For a week last month, the center of the aviation universe was headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin — population around 50,000 until AirVenture brings in five times that many on the biggest days.
AirVenture Oshkosh is arguably the most important aviation event in the world each year, bringing people together from all points on the compass… or, at least it usually does.
For 2021, international representation was far below the usual. I don’t have hard numbers but few of my overseas airshow friends could make this year’s event.
Despite the lack of international visitors EAA AirVenture Oshkosh afforded a large helping of personal contacts and conversations. Even in the age of Zoom and Skype, Facebook and Twitter, websites and YouTube channels, meeting in-person retains immense value, both personally and professionally. My article about the FAA “pivot” reported one of those fortunate meetings; same for the XE Part 103 helicopter resulting in our most-read Oshkosh 2021 article.
One objective of mine was achieved when a trusted, reliable source provided me with hard data about the state of the light aviation industry around the world. Most readers know I follow the U.S. market info closely and our Tableau Public website can satisfy those who want to drill all the way down to every last N-number-registered Light-Sport Aircraft or light kit aircraft that a Sport Pilot may fly.
What I lacked was international data. Now, I’m privileged to have some valuable information and I’d like to share some of the insights. Since Americans buy lots of imported vehicles of all types, knowing the larger light aircraft market is good for buyers and pilots like to be well informed.
I promised not to reveal either the source nor detailed specifics but much can still be gleaned from the data I received. Here I will provide a few glimpses. (For true data hounds, I might dive deeper later.)
How Do They Stack Up?
Global Fully-Built Light Aircraft
Viewed through the lens I was given, more fully built LSA or LSA-like aircraft are produced each year in other countries than in the USA. A portion of these are sold in the USA.
Generally, the rest of the world has focused much more on light aircraft than American developers. Two seat aircraft are far more common outside the U.S. Most other countries also drive smaller cars. Both facts may reflect much higher fuel prices.
As always, this website focuses entirely on LSA, Sport Pilot kits, and 103 ultralights. All following numbers report solely on that segment.
I surveyed 132 manufacturers of LSA or LSA-like aircraft as generally described above. More than 265 companies have produced in the last decade but about half are presently inactive when viewed through the dataset I studied.
Production of this sector of aircraft has been remarkably steady through the last three years, including 2020 (production during the year of Covid was off only about 7% as seen through my dataset).
Twenty of the 132 producers built more than 20 aircraft per year and five manufacturers exceeded 50 units per year. Overall around 1,500 fully-built LSA or LSA-like aircraft are added to the global fleet each year. This compares to around 700 LSA and Sport Pilot kits registered in America each year — making a roughly one-third/two-thirds relationship between the USA and the rest of the world (I repeat some of the 1,500 are delivered to U.S. customers). I caution you that this is very generalized information, may have errors, and cannot predict the future.
The front-runners in this dataset were Tecnam and Pipistrel. These two producers clearly lead the world in fully-built light aircraft over the last three years, although BRM Aero (Bristell) is closing. Unlike the latter, which was quite steady throughout the Covid panic, both Tecnam and Pipistrel are well off their prior-year marks (down 39% and 33%, respectively, according to the dataset I examined where BRM was up 5% from 2019 to 2020).
Others in the top ranking accelerated or held very steady, including Aeroprakt (up 15% ’19 to ’20), Van’s Aircraft (up 43% over those two years), and JMB (nearly identical all three years).
Over all three years and averaging the results, Tecnam was well out in front at more than three aircraft per week, followed by Pipistrel, BRM Aero, and Aeroprakt, all building more than 1.5 aircraft per week on average.
A large number of producers build 10-20 aircraft year after year while a mid-range group of 15 manufacturers bridge the gap between the leaders and smallest, “boutique” producers.
In the data I acquired, American producers — looking only at fully-built aircraft — account for about 13%, lead by Van’s and Icon. The dataset I am reviewing leaves out many kit-built aircraft that a Sport Pilot may fly and it may not reflect rising newcomers like Vashon. This analysis also omits rotary winged aircraft including gyroplanes.
Grouping U.S. kit-built registrations to the fully-built dataset, I can estimate worldwide light aircraft production (fully-built + kits) well exceeds 2,000 aircraft per year. This leaves out some kits in other countries, gyroplanes, and all Part 103 vehicles but represents a well-informed “guesstimate.” When attempting to gather all light aircraft in the global fleet, this 2015 analysis remains the best information available to show how many light aircraft exist around the world.
The numbers prove themselves this way: Take 2,000+ new aircraft a year for 30+ years and you have approximately today’s active fleet.
Teen Flying Around Globe
Zara Rutherford, age 19, is probably not your average young pilot. Here’s her plan…
“I am Zara Rutherford and my attempt is to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Take off is planned for 10:30 local time on August 18th, from EBKT, Kortrijk Wevelgem Airport,” the aspiring round worlder wrote in an email. “I am hoping my flight will get more girls and young women worldwide interested in STEM and aviation.”
Do you think you have what it takes to fly around the world?
At minimum, such a trek involves lot of hours in a fairly confined space plus a challenging amount of waiting (for weather, maintenance, permission). At worst, it could be intimidating and dangerous, for example when crossing the frigid North Atlantic. You also have to cope with foreign languages and different customs. Your body clock would be catching up for weeks.
Zara has a good aviation foundation. She reports traveling in small planes since the age of six, skydiving at 11, and flying a plane at 14. After all that why not go for broke at 19? Ah, youth!
“I will be flying a Shark Light-Sport Aircraft,” Zara wrote. She chose Shark for its speed (150 knots, she reports). “It has very long range, is very safe and is extremely capable.” Shark is usually a tandem two seater but one seat has been removed to accommodate an extra fuel tank.
The current female record holder is American, Shaesta Waiz who was 30 years old at the time of her circumnavigation in 2017. The youngest male record holder is just over 18 years old.
Zara’s round-the-world flight starts August 18 and updated plans predict a finish by November 4, 2021.
Read more about Zara’s world record attempt on her website.
Remembering a Friend
For recent posts from AirVenture, readers have seen my use of the image to the right. Accurate because I focus entirely on LSA, Sport Pilot kits, and ultralights, the title “The Light Stuff” sums up my goals well.
The title isn’t new.
For 14 years I wrote a column I called “The Light Stuff” for Kitplanes magazine. The column name was an adaptation of “The Right Stuff” movie about astronauts.
Through those years, a man I learned to deeply admire edited the publication. Many readers will recognize the name Dave Martin from earlier days. He had an impeccable reputation earned through thoroughness and fairness, capability and approachability. I could never slack off when preparing material for Dave. He could be a tough taskmaster but also acknowledged when a piece was good. My writing undoubtedly improved because of years of input he offered me. I so enjoyed working with him.
With sadness I note his passing, alerted by mutual friend Phil Lockwood, developer of the AirCam (photo) in which Dave is seated when the two made a flight to the Bahamas. So long, Dave! Here’s Kitplanes editor Marc Cook’s eulogy.