Ask a Rigger—What kinds of maintenance and repair can owners do on their own gear?
Ask A Rigger
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
The short answer is, “Not much.” Skydiving has seen a big change from the early days, when jumpers would hold almost weekly maintenance and repair sessions around a 40-foot-long DZ packing table (usually including a lot of jump stories and “rigging lubricant”). In their defense, the gear they had then needed a lot of routine, uncomplicated work: hand tacking, sticky tape, replacing slide-in-and-out spring bands—basic work with basic skills and tools. The guy with the sewing machine and the rigger ticket had his hands full with the rest.
An often-heard complaint from longtime jumpers is that newer ones know very little about their gear. But just like drivers no longer gap their points and plugs on cars that can go 100,000 miles before their first scheduled tune-ups, skydivers organically migrated away from owner maintenance on their gear. Skydiving equipment is mostly unitized now, and the factory-matched and standardized components are each designed around avoiding known problems associated with their use and abuse by skydivers. Your rig still needs maintaining, but it’s primarily rigger maintenance. Even the 3-ring system service interval has been extended from monthly to every six months for some brands. Maybe by coincidence and maybe not, that corresponds with the Federal Aviation Administration-required 180-day reserve repack cycle. Anyway, evidence suggests that most jumpers ignored that service all along.
On the legal side in the USA, the Code of Federal Regulations or CFRs (still called Federal Aviation Regulations or FARs), allow only an FAA rigger to maintain or repair the Technical Standard Order (TSO)-approved components of harness, container and reserve—or someone under the supervision of a master rigger. The reserve may be packed only by an appropriately rated FAA rigger.
So how about the main or non-TSO-approved parts? Stated in CFR 65.111:
“(c) No person may maintain or alter any main parachute of a dual-parachute system to be used for intentional parachute jumping in connection with civil aircraft of the United States unless that person—
1. Has an appropriate current certificate issued under this subpart; or
2. Is under the supervision of a current certificated parachute rigger;”
A lot of jumpers aren’t aware that the FAA limits who may work on mains in addition to the TSO-approved parts of the system. In fact, a passage in the FAA’s Advisory Circular 105-2E “Sport Parachuting” spells out the only operation a parachute owner may perform without a rigger. From Chapter 13 of the AC:
“f. Parachutist’s Handling of Equipment. The user of a parachute system may perform simple assembly and disassembly operations necessary for transportation, handling or storage between periods of use if the parachute’s design simplifies such assembly and disassembly without the use of complex operations.”
So, if you were to interpret the regs very strictly, the FAA would require a rigger to change a main closing loop. Of course, that’s not realistic and might even be dangerous—for example, a closing loop that’s getting close to worn out and a rigger can’t be found. (“I think it will hold for one more jump.”) And USPA does require that jumpers learn to change a closing loop and connect and disconnect a main canopy, including cleaning and lubricating the cutaway cables, on their way to the A license.
On the other hand, some jumpers like to tinker. So how far should a rig owner go? Realistically, just about anything is a legal risk for the jumper, as well as the pilot and others involved in the parachute operation (as defined at the beginning of CFR 105 “Parachute Operations”). And through history, well-meaning do-it-your-selfers have gotten themselves scared, hurt or killed by things as seemingly minor as removing couple of pieces of padding or unstitching Velcro held on by the same thread used to assemble the harness; sewing something to the outside of a container and capturing something inside; rigging a camera wing so the main pilot chute came out through the gap; installing non-standard stow bands that locked the bag closed; assembling a pilot chute so it could only collapse; using flags, banners or smoke that tangled with anything and everything, and the list goes on.
Fortunately, the FAA allows in a little light with the clause in the CFRs, “under the supervision of a … rigger.” While “supervision” could be liberally applied, it certainly makes sense—given the harsh consequences of a mistake—to consult a rigger before proceeding with any work and to have the rigger look it over when you complete it.
(Examples in photo gallery below.)
Kevin Gibson | D-6943 and FAA Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner
Rahlmo’s Rigging at Skydive Orange in Virginia