First, it’s important to understand the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules on automatic activation devices. USPA requires them for students, and more and more drop zones require them for most or all jumpers, but there is no FAA regulation requiring jumpers to have an AAD.
However, the FAA section on Parachute Operations in the Code of Federal Regulations 105.43.c says, “If installed, the [AAD] must be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer instructions for that [AAD].” That’s the law. In the beginning of that section, the FAA makes compliance the joint responsibility of the jumper and the pilot and possibly even others involved in the “parachute operation,” as specified in the FAA’s definition of Parachute Operation at the opening of CFR 105. Responsibility for the rules extends to at least the drop zone owner, instructional staﬀ and riggers.
In its formal Advisory Circular 1052-2E, the FAA states that “A parachute user must ensure that an AAD is maintained in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and service requirements.” It goes on to imply that the rigger may pack a reserve with an AAD that has not expired but will have expired prior to the next repack date: “When a rigger packs a reserve parachute, the rigger is only certifying that it meets all safety requirements on the day it is packed.” The rigger is to note expiration dates on the data card attached to the reserve parachute, according to the AC.
So, if an AAD comes due for service in April on a rig that was repacked in February, the owner must stop jumping that rig in April or have the rigger remove the AAD. Note that the AC specifies that only the rigger who packed the reserve may remove the AAD and reclose the rig. Otherwise, if it’s a diﬀerent rigger, that rigger must repack the entire reserve.
Keeping track of the manufacturer’s requirements for every year and model of AAD has become a really daunting task for riggers. They really need the help of the owner. Here are some examples of why it’s so hard to keep track. Some AADs …
- have required service every four years
- have required service every five years
- have no required service requirements but “strongly recommend” (their words) service every five years
- require an annual check in a pressure chamber or in an ascending aircraft
- need the battery changed every 10 years
- need an annual battery change
- are subject to one, two or three service bulletins (identified by serial numbers and firmware versions) and have to be returned for service
- expire after 12.5, 15.5 or 20 years
- require batteries that are no longer available
The AAD owner can find their AAD’s service requirements in the owner’s manual (online, in hard copy or both).
It happens too often that, when presenting their rig for its next reserve repack, a skydiver discovers that they’ve jumped it illegally. The AAD manufacturers keep what goes on with updates and services close to their chests, but safe to say they don’t benefit from recalling their products or making them harder to own with a lot of limitations and restrictions. So, this tells you that AAD maintenance is important.
AADs malfunction in two ways: not working when they’re supposed to and working when they’re not supposed to. Keeping your AAD up to date will increase the chances that it both will save your life when needed and not pose a threat to your friends who ride up in the plane and jump out with you.
Kevin Gibson | D-6943 and FAA Designated Parachute Rigger Examiner
Rahlmo’s Rigging at Skydive Orange in Virginia