Light Sport Aircraft

Plug and Fly: Greener, Cleaner Skies Ahead

They say history has a habit of repeating itself. We can only hope that when it does, we learn something new from it that propels us forward and not backward. 2015 has been a year of remarkable feats for solar powered and electric powered aircraft.  Some of these feats seem quaint and evoke a simpler time in aviation’s infancy, others seem remarkable breakthroughs. In either case, they point to a future in aviation that could usher in a greener, quieter and cleaner way to travel aloft.

Trying to harness electricity for flight is nothing new.  You can trace it back to two nineteenth century French army officers named Renard and Krebs. They had the audacity to power a hydrogen-filled dirigible with several large and heavy 8-horsepower batteries.  The result was something stunning for its time – a take off, a short flight and then a return to the point of departure!

Everything Old Is New Again.

Newscasts in the summer of 2015 were filled with a tale of a global circumnavigation by a long-winged, very slow aircraft called Solar Impulse. Using a wing impregnated with photovoltaic solar cells, Solar Impulse set forth on a journey around the globe, something earlier aviators already accomplished. The difference this time, of course, is the energy source. Solar Impulse propels itself without a carbon trace, without adding a single pollutant to the atmosphere.

Similarly, two aerial crossings of the English Channel made news in July, Hugues Duval’s Cr-Cri twin-engine craft and Airbus’ E-Fan prototype. Since this sort of thing hasn’t been news since Louis Bleriot did it in 1909 in a piston-powered monoplane, the only thing that makes it newsworthy today is the power source that propelled these aircrafts across the storied water boundary between England and France –lithium battery powered electric engines.

In terms of records, a technicality knocked the Cri-Cri flight out of the record books for being first, and another proposed English Channel crossing by the Pipistrel Light Sport Aircraft Company was foiled by its own engine manufacturer, Siemens, who refused to permit it. That put the Airbus E-Fan into the record books as the first electric powered aircraft to officially cross the Channel and allowed Airbus to collect the $1500 prize from The Daily Mail – a paltry sum compared to the millions Airbus sunk into creating the  E-Fan.

Also in 2015, a single-seat solar powered aircraft flew from Germany to Austria and back. The flight took about three hours. On July 4th, the University of Stuttgart launched an electric flight across the Alps in an electric powered aircraft. The craft landed, the pilots recharged the batteries, and flew back.

So What And Who Cares?

The practical among us are likely to dismiss these feats as mere novelties. The futurists among us, however, are hopeful these small victories point to a new golden age in aviation.

In case you were wondering what benefits electric flight holds, here are a few:

  • Little to no carbon footprint
  • Lower operating costs
  • Less noise pollution
  • Quiet in-cabin, in-flight noise
  • Smoother engine operation with less vibration
  • Engine rotation speeds at 2500 RPM requiring no reduction gears

In a 2009 article written by Peter Garrison for Air & Space, the author points out that experimentation in electric flight has been going on in earnest since the 1970’s. In those days the pioneers came from the ranks of radio controlled model aircraft enthusiasts such as Robert Boucher and Paul MacCready. Working together, they created an aircraft called Solar Challenger, a battery-less solar aircraft that captured enough sunlight to take off and fly.

Today’s electric powered flight enthusiasts tend to have more household names such as Elon Musk. Mr. Musk sees an electric air age well beyond the unmanned solar powered aircraft of the seventies or even today’s LSA-style electrics that carry only two people.  Mr. Musk’s vision stretches out to a horizon that puts hybrid electric power to work on the next generation of supersonic transports.

Is Elon Musk’s vision even possible?

Boeing and Airbus certainly think so.

Boeing is working in conjunction with the University of Cambridge to develop a hybrid propulsion system that works much like an electric car. The fossil-fuel side of the engine gets you into the air; the electric side keeps you cruising along until you have to come down to earth again.

Similarly, Airbus didn’t just cross the English Channel this year to prove it could be done; they crossed it because they’re working towards an electric driven airliner by 2050.

Until fairly recently, the problem with solar or electric driven engines has been insufficient power, weight and limited range. The solar and electric powered flights of 2015 have proven these barriers have been broken. How significantly have the barriers been breached? It is certainly now possible to develop a two-seat training aircraft like the Airbus E-Fan that can stay aloft long enough to get a student through an hour or so of basic maneuvers and landings. The reason there are not fleets of electric trainers at flying schools already has more to do with FAA regulations than it does with the science of electric flight (more on that in a moment).

One of the big problems has been weight. In 2014, Dr. Paul Robertson of the Cambridge Department of engineering said, “what’s been holding back the development of hybrid or fully-electric aircraft until now is battery technology… they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity… but with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries {they} are now starting to become viable.”

The problem beyond battery weight has also been building an electric engine with enough gusto to get past the LSA weight-class of aircraft that crossed the English Channel this year?  If you thought developing a more powerful electric aircraft engine was still several years away, think again. In the late spring of 2015, Siemens announced a significant breakthrough in electric aircraft technology. They’ve developed a new electric engine which weighs just over 100 pounds but delivers the power output of a 350 horsepower gasoline-fueled piston aircraft engine.

The implications? The next flight across the English Channel could take place in a much heavier aircraft, one as heavy as 4,000 pounds. Suddenly 100LL begins to look a silly way to power ourselves across the sky in small planes and even on some commuter airlines.

To that point, Cape Cod regional airline, Cape Air, is working with NASA to develop an electric Cessna 402 to transport 9 passengers to nearby Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Of course, if you won’t be satisfied until you cross the country or the Atlantic in a hybrid electric plane, be patient. NASA, Boeing and Airbus are quickly working on the next generation of electric engines and electric power sources.  Why? Because airlines, governments and the traveling public need a cheaper, greener way to get from point A to point B in an atmosphere of increased environmental concerns.

Why Aren’t More Electric Planes Flying Now?

The Airbus E-Fan has proven what many aviation experts think is possible – a light weight, cheaper and greener trainer that could lower the cost of learning as well as the operational costs of running a flight school. So what’s stopping more LSA manufacturers from putting those electric engines into their latest models and shipping them out to flight schools across the U.S.?  The answer is the FAA.

When the rule was being written for Light Sport aircraft in 2004, there were no such electric motor possibilities available. Therefore, the FAA limited light sport aircraft to a “single, reciprocating engine, if powered.” These five little words stand in the way of a plethora of lightweight electric trainers which could reduce the cost of learning to fly by thousands of dollars.

Fortunately, the FAA is already at work changing the rules for electric power plants in bigger certified GA aircraft. The LSA industry is naturally hoping that those changes will lead to changes for them as well.

One industry heavyweight, Greg Bowles of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association is one of those betting on electric flight’s future. He says, “While pure battery-electric flight may be a ways off for bigger airplanes, there’s a lot of interest in developing hybrid systems once the new rules are in place.“

The Final Word: Necessity

They say there are no problems, only opportunities. Aviation is one arena were barriers are always being broken. Twentieth Century aviation proved it time and time again. From the time the Wright Flyer first flew, to the first DC-3 was a span of less than three decades, and from the DC-3 to a man on the moon less than four. Just as the piston engine gave way to jet propulsion, the polluting fossil-fuel hungry engines of today will be replaced by the greener, cleaner and more efficient electric engines of tomorrow. Why? Because we absolutely need to make it happen.

Are LSAs Too Light Weight for American Aircraft Companies?

Boy With Toy PlaneBack in 2004, general aviation was bursting with new promise. It had a newly regulated Light Sport Category that was going to change the world, or at least the world of General Aviation. Light Sport was sanctioned by the FAA after years of lobbying (mostly done by EAA). To many, it was just the shot in the arm the industry needed to rekindle interest in general aviation and return GA to its post WWII glory.

Aircraft makers from around the world jumped in with the exception of American legacy companies like Piper and Cessna. It was thought, however, if Piper and Cessna got on board, that would bring them back into the trainer market and legitimize the new category.

The Light Sport category promised a lot of things:

  •  A return to simpler, less complicated designs GA pilots could afford  (Light Sport complies with ASTM standards and not the FAA certification process)
  • The ability to attain a pilot’s license without passing FAA medical requirements (perfect for older pilots)
  • A whole new set of training wings for a generation ready to take to the skies.

To an over-regulated, over litigated industry, it sounded like Nirvana.

 LSA has not quite become the chicken in every pot  –   an airplane in every hanger – scenario GA hoped for.– 

One American aircraft manufacturer, Cessna, jumped into LSA with more than just high hopes. They called their entry the C-162 Skycatcher. Unfortunately, the only thing Skycatcher caught was a string of bad luck and bad timing.

Recently, Cessna quietly put an end to its Skycacther manufacturing plant in China, its re-assembly plant in Kansas and its sales and marketing efforts for Skycatcher worldwide. Cessna thus joined the ranks of other American manufacturers like Piper and Cirrus who pulled out of the LSA market much earlier.

What’s significant, however, is how long Cessna stuck with it and how much more committed they were to the Light Sport idea than their other American brethren.

Unlike Piper and Cirrus who basically put their names on European-made LSAs and then abruptly pulled out of the market, Cessna actually designed a new two-seat platform from scratch, put it through rigorous flight testing  and then put some real marketing money behind it, promoting their Skycatcher at aviation trade events and throughout  the Cessna flight school system.

Piper and Cirrus, on the other hand, looked to foreign built aircraft that were already on the market. Piper went so far as to put their name on Czech Sports Aircraft Company’s SportsCruiser and renamed it PiperSport with the intent of making modifications for the American market. The collaboration did not work well and while Piper spent money promoting PiperSport as the second coming of the J-3 Cub, Piper CEO Geoffrey Berger finally conceded “the company has a different business perspective and approach to market than Czech Aircraft Company.” Subsequently, Piper pulled the plug on its Light Sport entry.

Unlike Piper and Cirrus, there were no irreconcilable differences with a foreign partner at Cessna. They had developed their LSA in house.  So it should have worked, right?


Despite their tenacity, Cessna scrapped all plans for Skycatcher, including the idea of ascertaining a primary category certification for Europe. They simply warehoused their entire remaining inventory (about 90 aircraft in all) and stopped selling the airplane. When asked about Skycatcher’s future at a recent BizJet conference, Cessna CEO Scott Ernest simply said it had none.

What happened between the summer of 2007 when Skycatcher was introduced at Oshkosh with much fanfare and now? A number of things did Skycatcher in. For starters, it had a serious spin problem during flight testing. The result was a beefed up tail section with an added dorsal fin.  Okay, that’s no biggie.

Then there was the fact that Cessna decided to build most of the airframe parts in China. The plan was to have their Chinese plant build the parts and then ship them to the U.S. where a reassembly plant would construct the airframe, bolt in the engine and affix the avionics to the panel. The fly in the ointment turned out to be the fact that the majority of the plane was being built in China – something that didn’t work to Cessna’s favor with the public.

Then, there was price problem.  In the summer of ’07, Skycatcher was announced as an $110,000 airplane with significant digital age avionics. By time the economy, the redesign issues, and the competition caught up with Skycatcher, the price skyrocketed to close to $150,000. Hardly the entry level economy GA pilots were looking for. (We should note that during the same time period, European manufactured LSAs also rose dramatically in price.)

That brings us to the last problem: weight, or if you like, wing loading. Cessna Skycatcher didn’t take to the wind very well.  In all fairness, you’ll find low crosswind components and low gust tolerances on all LSAs. With the restricted max gross weight of 1,320 pounds, things certainly can get a little bumpy in any LSA on a windy day. In all honesty, though, you’ll experience much the same in a Cessna 150.

For whatever reason Skycatcher didn’t become Cessna’s  C-150 replacement  ­­ –  whether it was too squirrely in the wind or too weak in the knees for student pilots who lack finesse in the landing flair – Cessna determined it was no longer worth the effort to keep marketing it. Could this be a bad sign for the category?


LSA is certainly not dead if you listen to the vendors at this year’s Light Sport Expo in Sebring, Florida. They say the industry is humming along nicely without Cessna or Piper models. Considering the number of off-shore manufacturers still getting into the game and the healthy numbers who continue to go to the show, things still look hopeful, particularly for those European manufacturers who  have stayed with the category  from the onset, like Evektor, Flight Design and Tecnam. Yes, Light Sport is still thriving at 1,320 pounds and the innovations still keep coming.  All of which is a sign of health.

The truth is LSA has not stopped evolving because Cessna halted the Skycatcher.  LSA aircraft are well-built and meet standards (ASTM) that are quite high and which have been proven airworthy for quite some time. Most are powered by Rotax 912 engines that are light weight, efficient and just as reliable as Continentals and Lycoming engines. Pilots like the stick and rudder responsiveness of LSA aircraft and they certainly love their gas sipping ways. As for weight, consider this:  J-3 Cubs, Taylorcrafts and Ercoupes all meet LSA weight standards and they were at one time the standard in the light plane arena. Perhaps the only thing light-weight about the LSA category for American aircraft manufacturers may be the profit margin. As for companies like Cessna and Piper staying out of Light Sport and never getting back in? All we can say is never say never.









How air charter companies can prosper – even in a down economy

Aircraft Charter

Low-cost marketing tips that will keep your charter company flying

The economy has been in a slump for some time, and while there are signs of improvement, the recovery is not here quite yet. Unfortunately, aviation has taken a disproportionate hit during these tough times, undeservedly positioned by the media as a prime example of corporate excess. Automobile executives flying corporate jets to Senate hearings only added fuel to the fire, and flamed an anti-aviation agenda in the news media.

Even those not hard hit by the economic downturn feel it is bad taste to flaunt their wealth. For example, a neighbor is installing a luxury pool in their backyard, but won’t allow the contractor to place a lawn sign advertising the pool company so as not to draw attention to this display of wealth.

Aircraft Charter Especially Susceptible in Tough Times

In good economic times, wealth expands, allowing for discretionary dollars to flow towards activities like private jet travel. During a recession, the opposite occurs, and businesses look to cut costs. They limit air travel in general and air charter in particular. Because an air charter company’s aircraft and infrastructure costs remain fixed despite the economic climate, an extended downturn can have a major impact on the company’s ability to sustain itself resulting with a number of high profile companies like JetDirect going bankrupt.

Smart Marketing Can Help Your Air Charter Company Get Through Tough Economic Times

In a down economy, aircraft charter companies that are able to maintain – even increase their marketing and sales efforts, through a smart, low-cost marketing program – will be best able to weather the downturn and emerge even stronger when the economy eventually improves.

Aircraft Charter Recession Strategy

PART I: Utilize cost-effective marketing tools

The first part of the air charter recession strategy is to utilize low-cost marketing tools that can have an immediate impact in generating sales. Look no further than your website.

1. How easy is it to book a flight or request a quote from your website? Many air charter websites have the ability to request a quote right from the homepage. Prospective customers may visit two or three websites. The one easiest to use, wins the business.
2. Is your website optimized for search engines? Will a prospective customer find you via a Google, Yahoo, or Bing search for air charter in your particular city? If you type “aircraft charter (your city)” into Google and your website does not appear in the first three pages, then you are at a definite disadvantage to those competitors that appear higher in the search ranking.
3. Are you active in industry groups that serve aviation as well as industries that use air charter services? Networking is still a great, low-cost way to meet new customers and build a network of associates who can refer business to you.
4. Are you getting your story out to the press on a consistent and frequent basis? An on-going public relations campaign is another relatively low-cost, but effective way to build awareness for your air charter business with prospective new customers.

PART II: New Opportunities Exist, Find Them!

Lady Gaga Catching A Flight In London (USA ONLY)

Lady Gaga would find charter more comfortable in her crazy costumes

The second part of our Air Charter Recession Strategy is to be on the lookout for new opportunities – even when business turns south.

1. Corporations that have closed flight departments. Many of the aforementioned automakers have sold off their corporate jets, and closed or reduced their flight departments. However, these high-level business executives will prefer not to fly commercial if a practical charter alternative is made known to them.

2. Individuals who have sold their private jets. Like those celebrities that have traded Humvees for a Tesla, owning a private jet these days is considered much too bourgeois. But Lady Gaga must travel, and she’s not going to feel comfortable in one of her crazy outfits, even if she flies first-class.

3. Companies sending teams of people on location. Any company that needs to send a team of employees to service a client’s needs on location is going to find air charter an attractive and cost effective alternative to commercial air travel. Research engineering and consulting firms or other industries that need to transport teams of staff to the same locale. Reach out to them and show them how a private charter flying direct to their destination can provide considerable savings in cost and time.

4. Companies doing business in locations not served by major airports. If a business executive needs to book connecting flights into regional, rural or secondary airports, the cost for commercial flying rises dramatically. Educate these companies about the savings air charter can provide in terms of money and time when travelling to regions not served by major airlines.

FAA Issues Runway Crossing Clearance Changes

Effective June 30, 2010, air traffic controllers will no longer use the term “taxi to” when authorizing aircraft to taxi to an assigned takeoff runway. With the change, controllers must issue explicit clearances to pilots crossing any runway (active/inactive or closed) along the taxi route. In addition, pilots crossing multiple runways must be past the first runway they are cleared to cross before controllers can issue the next runway-crossing clearance. One exception to the new rule is at airports where taxi routes between runway centerlines are fewer than 1,000 feet apart. In this case, multiple runway crossings may be issued if approved by the FAA Terminal Services Director of Operations.

The elimination of the “taxi to” phrase will apply only to departing aircraft. Arriving aircraft will still hear the phrase “taxi to” when instructed to taxi to the gate or ramp. However, controllers in these situations still will be required to issue specific crossing instructions for each runway encountered on the taxi route. For more information on the change, refer to FAA Order N JO 7110.528, which can be found at:

SportCruiser Rebranded as PiperSport

Piper enters the Light Sport Aircraft Market

Piper entered the Light Sport Aircraft market with its announcement at last month’s Sebring Expo of an exclusive licensing and marketing agreement made with Czech Sport Aircraft for the SportCruiser light sport aircraft manufactured in the Czech Republic. The deal gives Piper a low-wing LSA to compete with the other prominent entry in this market, Cessna’s Skycatcher.

The financial stability of Czech Sport Aircraft was sales killer

In my dealings with buyers considering the SportCruiser, the financial stability of Czech Sport Aircraft company was a stumbling block. The original SportCruiser manufacturer, the Czech Aircraft Works founded by American Chip Erwin declaring bankruptcy in 2008. The company was take over by Slave Capital, renamed Czech Sport Aircraft and Martin Zikes was installed to run the company. Sales still flounder due in part to the global recession and also to linger doubts about financial solvency of the the company. No one wanted to buy a plane from a company that may be out of business in a year.

Piper and Czech Sport Aircraft have hit a home-run

With the deal, both companies may have hit a home-run. Piper gets a one of the top LSA in the market to add to their stable of aircraft without the costs Cessna incurred (and bad press) in development of the Skycatcher. The Czech Sport Aircraft company now has a solid partner in Piper to handle worldwide distribution and sales with an established dealer network.

Piper CEO Kevin Gould introducing the new PiperSport during the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo in Sebring, FL recalled, “Seventy-five years ago, Piper offered an aircraft that was easy-to-learn in, fun-to-fly, and affordable,” Gould said. “The PiperSport has the same characteristics, and it will have the same impact on aviation. It’s a blast to fly, and it will lead people to fall in love with our sport and our industry.”

Will Piper fully embrace an aircraft not actually made by them

One issue I see is how strongly will Piper and its dealers with fully embrace and support an aircraft not actually made by them. In addition, the margins on the PiperSport will be much lower for dealers, who may be much more interested in selling the million dollar Piper Meridians and Matix. Another issue is whether Piper will continue to provide service and support for SportCruisers already in the market.

In spite of these issues, on the surface, with the backing of Piper, the SportCruiser, rebranded as the PiperSport should have a great future.

By |January 26th, 2010|Categories: Light Sport Aircraft, Marketing||0 Comments