Howard, I think you are not only our 'test case' but you've migrated up the learning curve to arrive at the current state of the LSA industry. But the industry itself has been on a path of its own which your recent entry probably doesn't encompass.
1. There clearly has been a bootstrapping problem from Day 1. The initial LSA industry was immature. Initial competition in the marketplace was high and then it grew fearsome, so collaboration for the benefit of all was sacrificed in favor of a zero sum game. And there was little marketing money available to most mfgrs. and importers to create the message needed.
2. "The vast majority of the audience at Sebring was made up of older white guys. Very few women and very few minorities..."
Welcome to Recreational Aviation 2014. Nothing is more concerning than attending one of the huge fly-ins or shows and looking at the crowd. One of my best experiences these days has been spending time with & encouraging two young African American guys who are pursuing flying careers with much enthusiasm and great success...but they are the exception. But this isn't an LSA thing; it serves as a brake on that slice of the GA industry like it does everywhere else. Thankfully, this isn't what I see when I spend time in USN training commands thanks to my son; at least the military has figured out how to be more inclusive.
3. "There were many things that could have been there…aircraft financing, insurance, the costs of owning/operating etc. Maybe they were but I didn't see them. Nothing from any place that operates a flight school which rents LSAs as opposed to owning."
If you had been at Expo five years ago, you would have found all that. Back then, there was far more of a 'build it and they will come' mindset. SP training programs were springing up, training fleets were being built, and there were even Mom & Pop SP training programs promoting themselves. But there were already intervening issues not unlike the dinosaur's tail dying that hadn't yet registered in the beast's brain. The economy was a big impediment to the LSA industry's development accelerating, the SP issuances were quite low after an initial spurt (and still are), and the marketplace was increasingly competitive and so fragmented.
4. No workshops on ownership, buying, insuring, hangars etc."
Again, the industry started out in a very immature form and never really grew beyond that as a whole. LAMA couldn't get off the ground, IMO the alphabet orgs were pretty passive in their support (GAMA, EAA, AOPA) except where there was a fit with their core mission, and so the kinds of developmental programs you mention lacked broad sponsorship.
5. "To me the big disconnect is that Light Sport isn't fulfilling it's own 'mission'….no young people can find many schools or LSAs to rent and learn to fly in."
As you've probably noticed during your tenure here, that side of the bootstrapping issue has plagued the SP training and LSA sales activities since Day 1. It's a chicken/egg dilemma that affects potentially interested PPL pilots and potential students of all ages. There are pockets of activity which feed its own success but they typically exist only in some high population density areas.
There are exceptions to what you've seen and which I've stated above. At last year's Sun 'n Fun, I tried for 4 consecutive days to talk with one LSA importer/distributor (Aerotrek) about an RAF-related issue and couldn't get near him. I found some of his buyers were exactly the kinds of folks you would liked to have seen more of at Expo. What was he selling? A simple tho' well equipped, $87K fun to fly LSA that came in two configurations and with two basic engine options. It didn't even offer 1320# MTOW altho' it was competitive re: payload. A buyer could choose conventional or nose dragger, slower or (somewhat) faster power, and even buy the guy's fully-enclosed trailer and tow it around the country for <$100K. An example of a very different type was over at the Just Aircraft tent. The 51% rule for E-AB a/c appears to have essentially disappeared (in practice if not legally) and E-AB Just Highlanders are being built everywhere by seemingly everyone except their kit buyers. Relatively low-cost and so affordable, customizable (or not) and with lots of traffic at their booth and major Just fly-in events at backcountry airstrips. These are the Mom & Pop biz ventures that counterbalance the Tom Pigneney (sp?) and Carbon Cub success stories at the high end of the LSA marketplace. So savvy and responsive LSA entrepreneurs do exist as do satisfied LSA customers...but as I see it we're talking about niche markets that simply can't elevate an entire industry.
Thanks for sharing your ongoing search and impressions with us here. I think it's been instructive for all of us, and of course your thoroughness and tenacity are good role models.
Flying in/out KBZN, Bozeman MT in a Grumman Tiger
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