“Forget all that stuff about thrust and drag, lift and gravity, an airplane flies because of money.”

Flying is expensive. There are many ways to justify the cost or to calculate it in a way that makes it look cheaper. But the truth remains: flying is expensive!

Airlines operate under enormous financial pressure. That is why utilization of capacities is key for them. Over its life span, a long haul airliner typically spends more time flying than on the ground – including all of the maintenance time.

In the world of “General Aviation”, aircraft spend days or even weeks at a time on the ground. Privately owned aircraft often have a very small number of flight hours to calculate against the cost of maintenance or acquisition.

In flight schools or with commercial operators, the work load is often better. But then the operators profit margin enters the equation.

Liquid gold

No matter what type of aircraft – fuel is the biggest single cost factor. The piston engines of many GA aircraft are large and old fashioned. In the struggle between efficiency and reliability, the latter always wins. That is why engine manufacturers are very reluctant to adopt new technologies to make the engines more efficient. But in the times of 2,70 Euro per liter of Avgas (more than 12 US dollars per gallon!), it is difficult to accept that unburned liquid gold is used to regulate the internal cooling of the engine.

Flying is a great experience. But as long as it is so expensive, few private individuals fly. And as long as the number of pilots is small, the prices are high – it’s the classic catch 22.

Light Sports

The development of light sports aircraft is a big movement towards more affordability. The idea of deregulation of certain light aircraft in combination with limitations in performance and/or capabilities, exists in several countries. One of the earliest examples is the US model. Light sports aircraft can not exceed a maximum take off weight of 600 kilogram, they can not be complex (no retractable gear and no constant speed prop) and they can not fly faster than 120 knots.

In return, the license is easier and faster to get and there is no medical certificate required. A lot of maintenance can be done outside of a certified shop.

This simplification has lead to a very active community of sports pilots in the US. Some of them new pilots, enjoying the easier entry into flying, some of them private pilots, transitioning for the easier class.

Light Europe

The Joined Aviation Authorities (JAA) of 34 European states has been working on their own light sports regulations. Although inspired by the American model, the existing drafts have some very important differences. As the ELA-regulations (European Light Sports) are subsequently taking effect, the development over the next number of years is going to very interesting!

To be continued…


(originally posted on August 14, 2013 by tilbo at

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