The U.S. economy is hardly crashing, but while slipping backwards in late 2007 and early 2008, it has been on a bumpy plateau. This unevenness causes trouble for many businesses. Even giant coffee seller, Starbucks, is rejiggering their business model to adjust for folks balking at $4 coffee while their stock portfolio lurches up and down. Light-Sport Aircraft sales also reflect that lack of consumer confidence. *** Figures for the first two months of 2008 show slightly more than 40 aircraft registrations per month. In 2007, the industry averaged 47 aircraft registrations per month. Of course, this 15% decrease also comes while many northern states have endured awful winter flying weather, partially explaining why sales are off the beat. Despite a cloudy overcast some bright spots emerge. *** CZAW‘s SportCruiser led the pack with more than 17% growth during January and February. AMD is close behind with 14% growth, and CubCrafters continues their climb with 7.5% growth.
Lots of folks are wondering about, or complaining about, the seemingly high prices of Light-Sport Aircraft. Recently a prior editor-in-chief of EAA publications, Scott Spangler, wrote a blog on JetWhine. Scott focused on expensive avionics as one reason LSA cost so much. While a factual observation, I believe the price increase is more complex. *** First, LSA suppliers install equipment like autopilots because buyers ask for them. A large chunk of all LSA are sold to “retiring” GA pilots used to such equipment in their Cessna or Bonanza. Simpler LSA are available; most suppliers have one. But customers are buying the loaded-panel jobs. *** Let’s look closer at those rising prices. Five years ago, in the pre-dawn of SP/LSA, a CT was selling for $60,000. Today it’s $125,000. By far the largest piece of that doubling is the euro’s soaring value compared to the dollar. Were the currencies at parity, that $125,000 would be $80,000.
Light-Sport Aircraft ended a successful year in 2007 with sales up 98%, registering 565 new fixed wing airplanes for the calendar year for a total of 1,118 airplanes. Including weight shift, powered parachutes, and gliders (no gyro or lighter-than-air yet), total registrations for the year hit 720, up 120% over the previous year close and totaling 1,395 LSA nationwide. For comparison, the general aviation industry produced as many single-engine (SE) piston airplanes each quarter as the LSA industry did all year, and GA is expected to ship more than 2,200 SE pistons for 2007. Can LSA match that performance in the next two or three years? My forecast says, “Yes!” I estimated 600 for 2007 (we hit 92% of that target). I’ve forecast 1,000 units in 2008 and doubling that again in another year or two. If I’m right, LSA may someday meet or exceed all other SE piston sales in the USA.
With one month to go before we evaluate all of 2007, here’s an early picture. In eleven months, industry added 499 fixed wing airplanes plus a healthy fleet of trikes and powered parachutes. I expect SLSA registrations to reach 544 airplanes for the year, nearly a doubling of the 565 we had last January after sales were tallied since beginning in April 2005. In its first 20 months, industry registered 29 airplanes a month on average. In 2007, that number will rise past 45 a month (up 56%). The entire airframe producer community should generate almost $60 million in sales. *** The top three remain unchanged as CTSW, SportStar, and Legend Cub held their lead even while 17 new models entered the marketplace. One of the most notable rising stars of 2007 has been CubCrafters. The Sport Cub maker started well down the January chart with only 15 registered airplanes.
FAA registration data through August show continued growth with another 58 SLSA listed for a total increase in 2007 of 557 aircraft (88%) in just eight months. The lone share change in the Top Twelve was CubCrafters rising another notch to 6th, pushing Fantasy Air down to 7th. CubCrafters has been rising steadily after their late entry, though they still significantly trail rival American Legend. *** Despite being a trike enthusiast, I’m amazed to observe the 15% share of all Special Light-Sport Aircraft that are weight shift control aircraft. France’s Air Creation and Australia’s AirBorne dominate the category with a registered 105 and 61 models respectively. Six trike models share the market. *** Powered parachutes have also done respectfully well in a few months with 5% of all SLSA registrations. Infinity (27 aircraft) and Powrachute (24) overshadow Summit (7).
In the month of July 2007 the LSA industry registered 71 more aircraft bringing the total to 904 fixed wing airplanes. That represents a spurt of 11% in one month and an even 60% growth in registered LSA since January 1st 2007. *** In all categories, Americans are flying 1,134 SLSA. Weight Shift aircraft registered an additional 27 aircraft, powered parachutes added 6 and LSA gliders achieved their first registration. *** The leading companies (see chart) were barely changed with the top five holding nearly identical market share from last month. CubCrafters inched up a notch and Czech Aircraft Works narrowly passed Remos. Further down the market share list, positions still saw little fluctuation. This equilibrium will surely be disturbed with the entry of Cirrus (by August 2008, they say) and Cessna* (in the second half of 2009) but for 27 months, customers have generally kept their brand loyalties. *Cessna reported more than 550 sales in the week of AirVenture Oshkosh.
After 26 months and a few days, LSA now exceed 1,000 aircraft in the U.S. certified aircraft fleet. That sum represents an annual sales rate of nearly 500 aircraft per year. Since June 1st, another 49 fixed wing aircraft have been added, an annual rate of almost 600 aircraft. *** Of 1,030 registered as of July 1st, 81% or 833 are airplanes, 153 (15%) are weight shift control “trikes,” and 44 (4%) are powered parachutes. No gyros, gliders, or light-than-air have been certified or registered at this time. As always, be aware that FAA registrations may not precisely equal total customer deliveries. *** Our top three leaders — Flight Design, American Legend, and Evektor — held their positions. Tecnam again gained a notch, now occupying the #4 position. Jabiru USA and Remos also moved upward (at least in percentage) and Czech Aircraft Works elbowed into the Top Twelve.
Based on FAA data* from early May, 92 new SLSA registrations brought total SLSA to 930 aircraft, up 11% in one month and up 46% since January 2007. *** For sellers in the market, it has become more crowded. Eighteen months ago the LSA community had certified 16 new models; now, we’re at 50. More choice is great for consumers but it’s challenging for sellers as many choices can slow the purchase decision and new players eat away at market leader shares. *** Despite that observation, the big sellers remain on top. Flight Design retains its leadership position, as does U.S. builder, American Legend (chart). Evektor (#3) and TL Ultralight (#4) held their positions while Tecnam and Fantasy Air moved up one. Some shuffling occurred below the Top Five with U.S. producers AMD and CubCrafters generating more registrations.
Lots of people want to know…customers, insurance companies, dealers, membership organizations, and, of course, all the manufacturers and importers. We all like to keep score. While I believe FAA data has some delay in reporting, it is a reputable source of info. Here’s what their registrations show through the end of March, 2007. *** Flight Design remains #1 at 21% — #2 American Legend remains the largest U.S. producer with 13% of all registrations. These two are followed by #3 Evektor at 8% — #4 TL Ultralights (StingSport) at 7% — #5 Tecnam at 6% — #6 Fantasy Air at 6% — #7 AMD (CH-601) at 5% — #8 LSA America (Skyboy) at 4% — #9 CubCrafters at 4% — and #10 Jabiru at 3% of all SLSA registrations. These aircraft account for 552 aircraft or 77% of 719 registered SLSA airplanes.
To say the pace has been frenetic for professionals in the LSA industry is both understatement and nothing new to those involved. Most LSA pros are working “day and night” (as one put it) just to get all the work done. It makes for a very exciting time as well as an exhausting one. The chart to the side shows their progress in graphical form. Based on a measurement at the 18-month point, nine companies have made 80% of the SLSA deliveries. But companies that hardly factored in this count are beginning to ship and future shares are certain to change. Early leaders are well positioned to grow (even given Cessna’s possible LSA entry). *** To help you keep up with the warp speed developments, I am happy to introduce the “SLSA List” under the Light-Sport Aircraft tab. This new list is fully up-to-date and I’ll try to keep it so.