A light-sport aircraft (LSA), or light sport aircraft, is a fairly new category of small, lightweight aircraft that are simple to fly. LSAs tend to be heavier and more sophisticated than ultralight (aka "microlight") aircraft, but LSA restrictions on weight and performance separates the category from established GA aircraft. There is no standard worldwide description of an LSA .
LSAs in different countries
National aviation authorities in different countries have their own particular specifications and regulations which define the LSA category.
For example, in Australia the Civil Aviation Safety Authority defines a light-sport aircraft as a heavier-than-air or lighter-than-air craft, other than a helicopter, with a maximum gross takeoff weight of not more than 560 kg (1,235 lb) for lighter-than-air craft; 600 kg (1,323 lb) for heavier-than-air craft not intended for operation on water; or 650 kg (1,433 lb) for aircraft intended for operation on water. It must have a maximum stall speed of 45 knots (83 km/h; 52 mph) in landing configuration; a maximum of two seats; there is no limit on maximum speed unless it is a glider, which is limited to Vne 135 kn CAS; fixed undercarriage (except for amphibious aircraft, which may have repositionable gear, and gliders, which may have retractable gear); an unpressurized cabin; and a single non-turbine engine driving a propeller if it is a powered aircraft.
In the United States, several distinct groups of aircraft may be flown as light-sport. Existing certificated aircraft and experimental, amateur-built aircraft that fall within the definition listed in 14CFR1.1 are acceptable, as are aircraft built to an industry consensus standard rather than FAA airworthiness requirements. The accepted consensus standard is defined by ASTM International Technical Committee F37. Aircraft built to the consensus standard may be factory-built and sold with a special airworthiness certification (S-LSA) or may be assembled from a kit under the experimental rules (E-LSA) under experimental airworthiness. A company must have produced and certified at least one S-LSA in order to be permitted to sell E-LSA kits of the same model. E-LSA kits are not subject to the normal experimental amateur built (E-AB) requirement 14 CFR 21.191 which identifies an aircraft, the "major portion of which has been fabricated and assembled by persons who undertook the construction project solely for their own education or recreation."
FAA Light Sport Aircraft
- Can be manufactured and sold ready-to-fly under a new Special Light Sport Aircraft certification category. Aircraft must meet industry consensus standards. Aircraft under this certification may be used for sport and recreation, flight training, and aircraft rental.
- Can be licensed Experimental Light Sport Aircraft (E-LSA) if kit- or plans-built. Aircraft under this certification may be used only for sport and recreation and flight instruction for the owner of the aircraft.
- Can be licensed Experimental Light Sport Aircraft (E-LSA) if the aircraft has previously been operated as an ultralight but does not meet the FAR Part 103 definition of an ultralight vehicle. These aircraft must have been transitioned to E-LSA category no later than January 31, 2008.
- Will have a standard FAA registration - N-number.
- Category and class includes: Airplane (Land/Sea), Gyroplane, Airship, Balloon, Weight-Shift-Control ("Trike", Land/Sea), Glider, and Powered Parachute.
- U.S. or foreign manufacture of light sport aircraft is authorized.
- Aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate that meet above specifications may be flown by sport pilots. However, the aircraft must remain in standard category and cannot be changed to light sport aircraft category.
- May be operated at night if the aircraft is equipped per FAR 91.205, if such operations are allowed by the aircraft's operating limitations and the pilot holds at least a Private Pilot certificate and a minimum of a third-class medical.
Several different kinds of aircraft may be certificated as LSA. Airplanes (both powered and gliders), rotorcraft (gyroplanes only, not helicopters), powered parachutes, weight-shift control aeroplanes (commonly known as trikes), and lighter-than-air craft (free balloons and airships) may all be certificated as LSA if they fall within the weight and other guidelines established by the local governing authority.
The US definition of an LSA is similar to some other countries' definition of "microlight" or "ultralight" aircraft. Except for the LSA's relatively generous MTOW of 1320 pounds, the other countries' microlight definitions are typically less restrictive, not limiting airspeed or the use of variable-pitch propellers.
By contrast, the US FAA has a separate definition of ultralight aircraft defined in Federal Aviation Regulations. Aircraft falling within the US ultralight specifications are extremely lightweight (less than 254 pounds if powered, or 155 pounds if unpowered), are intended for manned operation by a single occupant, have a fuel capacity of five US gallons (about 19 litres) or less, a maximum calibrated airspeed of not more than 55 knots (102 km/h; 63 mph), and a maximum stall speed of not more than 24 knots (44 km/h; 28 mph). Ultralight aircraft in the US do not require pilot licensing, medical certification, or aircraft registration.
Aircraft certified as light-sport aircraft exceed the limitations defined for ultralight aircraft and require that the pilot possess, at a minimum, a sport pilot certificate. Among these aircraft were found those that were specifically designed to meet the LSA requirements, as well as overweight ultralights (commonly known as "fat ultralights") that previously were operated in technical violation of 14 CFR 103.
In addition to aircraft specifically designed to meet the LSA requirements, certain certificated aircraft, such as the original Piper Cub, happen to fall within the definition of a light-sport aircraft and can be operated by individuals holding FAA sport pilot certificates. The aircraft can not be re-certificated as LSA, however: although sport pilots may operate conventionally certificated aircraft that fall within the definition of an LSA, the aircraft themselves continue to be certificated in their original categories.
Several designers and manufacturers of experimental aircraft kits have developed models that are compliant with the light-sport aircraft rules.
In June 2012 the FAA indicated that they would re-visit the LSA program after their own studies indicated that "the majority" of LSA manufacturers they had inspected failed to show that they were in compliance with the standards. The FAA announcement said that as a result the "original policy of reliance on manufacturers' Statements of Compliance" ... "should be reconsidered." AOPA points out that this is a normal development of a maturing standard and does not expect any significant changes in the rules, only more scrutiny by FAA to assure compliance.
FAA certified models
Aircraft that met light-sport requirements when the rules were announced appear in FAA's list: Light Sport Aircraft: Existing Type Certificated Models  .
Some additional models of S-LSA, E-LSA and E-AB aircraft that meet light-sport requirements are listed here.
In June 2011, the European Aviation Safety Agency published CS-LSA Certification Specifications for Light Sport Aeroplanes. This introduced a new category of manufactured sport aeroplanes similar to the light-sport category found in the USA and elsewhere.
A new certification category for 'Light Sport Aircraft' came into effect on 7 January 2006. This category does not replace the previous categories, but created a new category with the following characteristics:
- A maximum take-off weight of 600 kg (1,323 lb) or 650 kg (1,433 lb) for an aircraft intended and configured for operation on water or 560 kg (1,235 lb) for a lighter-than-air aircraft.
- A maximum stalling speed in the landing configuration (Vso) of 45 kn (83 km/h) CAS.
- Maximum of two occupants, including the pilot.
- A fixed landing gear. A glider may have retractable landing gear. (For an aircraft intended for operation on water, a fixed or repositionable landing gear)
- A single, non-turbine engine fitted with a propeller.
- A non-pressurised cabin.
- If the aircraft is a glider a maximum never exceed speed (Vne) of 135 kn (250 km/h) CAS
Light-sport aircraft can be factory-manufactured aircraft or kits for amateur-building.