Tales from the DAR Side
E-LSA or Amateur-Built - Part Deux
Last month’s column generated a lot of good conversation, and some good questions, so this month I will attempt to clarify a few things and also pass along an update. I’ll start with the update. One of the first calls I got when last month’s issue of Experimenter went out was from Ken Scott of Van’s Aircraft. He called to let me know that my information was already out of date! He was referring specifically to my comment regarding certification of the RV-12 as amateur-built.
You may recall my statement that Van’s Aircraft had not had the RV-12 evaluated for inclusion on the FAA’s list of amateur-built kits. Ken informed me that Van’s had just completed that process and had received the letter from the FAA stating that the RV-12 kit does indeed qualify for amateur-built certification and that it would be added to the list in the near future. This means that the path to amateur-built certification of the RV-12 is much simpler than before, assuming that no commercial assistance was used during the construction of the project. This brings me to my first point of clarification…
There is still a tendency within our community to try to intermix amateur-built certification with experimental light-sport aircraft (E-LSA) certification. The FAA has caused some of this confusion by using the term “light-sport aircraft” in many different ways. But industry has propagated the confusion by advertising aircraft as being a “light-sport kit” because the design fits the definition of a light-sport aircraft but will in fact be certificated as amateur-built. This situation is entirely different than a kit like the RV-12, which is a bona fide E-LSA kit (based on an S-LSA prototype) that is intended to be certificated in the E-LSA category.
The confusion on this issue was highlighted by a several responses I received relating to building E-LSA kits for hire. The folks who wrote in on this issue were under the impression that hiring someone to build an E-LSA kit for you was not allowed and they took issue with my comments to the contrary. The fact is, there is no restriction on who builds an E-LSA kit. You can (and many do) hire someone to build your E-LSA kit for you. There is no “51 percent rule” and no requirement for amateur builders to do any of the work on an E-LSA kit. This category is completely separate from amateur-built, and none of the certification requirements for amateur-built aircraft apply to the E-LSA category. There is nothing in the regulations that would stop a person from hiring some person or shop and paying them to build an E-LSA.
An amateur-built aircraft that happens to meet the LSA definition is a completely different animal. This aircraft is not an “E-LSA kit” in the eyes of the FAA, and the fact that the aircraft happens to meet the LSA definition has no bearing on the certification process. Such an aircraft would have to meet the requirements for amateur-built certification (i.e., the “51 percent rule”) and the aircraft would not have the words “light-sport aircraft” appear anywhere on the paperwork or airworthiness certificate. Do not try to mix and mingle the certification process of an amateur-built aircraft with an E-LSA kit. They are two completely different things.
The confusion between amateur-built and E-LSA was also extended to what modifications could be done. In my article I stated that the person who certificates an RV-12 as an E-LSA could later modify the aircraft but could not install any equipment that would move the aircraft outside the LSA definition. Some readers were confused by this, as they thought an experimental aircraft could be modified to any extent due to its experimental nature. The issue with an E-LSA is that it is actually certificated as a “light-sport aircraft” and says so on its airworthiness certificate. This certification category requires that the aircraft meet the LSA definition. So even though it is an experimental aircraft, it must always remain within the LSA definition. Such a restriction would not exist for an RV-12 that is certificated as amateur-built, but modifying the aircraft outside the LSA definition would make it forever ineligible for operation by sport pilots.
One last area of confusion stems from the difference between the limitations placed on a light-sport aircraft as compared to the privileges and limitations of a sport pilot. Many people are under the impression that a light-sport aircraft is not allowed to fly at night, but this is not the case. The operating limitations issued to light-sport aircraft, both E-LSA and S-LSA, by the FAA do allow the aircraft to be flown at night if properly equipped in accordance with 14 CFR 91.205. A private pilot (or higher) with a valid medical certificate would be allowed to fly a light-sport aircraft at night provided that the aircraft is properly equipped. It’s the limitations on a person operating at the sport pilot level that prohibit flight at night, not the limitations on the aircraft.
Hopefully this has helped clear up any lingering questions about certification of homebuilt aircraft that meet the LSA definition. The beauty of the experimental aircraft community is that there is something for almost everyone. The downside is , with so many choices and options, it’s easy to become confused, and there is a fair amount of misinformation floating around that gets too-often repeated as “fact.” Do your homework and don’t be afraid to ask questions. EAA is always here to help, so don’t hesitate to contact us!