Engineering has evolved tremendously over the past 100 years, and standards for metal, construction, and machinery have stood the tests of time. One of the organizations that has standardized much of this engineering is ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International, a standards association that tests and publishes standards for just about anything you can think of. It helps standardize materials so that you can buy something by the ASTM standard rather than a brand name and you get a consistent product with reliable results.
Light-sport aircraft (LSA) manufacturers have agreed to design and build their planes using a new set of LSA-specific standards published by ASTM International. These are called consensus airworthiness standards, meaning that everyone agrees to use specific grades and types of materials as well as construction standards when building their aircraft. The manufacturers then give owners standards for how to maintain these craft to keep them airworthy.
If you’d like to see it, ASTM standard WK627, “Specifications for Airworthiness of Light-Sport Aircraft” is available at www.astm.org. It’s an engineer’s bedtime story!
As you can imagine, the cost of manufacturing airplanes to these new consensus standards is much lower than for FAA certification. That’s one of the great benefits of the new SP/LSA rulings: Aircraft are about half as expensive to make. And, as more planes are made, costs will come down even further. You might soon see assembly lines of airplanes just like you see of cars. But are they safe? Yes! They still are much safer than the pilots who fly them! Even awkward-looking aircraft become efficient flying machines when airborne and in their own element. There still are rules and regulations for maintaining light-sport aircraft. The rules just aren’t as stringent as for an aircraft that takes 500 people to 35,000 ft. MSL (mean sea level). They are safe enough!