America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) created the Light Sport Aircraft category in 2004 in an effort to make private air travel more accessible, and in so doing gave a legislative green light to developers who wished to design and build easy-to-fly and (relatively) affordable two-person airplanes.
Founded in response to the ruling, the California-based manufacturer ICON Aircraft has now launched its first plane, the A5. An amphibious sport aircraft that can take off and touch down on both land and water, the vehicle is cleared to fly at lower altitudes and in less congested airspace than conventional aircraft so should offer its privileged passengers peerless panoramas of the landscapes beneath.
Though the company is unlikely to achieve its mission of bringing “the freedom, fun and adventure of flying to all”, at a cost of $189,000 (£124,000) per unit the A5 is far more accessibly priced than other private jets and planes which typically cost tens of millions of pounds. And for those who can afford the aircraft, a sense of freedom and fun seems near certain.
With a take-off weight of up to 686kg (1510lbs) the A5 can be easily transported from one location to another by trailer – its wings fold up easily so it remains compact when on the road – and it requires a take-off distance of just 710 feet on land or 920 feet on water so can be used with a reasonable degree of spontaneity.
As the plane is aimed at novice pilots it is simple to use too. Its developers describe the A5 as akin to a “well-mannered sports car with wings” and in the US owners will need a Sport Pilot Licence (SPL) to operate the aircraft. The licence restricts flying for sports pilots to day time, good weather and uncongested air space, meaning it isn’t necessary to be aware of or proficient in the more demanding aspects of flying, such as flying at night or flying in inclement weather.
Since the first customer took ownership of his A5 in July, feedback has been good. Jack Pelton, former CEO of Cessna Aircraft, described it as “incredibly easy to fly, safe, forgiving, and ridiculously fun.” To date more than 1,500 additional customers (from Google chairman Eric Schmidt to NASCAR driver Carl Edwards) have paid $5,000 deposits towards A5s of their own. That’s such a significant response to the launch that, at current rates of production, new customers who order an A5 today may not receive their own aircraft until 2019. However, steps are being made to speed up the development process and ICON expects to announce new efficiency-improving initiatives soon.
The launch of the A5 coincides with the release of proposals to launch new supersonic aircraft (among them is the proposed Skreemr plane, which would fly between New York and London in 30 minutes) and comes at the same time as plans are being made to recommence Concorde flights by 2019. Whatever product delays ICON Aircraft might face the expectation is that many more people will be able to boast of flying privately in the near future, and it seems that a number of other aviation innovations are set to be revealed in the years to come.