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. Internationally-Speaking 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.
Internationally-SpeakingDespite 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 AircraftViewed 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.