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Does light aircraft equal light maintenance?Does light aircraft equal light maintenance?

For those flight schools that have thought about adding a light sport airplane to their fleet, Barry Pruitt, the chief of maintenance at LSA flight school Liberty Sport Aviation, has a message for you: “These airplanes have been stellar.”

Pruitt is part of a small but growing movement in flight training—those who believe LSA are one key to the future of flight training. He has heard the complaints about LSA, including those related to their ability to hold up to the rigors of the flight training environment, which he says is a “nonevent.”

Although many flight schools have shied away from adding an LSA to the flight line because of maintenance concerns, Pruitt says his school has had positive results with their fleet, which includes Gobosh, Flight Design, and Evektor.

“Tires, tubes, brake pads, and oil changes are about the only things we regularly do,” he said. And despite suggestions to the contrary, they are going through tires at about the same rate as a certificated training airplane, or about 400 hours. Tire size, however, is an issue. Because LSA rules require that replacement parts be only those approved by the manufacturer, the ability to substitute tires for more commonly available sizes can be difficult.

That’s one problem John Amundsen sees with the process. Amundsen is owner of Tailwheels, Etc. a flight school in central Florida focusing on primarily accelerated training that used to operate an Aerostar Festival and a Russian Sigma. “The lack of being able to do modifications is an issue,” he said. Adding a VOR head, changing tire size, or modifying anything else on the airplane has to be factory approved.

Although Amundsen no longer offers LSA training, it isn’t because the airplanes had maintenance issues, although there were a few problems. “The Sigma was built like a tank,” he said. But the Aerostar had a few issues, including a split wheel, brakes, and some fuselage sidewall flexing. For him, it came down to an issue of the market. “In our particular niche, LSA doesn’t work,” he said. “But, I love the airplanes. The Jabiru engine [in the Aerostar] was a super little engine. It never used oil.”

Pruitt said the secret to getting profit out of LSA is to ensure you are familiar with the airplanes. He recommends taking an inspection or maintenance course just prior to taking delivery or when you take delivery of the airplane. There are a few Rotax courses out there, and working on them is quite easy, he said.

Pruitt also recommends keeping some spare parts on hand because of the inability to swap out unapproved replacements. “In the past six months, I’ve replaced a fuel pressure indicator and an oil pressure indicator,” he said. “Keep one or two if you have a fleet.” He also said that tires, and the oil pressure sending unit and fuel pump for the Rotax are good things to have on hand.

Another great benefit to flying an LSA with a Rotax engine is the ability to fly with mogas. Rotax engines are approved for up to 10 percent Ethanol, making mogas a real possibility for people in most states. Between that and four gallons an hour burned, the savings can add up.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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