A Heavy Dose of Light-Sport

An inside look at light-sport aircraft maintenance responsibilities

Are you confused about some of the maintenance regulations for light-sport aircraft (LSA)? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this article, we’ll look at some examples that illustrate the “do’s and don’ts” for LSA maintenance, as well as some the significant differences you’ll find among experimental light-sport aircraft (ELSA) and special light-sport aircraft (SLSA).

What is a light sport aircraft?
With today’s stressed economic environment, general aviation has taken quite a hit in terms of growth and activity. The one bright spot, however, has been the growth of the LSA industry.

Figures from the recent 2009 FAA Aviation Forecast Conference show the LSA market growing at a rate of 12 percent annually from now until 2012. Reduced costs of purchasing and building, as well as less restrictive regulations for maintaining and training in an LSA, have caught the eye of many an aviator.

Plainly stated, an LSA is a simple, low performance, low energy, single-engine aircraft with a maximum weight of 1,320 pounds (1,430 pounds if used for water operations). It is designed for one or two occupants and must meet the parameters specified for a light-sport aircraft in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 1.1. Because of these unique restrictions, the FAA has been able to develop policies and regulations outside the traditional regulations for general aviation. Among the significant differences are the requirements for maintenance procedures.

Aircraft characterized as ELSA do not fall under 14 CFR Part 103 operations. They are often assembled from a kit and are certificated under 14 CFR section 21.191(i) (1),(2),(3). Aircraft characterized as SLSA, on the other hand, are manufactured to an industry standard, sold as “ready-to-fly,” and certificated under 14 CFR section 21.190. Both ELSA and SLSA are issued a special (pink) airworthiness certificate (Form 8130-7 with attached operating limitations). Because LSAs can involve federal and/or manufacturer-based regulations and limitation standards, there are differing levels of restriction and distinct maintenance requirements for each.

The following scenarios are intended to highlight key differences in maintenance procedures for ELSA and SLSA.

Logbook entry for annual condition inspection: Johnny Wrench, a certificated A&P, just completed an annual condition inspection on an ELSA powered parachute. He documented the following in the maintenance logbook:

“I certify that this aircraft has been inspected on July 1, 2009, in accordance with the scope and detail of Appendix D to Part 43, or the manufacturer’s maintenance and inspection procedures, and was found to be in an airworthy condition.”

Is Johnny’s logbook entry correct?

No. When performing a condition inspection on an ELSA or SLSA aircraft, the word airworthy is not used. Instead, Johnny should have noted the aircraft was in a “condition for safe operation.” SLSA and ELSA aircraft do not have FAA-approved type designs, so the term “airworthy” is not used. You can also check the operations limitations issued with the airworthiness certificate for the correct wording to use.

ELSA maintenance requirements: Ronnie Rivet was flying his new ELSA gyroplane when he noticed a crack in the windshield. Ronnie is familiar with this type of repair but is not an A&P or certificated light-sport repairman. Can he perform the windshield repair by himself?

Yes. Any individual, regardless of his or her certification level, can perform this procedure, or for that matter any maintenance, preventive maintenance, repairs, or alterations to ELSA. Keep in mind, however, that Ronnie should perform the maintenance in accordance with standard practices.

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