Ask the DAR

ELSA commercial use, and transponders.

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Question: In the February 2012 “Ask the DAR,” the person posing the question indicated that his aircraft was an ELSA. Included in his comment was that he towed an ultralight glider for compensation, which he claimed was allowed by his operating limitations. On page 22 of the “Understanding ELSAs” article in March 2012, the author states, “A major difference between the SLSA and the ELSA versions is that the former may be rented and serve as a platform for paid flight instruction.” Page 23 of the same article asks, “Why might an owner give up the extra value of commercial use represented in an SLSA for an ELSA certificate?”

The gentleman’s statement in the February article and the author’s statements in the March article appear to conflict. I note that you didn’t address the commercial use of the ELSA in your answer to the question, not that you needed to address the issue to answer the question. But in light of that, I’m now asking: Is there really some provision that allows an ELSA to be used commercially?

Answer: You have indeed found one anomaly in the ELSA versus SLSA world. This is the one phase where an Experimental Light Sport Aircraft (ELSA) may be used for compensation or hire.

Paragraph (13) of operating limitations for “Operating Experimental Light Sport Aircraft” states: (13) No person may operate this aircraft for compensation or hire, except this aircraft may be used for compensation or hire to conduct towing of a light-sport glider or an unpowered ultralight vehicle in accordance with 14 CFR 91.309.

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Note: Limitation (13) applies to towing and has no expiration date. The gliders that can be towed must meet the definition in 14 CFR 1.1 or 14 CFR 103.1. When limitation (13) applies, limitation (23) also applies.

Limitation (23) simply states that if towing for compensation or hire, the aircraft must have had a condition inspection within the preceding 100 hours of time in service by a certificated Light-Sport repairman with a maintenance rating, an appropriately rated certificated mechanic, an appropriately rated repair station with inspection procedures developed by the aircraft manufacturer, in accordance with the scope and detail of 14 CFR Part 43, appendix D, or a person acceptable to the FAA. These operating limitations can be found in FAA Order 8130.2G, Section 4084. I hope this clears up the confusion.

Question: Can an Experimental/Amateur-Built LSA-compliant aircraft, with a minimal electrical system (battery, starter, alternator and fuel pump) be certificated without a transponder?

Answer: 14 CFR 91.215 states that any aircraft operating in most U.S. airspace must have an operating transponder on board. One exception is an aircraft originally certificated without an electrical system (battery and engine-drive generator) and that has not been modified to include one. If your aircraft has an electrical system, it most likely must have a transponder.

However, this is an operational issue, and the inspector can certificate the aircraft without a transponder, but it is the pilot’s responsibility to affirm that he is operating in compliance with Part 91.

Please send your questions for DAR Asberry to editorial@kitplanes.com with “Ask the DAR” in the subject line.


Mel Asberry is an experienced Designated Airworthiness Representative specializing in Experimental/Amateur-Built aircraft. He and his wife, Ann, have built seven amateur-built airplanes including two ultralight types, a Moni Motorglider, a Dragonfly Mk2, two RV-6s and a Zenair CH 601HDS. They are currently building a scratch-built biplane.

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