Today, Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger—known by most simply as “RandyO”—is retiring from USPA after 15 years of service. During his time with the association, skydiving saw a huge period of growth, and he helped advance the interests of the sport during this busy period in meaningful and measurable ways.
Ottinger first worked with USPA as a contractor, hired by then-Executive Director Bill Ottley. Over the years, he performed contract work for various USPA Executive Directors and eventually became an employee in 2006. In 2007, when USPA hired Ed Scott as executive director after 11 years of serving as director of government relations, Scott tapped Ottinger for the position. He quickly grew into the job, then reshaped it, becoming the most influential individual who ever served as USPA Director of Government Relations. His drive, insight and guidance ensured that USPA prevailed in all the great challenges.
He achieved much of what he did by developing relationships with hundreds of Federal Aviation Administration and other government officials who knew they would get a straight answer and deep insight about any skydiving-related issue from him. But he is always quick to attribute his success to those within the sport with whom he collaborated on complex topics and long-running issues, including people like Rick Durden, Rich Grimm, Luther Kurtz, Chris Schindler and many others.
Ottinger would probably place former USPA Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch at the top of the list of collaborators. They were skydiving friends long before coming to USPA and formed a strong and productive partnership during their years together at the association. Crouch remarked, “Over the years, I always admired his ability to manage complex situations involving officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and various local authorities. He also displayed a true talent for patiently dealing with some really challenging personalities, both inside and outside the skydiving industry.”
Randy Ottinger became the go-to guy whenever a skydiver encountered any difficulty in establishing a drop zone. On average, about a dozen DZs a year opened in the face of an initial airport denial. Quite often, all it took was a calm, informative phone call from Ottinger to the airport manager to restart negotiations and reach a successful conclusion. Ottinger was also often an established DZ owner’s first call when a local, state or federal government official threatened their business. And when a DZO needed to go the formal route of filing an FAA Part 16 formal complaint in response to an airport’s denial, Ottinger’s good counsel ensured a win for skydiving almost every time, scoring an impressive track record. Grimm remarked, “Like many USPA members trying to start a drop zone and in desperate need of advice, I met RandyO over the phone. I was trying to get skydiving started at the Oceanside, California, airport and was getting serious pushback from the city. Randy’s advice and patience over two years led to skydiving prevailing over the city’s red-tape machine.”
All skydivers, not just DZOs, benefited from Ottinger’s work with government agencies on many challenges aimed at the sport. Some snapshots: He worked to ensure the Transportation Security Administration’s comfort with sport rigs and their automatic activation devices as either carry-on or checked items on the airlines, minimizing hassles at airport security checkpoints. He gained a powerful letter from the U.S Department of Transportation that highlighted a little-known law that prevents state and local governments from imposing transaction taxes on skydiving businesses, saving DZs and skydivers millions of dollars. He helped the FAA design and implement a safety-audit program that required reluctant airports to accept DZs by showing that hazards could be mitigated. When the FAA threatened to require federally-designated parachute landing areas on airports, Ottinger worked hard to defeat the idea. USPA Mideastern Regional Director Randy Allison said, “On matters of regulatory advocacy, Randy was masterful at utilizing his contacts and lobbying ability to discuss unintended consequences with regulators and those in a position to influence the outcome of proposed regulation. For this alone, the skydiving industry as a whole owes Randy a huge debt of gratitude.”
Over the years there were many, many more challenges that had the potential to curtail the relative freedom skydiving enjoys today. And all were overcome by the dedication and unrelenting work of Randy Ottinger. We all owe him a huge thanks on behalf of the sport we love.
Ed Scott | D-13532