20 Hours to Solo
Will a new pilot category restore the glory days of general aviation?
- By Mark Huber
- Air & Space magazine, September 2007
(Page 3 of 5)
Aside from the company logo and signature high wing, what Willford and his teammates came up with looks very different from a traditional Cessna. Power comes from a 100-horsepower Rotax 912 engine, for decades a favorite powerplant for homebuilt airplanes and ultralights. The control yokes are gone, replaced by sticks. “The goal of this airplane is to put a smile on your face,” says Willford.
Cessna unveiled the prototype at last year’s Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. After the show, Willford received a letter and deposit check from one prospective customer. He kept the letter but returned the check. On July 10, Cessna announced that it was taking steps to put its LSA into production. “We believe this aircraft will make a major contribution to stimulating new pilot starts,” said CEO Jack J. Pelton.
Sport aircraft marketer Dan Johnson believes a Cessna entry will increase sales across the board. “It’s tremendous validation,” he says. “And it will create instant infrastructure, because Cessna already has a large distribution network and a large number of places that already service their airplanes. For the customer out there, they should say, ‘Well gee, if Cessna’s doing one of these, LSAs [sport aircraft] must be okay.’ ” Certainly, Cessna, which has been building airplanes since 1916, has relationships with the general aviation industry, with pilots, and with the FAA that new companies have not yet had time to cultivate.
Sport flying does have its skeptics, among them Mike Carzoli, co-owner of the Blue Skies Flying Service flight school in Lake in the Hills, Illinois, 38 miles northwest of Chicago. “We’re a pretty busy airport,” says Carzoli. There are three flight schools there, and not one operates a light sport aircraft for flight instruction. “While we do get the occasional inquiry about sport pilot, it is not like [prospective students] are knocking down the doors,” he says.
Blue Skies operates three 1980s-vintage Piper Warriors and a Cessna 172. The Warriors rent for $103 per hour. Although LSAs burn about half the fuel of the Warriors, Carzoli believes that the $70,000 to $100,000 price tags for suitable trainers would drive up his insurance and financing costs and that to make a profit, he would have to rent them at almost the same price as the Warriors. To satisfy any emerging demand for sport pilot training, Carzoli is kicking around a plan to use vintage aircraft that fall into the LSA category—Piper Cubs, Aeronca Champs, and Aercoupes—but he doesn’t think he’ll need to implement it anytime soon.
When Jim Hazen went to apply for his sport pilot certificate at the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in Scottsdale, Arizona, it took a while before he could find anyone there who knew what he was talking about. “Most people in the building had never heard of sport pilot,” he says.
EAA president Tom Poberezny, whose organization quarterbacked general aviation interests with the FAA during the decade-long development of the new LSA and sport pilot categories, counsels patience. “This is more like a marathon than a sprint,” he says. Poberezny admits that there is a shortage of sport pilot instructors, examiners, and LSA inspectors. “It will be another couple of years before we have the proper infrastructure,” he says.
Since receiving his certificate last year, Hazen has been spreading the sport pilot gospel. He is mentoring several students in Mesa, including Greg Robinson, a 41-year-old plumber. Robinson has been interested in aviation since the age of seven. He flies remote-control model airplanes and helicopters and started his sport pilot training last year in an Air Piesek Allegro 2000. “The Allegro is lighter and more responsive than a Cessna, and it’s a lot cheaper to fly, but that’s not really the issue for me,” he says. “You see so much more out of the big windows, and between the view and the sense of accomplishment you get from flying, well, that is what does it for me. I just love the freedom of it.”