In defense of ICON and the FAA

Some people are upset that the FAA granted the ICON aircraft petition to increase the maximum takeoff weight of the A5 LSA amphib above the 1,420-pound certification limit. But the FAA has followed well-settled precedent in granting the exemption to ICON.

The FAA found that the spin-resistant flying qualities of the A5 deliver the equivalent safety level of the lighter maximum weight in the standard LSA rules. That is the very logical rules flexibility that most of us want to see from the FAA.

And this type of significant certification rule adjustment is nothing new. One of the biggest previous examples of such a rules change came back in the 1980s when the FAA created the commuter category of the FAR Part 23 light airplane rules.

Several turboprop regional airliners were limited in payload and usefulness by the maximum takeoff weight of 12,500 pounds for Part 23 airplanes. Clearly airplanes like the Beech 99 and Merlin Metro could carry more weight. But the 12,500 rule forced any heavier airplane into the much more restrictive FAR 25 transport category that includes huge jets such as the Boeing 747.

The FAA decided that if an airplane could demonstrate safe engine-out performance, has good redundancy of systems, and the pilot has a type rating, it could move into a new commuter category and fly at weights greater than 12,500 pounds.

The commuter category worked. Several turboprop regional airliners qualified, but more importantly, newly designed light business jets could also qualify. Several models of the Cessna CJ family, Embraer Phenom 300, and others are certified under those commuter rules.

So ICON is the first airplane to get relief from the LSA weight cap. And to companies that have struggled to keep their LSA under the weight limits that may seem unfair. But the reality is that somebody had to go first, and then others can point to that precedent and seek their own exemptions from the rules.

The FAA actually operates much like the courts in the United States. There are laws, of course, but those laws must be interpreted and that’s what courts do. And judges look back at previous decisions to find precedent for a case before them.

The FAA considered the significant safety value of an airplane that won’t spin even though full pro-spin controls are applied and held. It then looked back and found many precedents where imposing different safety standards achieved the objective of the rule in the book, but in a different way. Just as the added requirements of the commuter category more than made up for the slight risk of a heavier airplane.

ICON spent the time and lots of money to develop and demonstrate its spin-resistant A5 without any assurance the FAA would grant the necessary weight increase exemption to account for the larger and heavier wing needed. It was a gamble. And now it has paid off. Instead of gaining an unfair advantage over other LSA makers, ICON has actually paid the initial cost for any who want to follow.

For other LSA designers and builders the route forward is clear. You, Mr. FAA, let ICON do it, and if I meet the same standard, you must allow me to weigh more, too. That’s how progress is made.

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11 Responses to In defense of ICON and the FAA

  1. Haarsträubende Rechtfertigung für eine schlechtes Design!
    Outrageous justification for a bad design!

    • Jeff Boatright says:

      Well if you say so, then it must be so. Gee, if only you had shared your well-crafted thoughts with the FAA, they could have saved all the time and effort of researching the issue and simply denied ICON’s waiver request.

  2. P. Jackson says:

    As an aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer I believe the LSA category is unduly restricted with the limited 1320 gross weight. All LSA designs would benefit from a 200 to 400 lb increase in the gross weight limit. More fuel, better structure, better flying, better engines, more safety, better marketability. The FAA should up the weight limit for everyone. ICON has a lot of design features that normally equal increased weight, but the FAA is misguided in the belief they achieve an equivalent level of safety of the lighter LSA. ICON has a safer aircraft because the increased design flexibility with increased weight amounts to what is needed to achieve more optimum design compromises. The lighter LSA weight does not represent a level of safety to achieve, but a scrimping of structure, payload, power, features and potentially less optimum design compromise. I can easily design a 1620 lb gross weight light airplane for 2 that will outperform any LSA in strength, reliability, maintainability, and high-hot performance all day long. All for the sake of 300 lbs. LSA is many things, with some decent airplanes, but give me a break, it is a category that has the J-3 Cub and its clones at its sales pinnacle and that is as far as it goes. The FAA should up the LSA weight limit for everyone.

    • P.Palmer says:

      I agree. 1320 pounds was picked because it is a round number – 600 kilograms, not because it represents any “tipping point” for safety or ease of operation. Take the Cessna 150, one of the safest designs ever made, yet it won’t fit the definition of LSA.

  3. Michael Sheridan says:

    Mac,

    Speaking of FAA being a kind of “court” — what has happened to the “driver’s license” medical for planes 180 hp or less, two passengers, etc? A kind of filing with much hoopla and a lot of pilot comments appears to have fallen off the radar at EAA and AOPA.

    Any update on the status of this?

    Thanks

    • Mac says:

      Hi Michael,
      The FAA has taken no action on the EAA/AOPA petition to allow recreational flying using a driver’s license as medical qualification. The FAA does not have any time limit on responding to petitions, but it has been a year so we hope to hear something soon.
      I wish I could say that we are hearing rumors of a positive action, but we are not hearing anything. We keep asking.
      Mac Mc

  4. Peter says:

    There is nothing to be “interpreted” about a law that states LSA amphibians can only have a gross weight of 1430lbs. 1430lbs means 1430lbs. Try “interpreting” laws next time you get a speeding ticket.

    I personally think the LSA category is too restrictive too, but that doesn’t mean exemptions should be handed out to anyone on the vague basis of some “equivalent safety” nonsense. Has it more to do with the fact that ICON has many more well-heeled investors than some of the smaller companies struggling to make a decent aircraft within the restrictive and – from an engineering perspective – unrealistic weight limit?
    I wonder how far we’d get trying to get a Taylorcraft L2 into the LSA category, since it’s certified to a mere 5lbs over the limit.

    I can make my Aeronca spin resistant too, by putting in control stops that limit my input. Does that make it safer?

    • Greg Wilson says:

      Fully agree, for instance the Ercoupe of all models should be counted as sport pilot eligible not just the “C’,”CD”, all, from all manufacturers were certified by the CAA as “incapable of spinning”. Surly that should count just as much as Icon being “spin resistant”. Icon is well funded and the Golden Rule is of course,”those that have the gold make the rules”.

      • Michael Sheridan says:

        We all knew the rules. I would also bet that this program just got out of control, too heavy and don’t buy the “secret” breakthrough that FAA don’t bother to independently test.

        Face it, Icon gamed the system and is getting rewarded for it.

  5. Pingback: LSAs Putting on Weight | High Altitude Flying Club

  6. John Laramie says:

    I disagree with Mac’s whitewash of what appears to be, as another poster said, gaming the system.
    The word on the LSA “street” has for some time been that ICON, way over dressed with no place to go to get its Hollywood-style, highly promoted play toy shoehorned into the weight range, simply pulled the old James T. Kirk Kobayashi Maru maneuver: if you can’t beat the computer simulation, reprogram the computer so you can.
    While I do agree with others here that the category would benefit in general from a higher weight limit, we’ve seen this kind of push-to-shove stuff before, with ultralights in particular. Eventually, they too outgrew the original 150 lb. weight limit, it was raised to 254, and pressure was always on FAA to keep raising it for two passengers (for training of course) and it never ends. We get what we want, then we want more.
    Icon’s particular and rather laughable manipulation of FAA to make us think they really needed another 250 lbs. to make an inadequately designed LSA suddenly stall proof (not an original design goal as stated, by the way) is enough to make one cynical…except we’ve seen this coming for awhile now.
    Does anyone really think it takes years to develop a “spin safe” wing? Or that you need 1600 lbs. to make a good flying LSA amphib? Bah! SeaMax, SeaRey and others have been making high-performance, fun-handling amphibs for years.
    Icon will, I’d bet, bring nothing much new to the amphib game, except, perhaps, Cessna Skycatcher-like underperformance.
    Meanwhile, we’ll see if glitz, the old shell game and behind-the-door influence can actual earn true market appeal, based on quality and performance.
    Mac says: “The FAA considered the significant safety value of an airplane that won’t spin even though full pro-spin controls are applied and held. ”
    Seems we heard similar claims in the past about other aircraft. Wasn’t the canard Vari-Eze series supposed to render stalls extremely unlikely? Ask the late, great John Denver how that worked out.
    Can you really aver that it’s “significantly safe” to promote an airplane that someone can drive around with full pro-spin controls applied? When did it become cool to take all the flying skill out of piloting, to accomplish, it would seem, a mission of making an Everyplane that people hop into from their jet skis, leap off the water and manage to find creative new ways to kill themselves…and other people on the ground.
    Recreational-level flight for the masses is so far still a joke. Piloting an airplane takes skill, judgement and attentive situational awareness. Stall-proof airplanes won’t change that or enhance safety, in fact we could make a case that they’ll detract from good piloting and thus overall safety.
    But then, this was never really about stall proofing, was it? That’s clear.
    One point of Mac’s I do sign on to is that other manufacturers will now apply to FAA to increase their weight ceiling. And how will FAA deny them without incurring cries of “foul?”. Wonder what the basis of all those petitions will be? Overbanking-proof ailerons? Stall-preventing elevators? Engine overheat preventer time-space warp module thingies? It is kind of comical, and does indeed show the negative influence of big names and big money on fair competition.
    Yet at the same time, we all know better than to predict what FAA will do. They may just stonewall everybody else…unless they have some big names on their advisory boards.

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