Light Sport Aircraft ownership – there’s nothing quite like it. Having your own aircraft that nobody else flies. Being able to fly when you want. Where you want. Any time you want. Wow!
But before committing to buying an aircraft, let’s make sure it’s right for you. Some exploration of manufacturers and aircraft sales is in order.
Unless you have money to burn or you really want your own aircraft, the question of whether to own an Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) comes down to primarily a financial one. Is it cost-effective to buy? What will it cost? How can I predict expenses? These are just the beginning of what is a long list of questions to ask yourself on the path to ownership.
If you’re in the position of buying your first sport aircraft, you’re probably in training or fresh out flight school. Or, you have been renting from a local flight school (or fixed-base operation (FBO)) and want to potentially save some money, or perhaps have more flexibility. It’s a pain to want to go flying and not have an available aircraft.
If it’s an economic question, a good rule of thumb to use when deciding whether to continue renting or to buy is, “If you rent more than 100 hours a year, buying may save you some money.” It’s similar to deciding whether to rent or buy a house – ownership expenses are much less predictable than those associated with renting. And, as in home purchases, financing may be a factor. Also, insurance for plane and pilot will be a must!
With aircraft, not only are there the basic maintenance requirements, but also annual inspections, or unexpected repairs.
Luckily there are many options when it comes to owning. If money is an issue, consider taking on a partner or joining a flying club. Flying clubs are often quite inexpensive and more flexibility than traditional rental situations because clubs are often times chartered to not make a profit thus keeping the overheads low.
Some Frequently Asked Questions on Light Sport Aircraft Ownership:
How much does a Light Sport Aircraft cost? How long does an LSA last?
An LSA can cost a minimum of about $20,000 or more. You can spend up to $140,000 for the top-of-the-line with all the bells and whistles. There is a large price range similar to automobiles. After four years of fairly active usage and exposure to UV light from the sun, the fabric of a fabric-covered aircraft may be in need of replacement. This, of course, varies with how you use it and how you care for your aircraft. It’s easy to test your fabric for strength and thus determine your need to replace the fabric long before it becomes unsafe. Engine maintenance is crucial to long life. The aircraft frame should last indefinitely with good care. Good, used LSA are often available for half as much – though it will have a shorter life-span. In addition, because the sport is evolving rapidly, newer airplane LSA can have significantly better performance and behavior than older ones.
You’ll need expert help in determining the suitability of the used aircraft for your needs, and how airworthy it is. Good deals exist but you will need to be able to carefully evaluate what you are looking at. Equally important is how well the used aircraft was cared for. This LSA is going to take you high into the air so you will want to be sure of it’s condition before you buy it. Unless you know what you are looking at, that you should have expert help in deciding before you buy.
Once you have your aircraft and have completed training your main cost is for gas and oil. These consumables are not very expensive. A few gallons of gas and some two or four cycle oil will not break your budget. You will also need a few other small incidentals. These can add an additional $300 to $500 to your bill. For well under $20,000 you can become the owner and pilot of your own personal and portable aircraft. Most pilots who get into the sport also purchase a two-way radio for an additional $500.
An annual condition inspection by a qualified professional is also required to assure the aircraft is in good shape for flying. This is a good investment for your safety.
Can I rent or share expenses?
Yes. You can share Light Sport Aircraft ownership expenses. You can rent one, and rent to others a S-LSA.
Can I maintain my own LSA?
No matter where you buy your LSA you must consider service after the sale. Mechanical devices will have parts that can, and do, fail. There is also the reality that as part of your learning curve you may damage something. This is not uncommon. But, it happens to the best of us.
Where the parts will come from, how much they cost, and how long it will take to get them may play a big role in your purchase decision. So will the actual work of replacing them.S-LSA must be maintained by FAA certified mechanics, with the exception of some preventative maintenance such as changing oil, spark plugs, tires, and minor maintenance. E-LSA is completely different.
Anyone can do maintenance on an E-LSA. This may be a reason to get an E-LSA if you want to do your own maintenance. If you are sufficiently mechanically adept then you can, with training, do many of the maintenance and repairs yourself. You may also have all the tools necessary to do the job. If you are not comfortable with this type of work you will need to consider how you will get this service and maintenance accomplished if needed.
When you buy a new LSA you can usually have this work performed by the dealer. When you buy a used LSA you may be on your own as warranties are seldom transferable and the original dealer usually has no obligation to support you. All light-sport aircraft (LSA) require an annual condition inspection every year by FAA certified repairman. For E-LSA, you can do this yourself if you take a 16 hour class for your category of aircraft. If you elect NOT to take the class, then you’ll need to find someone qualified to do this annual inspection, such as:
- An appropriately rated A&P mechanic
- An appropriately rated repair station
- A Light Sport Aircraft repairman with a maintenance rating
The two FAA LSA repairman certificate ratings are: Inspection and Maintenance.
Inspection (16 hours) rating allows you to conduct the annual condition inspection on your own E-LSA. It requires the successful completion of an FAA accepted 16-hour course for the specific class of LSA.
Maintenance (104 hour) rating is a commercial rating allowing the annual condition inspection on the owner’s or others airplane S-LSA and E-LSA. It requires successful completion of a course on the 104 hour course on maintenance requirements.
What do I need to know when purchasing my first LSA?
First, it’s best if you know how to fly. No would-be pilot should purchase a wing before learning at least the basics of flying. A reputable dealer should make certain you are properly trained before he will let you take possession of any equipment. Many cases the dealer who sells it to you can provide the training when you buy one.
In most cases the dealer is or has access to a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Or, he’ll refer you to a CFI who can properly train you. It’s your instructor’s job to understand the aircraft systems to help you select your first aircraft. Different aircraft have different characteristics and require different skill levels. Your instructor will help you match the LSA to your particular interests, strengths, weaknesses, and skill level.
Develop a solid relationship with an instructor you trust before purchasing equipment. “Good deals” generally end up costing the naive new pilot a great deal of money later. Most instructors rely on referrals and repeat business so they’re determined to help you make the right decisions. When purchasing equipment, a responsible dealer will always require some proof of certified pilot rating.
It may be necessary for you to purchase the aircraft that you’ll train in. There are some advantages to this. Training on the equipment that you’ll eventually fly eliminates the transition time that it will take to get used to flying different gear. While most aircraft function in a similar way there are differences in technique required for different models. Different makes and models usually have both advantages and disadvantages over the other.
Use the Sport Pilot Locator to find a LSA sales or rental facility near you.
Embarking on the new adventure of Light Sport Aircraft ownership, a trade association that you should be familiar with is the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association (LAMA). This nonprofit national trade association represents manufacturers of light aircraft, engines, avionics, parts/sub assemblies and suppliers and distributors to the light sport/light aircraft industry and community.