As I begin to bow out as USPA Executive Director, I want to share some skydiving truths that I have come to know. Some I’ve learned from others, some I had to learn myself, and many came to light in the course of working out problems and issues over 24 years at USPA.
Gear checks save lives. Almost every year there is at least one fatal accident that a simple gear check could have prevented. Before boarding, get a gear check and give a gear check. The life saved may be yours or your friend’s.
Incident reports enhance the safety of our sport. Experience is the hardest teacher, giving the test first and then the lesson. It’s best to let others who have already taken the test give you the lesson. Incident reports do just that.
Skydivers deserve professional jump pilots. Professional pilots always check the fuel and the weather and give a smooth, safe ride to altitude. Unprofessional pilots try to entertain themselves and their passengers by making high-angle takeoffs and steeply banked turns, flying into clouds and performing buzz jobs. Such flying sometimes ends not just badly but tragically.
Aboard an aircraft, skydivers are passengers, not occupants and certainly not cargo. Uninformed people assert that the Federal Aviation Administration considers skydivers to be something other than passengers. Not true. The FAA exempts skydivers from some specific passenger requirements. For instance, skydivers are allowed to use the floor of an aircraft as a seat. And jump planes are allowed to fly in formation with skydivers. But skydivers are definitely passengers.
Skydivers can be their own worst enemies, especially at public airports. Ignoring airport regulations. Swooping hangars, airplanes and spectators. Breaking stuff. All of this has led to complaints and ill will and has even forced the closure of some fine DZs.
DZOs ignore airport and neighbor relations at their own peril. Contentious public hearings, new restrictions and threatened evictions often begin with small issues that a little early attention and calm discussion could prevent.
New jump pilots need more than a cursory jump plane checkout. Flying a jump plane isn’t much different from flying a regular airplane, but there are many more variables, and each can go wrong in an instant. Jump pilot training—initial and recurrent—needs to include a review of and practice for those variables.
Jump planes are the workhorses of the general aviation fleet and need frequent inspections and diligent maintenance, as already required by the FAA. Aircraft owners must comply with FAA inspection intervals and maintenance requirements to ensure the safety of everyone.
It is better to be down here wishing you were up there, than up there wishing you were down here. Time and again, jumpers board and take off, ignoring signs that the winds or weather are worsening. Take note when the greybeards scratch from the load and start packing their gear bags; it means that you probably should, too.
With scattered and broken conditions, inadvertent jumps through clouds happen. But there is nothing inadvertent about jumping through a solid overcast cloud layer. It is unsafe and a betrayal of the “see and be seen” requirement expected of all jumpers and pilots who operate under visual flight rules.
Skydivers benefit hugely from USPA’s Group Member program. The FAA is mainly concerned with aircraft safety. If USPA didn’t represent DZs, we’d have little interaction with the FAA and little influence over their decisions about aircraft and operations.
USPA’s highest responsibility is to the non-members—the public—who make their first jumps and whose safety is so dependent on the professionalism of their instructors and the quality of their instruction. That’s why we take instructor proficiency so seriously.