July 29, 2013 - ICON Aircraft, developer of the amphibious A5 light-sport aircraft (LSA), announced at EAA Oshkosh 2013 Monday that the FAA granted its exemption request for a gross weight increase to accommodate safety features, including a spin-resistant airframe (SRA). The exemption, requested in May 2012, allows the A5's takeoff weight to rise as high as 1,680 pounds, 250 pounds above the 1,430-pound limit for amphibious LSA.
Frank Paskiewicz, FAA's deputy director, Aircraft Certification, determined "a grant of exemption is in the public interest" for the increase of the A5 maximum takeoff weight (MTOW). The Grant of Exemption Number 10829 states, "The FAA believes it achieved an acceptable balance between enabling innovation and regulating safety in the regulations covering the certification and operation of light-sport aircraft."
The FAA also noted that it hadn't considered the weight of SRA technology compliant with 14 CFR Part 23 spin-resistance standards in establishing the MTOW for LSA.
"This news is good not just for us, but all of GA," said ICON founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins. "We spent a lot of time and energy trying to crack the code on building a spin-resistance aircraft, and that accomplishment took additional weight." (Loss of control due to stall/spin is a leading cause of fatal GA accidents.)
In pursuit of a safer LSA
A5, introduced at EAA AirVenture 2008, initially was designed to meet mandated weight limits for LSA; during development the company decided to make the airframe spin-resistant to maximize safety.
That objective required increasing the wing size and, consequently, the empennage, changes which put the aircraft's weight over the LSA amphib limit. The initial production A5 will weigh 1,510 pounds, according to ICON.
A video at the Los Angeles-based company's display area (Booth 162 in the Main Aircraft Display Area) presents a side-by-side demonstration of stalls involving a Cessna 152 and an ICON SRA A5 prototype; upon stalling the 152 enters a spin, while the A5 remains wings-level at a 1,000 fpm descent rate - slower than a conventional parachute. ICON also plans to equip the A5 with a BRS parachute recovery system.
In another safety development from the fledgling plane maker, the company is showcasing many of the A5's design features, including an angle of attack (AOA) gauge. Prominently positioned on its instrument cluster, the AOA gives pilots a simple, clear indication of how close the aircraft is to a stall, regardless of bank or pitch angle.
A green light
With its exemption in hand, the company can proceed with it plans, Hawkins said. The first four conforming prototypes for certification are expected to be completed in spring of 2014. If certification proceeds as expected, deliveries will commence in the middle to third quarter of 2014.
The company currently has more than 900 refundable deposits of $5,000 each. Since launch, the ICON's price has risen to $189,000, $50,000 above initial estimates.
"The airplane's gotten better, it has more features, and it costs us more," Hawkins told AirVenture Today in an exclusive interview. "There are probably some customers who'll say, 'You had me at $139,000, but you lost me somewhere between $139,000 and $189,000.' We understand that. We're not looking to hold anybody hostage."
Hawkins noted the company had never used depositors' money to fund operations.
The A5 is designed to appeal to power sports enthusiasts rather than the traditional aviation market, and Hawkins said one-third of depositors have no aviation experience.
To celebrate its production progress, ICON is reducing the deposit for a production position from $5,000 to $2,000 during AirVenture, whether placed at the show or online.