In a recent legal opinion, the FAA determined that the lease of an experimental light sport aircraft (ELSA) to a non-profit flying club violated the operating limitations of ELSAs set forth in FAR 91.319. Under the factual scenario presented to the agency, the owner of a light sport aircraft bearing a special airworthiness certificate proposed to lease the aircraft to a non-profit flying club. The club would then retrofit the aircraft with a Ballistic Recovery Systems parachute and have the aircraft re-certified as an ELSA.
Pursuant to FAR 91.319(f), no person may lease an aircraft that is issued an experimental certificate, except for compensation or hire to tow a glider that is a light-sport aircraft or unpowered ultralight vehicle. Although the lease of an ELSA to a flying club would not be considered a commercial operation, FAR 91.319(f) imposes strict limitations on the lease of ELSAs which prohibit the proposed lease of an ELSA to a flying club unless it were used to conduct the specified towing operations. Moreover, the FAA reiterated its position that generally, light sport aircraft should not be used for lease or rental. Due to the many laws and regulations that affect flying clubs and lease agreements, the acquisition and ownership of aircraft, including light sport aircraft, should be guided by experienced legal counsel.