What is a Light Aircraft?

How light does a plane have to be for it to fall under the category of a “light aircraft”?

As long as the aircraft has a maximum gross takeoff weight (MTOW) of 12,500 pounds (5,670 kilograms) or less, then the plane falls under the category of light aircrafts.

Most airplanes today are made out of aluminum which is strong yet amazingly lightweight, although many parts may be made of other metals such as steel and titanium.

Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP Private JP6817606
The Cessna 172 is the most produced aircraft in history.

Examples of Light Aircrafts

What are some examples of light aircrafts? 

  • The Aviat Husky light utility aircraft
  • Beechcraft planes, particularly the Beechcraft Bonanza and the Beechcraft Baron, both not jet-propelled. Meanwhile, the Beechcraft B200 Super King Air is an example of a light aircraft that is close to the MTOW for this category
  • The entire range of propeller-driven aircraft from the Cessna 120 up through the Cessna 208.
  • All models of the Cirrus Aircraft
  • The Daher TBM 910/930
  • The de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter is another example of a heavier-tier light aircraft.
  • All models of Diamond 
  • The Epic E-1000
  • The GippsAero GA8 Airvan 
  • The civil aircraft line from the Grumman Aerospace Corporation
  • The Mahindra GA10 Airvan
  • All models of Mooney planes
  • The Piaggio P180 Avanti
  • The Pilatus PC-12
  • All models of Piper aircraft
  • The Quest Kodiak
  • The Robin DR400 wooden sport monoplane
  • The Tecnam P2010, P2006T
  • The Vulcanair P-68C and A-Viator

Common Light Aircraft Roles

Due to their size and weight, light aircraft are favorable in many ways. For those who personally own a small airplane, it’s a great way to fly across a state or two (versus having to fly commercial). The majority of personal aircraft are light aircraft.

Small commercial operations utilizing light aircraft also transport passengers and freight across relatively short distances. Other common roles include photography, aerial surveying, marketing purposes (such as banner towing and skywriting), flight instruction, sightseeing, and other light cargo operations.

Cessna 172s, Cirrus SR22s, and Robinson R44s are some of the most popular light aircraft in use today.

Light-Sport Aircraft and Ultralight Aircraft

E-LSA Antares USA Ranger weight-shift control trike
An E-LSA Antares USA Ranger weight-shift control trike, an example of a light-sport aircraft.

You might have also hear the term Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and Ultralight Aircraft being thrown around from time to time. A lot of these planes are also used for general aviation roles but are usually for recreational purposes.

LSA is a relatively new category of aircraft– small, lightweight (not more than 1320 pounds), and simple to fly. These cover many amateur-built aircraft, experimental prototypes, and other designs.

Ultralight aircraft are even smaller: about 115 pounds (around 70 kg) unpowered, with a bit of extra allowance for amphibious landing gear and ballistic parachute systems.

As these are just fairly new types of aircrafts, there is no standard worldwide description or set of rules in terms of certifications, specifications, and regulations. Just about every country have their own rules and laws governing LSAs and Ultralight Aircraft.

This means while the United States has its own set of governing rules and regulations for Light-Sport Aircraft and Ultralight Aircraft, these may vary greatly compared to those of, say, Canada’s or the European Union’s.