Violating Altitude Regulations
I have more than 52 years as an active sport parachutist and USPA member. I am concerned about the flagrant violation of Federal Aviation Regulation 91.211—Supplemental Oxygen as it applies to exit altitudes. One USPA-affiliated DZ routinely climbs to altitudes above 14,000 feet MSL without supplemental oxygen before dropping jumpers. I was on an end-of-day load several months ago that climbed to almost 18,000 feet MSL before jumpers exited.
I’ve participated in many big-way world record jumps through the years. In every case, jumpers and crew members received supplemental oxygen during those record attempts. It seems today’s younger skydivers think it’s cool when the jump pilot gives them extra altitude on jump run. Many are unaware it’s unlawful in most cases for the pilot to exercise that option without supplemental oxygen.
I spent time as an Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller. I know the FAA monitors most jump planes as they climb to altitude. In this day and age, ATC tracks aircraft equipped with an altitude encoder and altimeter. With Mode C, ATC will actually see the flight-level altitude on the radar screen if the transponder is operating in the Mode C or ALT (altitude) mode. This flight data is stored by ATC in case there is an incident or accident related to the flight. ATC knows when jump planes climb to altitudes greater than 14,000 feet MSL. Controllers can only assume jump pilots are complying with Part 91.211 during those high-altitude excursions.
From a safety standpoint, we've learned through the years that repeated exposure to high altitudes without supplemental oxygen is dangerous and harmful to humans. The effect of hypoxia is often insidious and cumulative (i.e., the pilot, crew and passengers may be unaware of the harmful effects).
When I approached the owner and managers of this particular skydiving operation about exits above 14,000 feet MSL, they remarked that “it’s good business” and “the skydivers love it.” DZOs should be aware that the FAA can suspend or revoke a jump pilot’s flight certificate for violating FAR 91.211. That could be very bad for business.
I am concerned that our beloved sport may someday be jeopardized by one or more court actions that confirm drop zones were negligent in providing safe and legal flight environment for jumpers climbing to altitude. Perhaps the best way to address this very real problem is by making FAR 91.211 a part of annual USPA Safety Day presentations across the country? Another consideration would be to include the FAR 91.211 altitude warning on placards inside jump aircraft along with seatbelt warnings.
Russ Manhold | D-2216
Editor’s note: All drop zones must follow Federal Aviation Regulation 91.211, which states the following:
(a) General. No person may operate a civil aircraft of U.S. registry—
(1) At cabin pressure altitudes above 12,500 feet (MSL) up to and including 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen for that part of the flight at those altitudes that is of more than 30 minutes duration;
(2) At cabin pressure altitudes above 14,000 feet (MSL) unless the required minimum flight crew is provided with and uses supplemental oxygen during the entire flight time at those altitudes; and
(3) At cabin pressure altitudes above 15,000 feet (MSL) unless each occupant of the aircraft is provided with supplemental oxygen.”