted by FAA personnel, not designated inspectors. The inspections could start this summer, Johnson said.

At present, manufacturers simply declare that their LSA meets ASTM industry standards, and an FAA representative then examines the paperwork and aircraft. Usually the examination is done after the aircraft has reached a dealer, and there is no factory inspection required. For foreign manufacturers, the aircraft would not be permitted for sale in the United States until the inspections are complete. The inspections would be handled by FAA headquarters, not by field representatives.

“The FAA believes many companies could not demonstrate with all the required documentation that they were in full compliance. Therefore, it is in a manufacturer’s best interest to review compliance with ASTM standards. While FAA’s initial plan appears to be a review of any new SLSA, it is possible the FAA will also review existing SLSA,” Johnson said.