Light-sport aircraft are a major part of Aero 2003
My first visit to the Aero show was in 2001. For years earlier, I’d been aware of this event in the far south of Germany, in the resort town of Friedrichshafen. After attending the show two years ago, I became aware of how important it would be to light-sport aircraft.
Because Aero runs on alternate years, like many air shows in Europe, I determined I was going again in 2003, no matter what. Once again it was a worthwhile trip.
Friedrichshafen sits on the northern shore of a giant lake called Bodensee or Lake Constance. Across the body of water to the south lies Switzerland. Bodensee’s eastern edge borders Austria. The tourist attractions generated by the big lake come with picturesque scenes in many directions.
Friedrichshafen is also home to the Zeppelin airship company. Famous for its creation of the Hindenburg, Zeppelin is the oldest continuously operating airship builder. In the Bavarian town Zeppelin calls home are two museums of the company’s work. Logically, then, having a major air show in Friedrichshafen makes sense. That it is central to the rest of Europe helps draw aircraft makers and suppliers plus pilots and visitors from across the European community.
For someone in my line of work- evaluating light aircraft-this show has become a must-go international event. The reason is simple: manufacturers of such aircraft feel like I do|they simply have to attend. Virtually every company serious about making light aircraft has a display at Aero. In one trip, I can see what all the manufacturers in Europe are developing.
This article, then, will highlight many of the beautiful flying machines I found on the show floor. In some cases the aircraft are elaborate, even fanciful creations with modest growth potential. Others are mainstream products seemingly destined for American shores. Aero sees a generous share of new ideas, so some exhibitors are new commercial entities that hope to gain entry to the competitive recreational aircraft market.
Throughout this article, I refer to most of these planes as “ultralights,” “microlights,” “VLA,” or “light-sport aircraft (LSA).” Please understand that these terms are not used to define. Ultralight in Europe generally means an aircraft limited to 450 kilograms of gross weight (or, now, 472.5 kg if a ballistic parachute is installed). Microlight is a general term meaning any ultralight-like aircraft, while VLA (very light aircraft) means an aircraft that has European certification and is generally heavier than allowed under European ultralight definitions. LSA means an aircraft that could fit the proposed new FAA light-sport aircraft rule, in my opinion. Because that rule is not yet released and I cannot predict the actions of manufacturers, I ask readers to consider these terms as casual references only, please.
Concentrated Light-Sport Aircraft
As with major American air shows, Aero is a highly efficient way to bring together all the brands and models in one location. All of Europe may be half the size of the United States, but it’s still large enough that traveling around to visit airframe makers takes lots of time and money. Going to Aero makes the job easier and in many ways more pleasant (though, of course, you cannot see the manufacturing plant where the airplanes are made).
All new for Aero 2003 were freshly completed exhibition facilities. The old location, slightly closer to the center of town, was a scattered collection of large halls obviously added as necessity demanded. The new Friedrichshafen Convention Center is located right on the airport, across the main runway from the small terminal serving the town. The halls are now coordinated and more logically arranged. A large courtyard served food and housed a few military displays.
Inside the seven great halls of Aero 2003 were aircraft from all over Europe. Eastern Europe was especially well represented among the ultralight and VLA set. Judging from the packed exhibit halls, the recreational segment of Euroland appears to be quite healthy, despite sluggish national economies and surprisingly high unemployment.
Some corporate hardware was parked outside, but Aero remains a venue for fun flying. In 2001, the largest airplane on display was a Cessna 206. For 2003, now that the show is based at the airport, organizers started to cultivate the business crowd, too. On the whole, though, and to my personal satisfaction, Aero remains dominated by sport aircraft-overwhelmingly oneand two-seat machines that roughly fit various European definitions.
With avgas running $8 to $10 per gallon and with autogas half that price in Europe, fuel efficiency is more than a buzzword. High taxes drive the price to three or four times what Americans pay. Flying Cessnas and heavier aircraft is largely only an option for a few well-heeled owners or corporations. Even suppliers like Diamond Aircraft offer diesel engines to battle the high cost of petrol. (Diesel fuel enjoys a financial advantage to accommodate European agriculture politics.)
With their ubiquitous Rotax 912s-and even some diesel entries- the ultralight/microlight suppliers offer even better efficiency, and this draws interest heavily from the ranks of well-paid European workers, professionals, and aviation enthusiasts
Take My Photo Tour
The aircraft pictured on these pages do not represent all those present. Several brands well known to Americans, such as Skyboy, Sky Ranger, CT, and Zenair, had large exhibits and attracted plenty of interest, but they don’t require further coverage right now. Some others simply seemed out-of-date or so niche oriented that I skipped them. Instead my search focused on aircraft Americans have not yet seen, new models being introduced or not available in the United States, and new technology, including some experimental designs that may never arrive on the market.
My goal here is not to promote the photographed airplanes as models you will buy in the near future. You may, but that wasn’t how I chose these machines. In my regular combing of light aircraft of all description, I look for those likely to become commercial successes or those with ideas and shapes that are sure to be coopted by other builders.
Neither do I make any attempt to cover the corporate side of Aero, though many companies were present peddling their wares and services. More than 500 exhibitors filled the halls. I’ve only reported on 20-plus airplanes, so lots went unmentioned.
To see all Aero offers, you’ll simply have to go yourself. Aero 2005 is scheduled for April 21-24, if you’re serious. Otherwise, I’ll be going again; so perhaps in about 24 months you can take my new tour by camera.
For now, enjoy Aero 2003. Perhaps one of these light aircraft will tickle your particular fantasy of flight. The contact information (at the end of most captions) lists a verified, Englishlanguage Internet address plus email, if available. If English is not available on the website, you can translate the site to English by using this website, http://babelfish.altavista. com/babelfish/tr, or by using Google’s search engine and clicking its “Translate This Page” feature.
Light-sport aircraft are a major part of Aero 2003