Has this happened to you?
You’re hot loading a full turbine aircraft, and you’re one of the last on. You scrunch onto that last seat on the straddle bench and scramble to find your seatbelt just as the door shuts, only to discover that someone at the front of the plane skipped a belt. What do you do?
a) Nothing. What are the chances of a plane crash, anyway?
b) Nothing. Seatbelts don’t really save lives.
c) Quietly share a seatbelt with someone next to you and wonder if it’s legal.
d) Shout, “Stop the plane!” and reorganize so that everyone has the correct seatbelt and endure the inevitable teasing and new nicknames.
Here are some comments about each of those answers:
a) According to USPA’s record keeping, there have been 25 crashes of skydiving aircraft with jumpers aboard (excluding mid-air collisions) in the past 10 years. So yes, you are much more likely to be involved in a car crash, but skydiving crashes do occur. And according to Federal Aviation Regulation 91.107, you must wear a seatbelt during movement on the surface, takeoff and landing, so without a seatbelt you run the risk of being fined for a violation (and you also risk the pilot’s certificate).
b) Seatbelts can and do save lives, even in devastating aircraft accidents. But it’s important to use them correctly. According to a joint study by the Parachute Industry Association and the Federal Aviation Administration that led to the guidance in Appendix 3 of FAA Advisory Circular 105-2E, the type of seatbelt you use and how you put it on can greatly affect its effectiveness in a crash.
c) Sharing a seatbelt does not allow for the best seating configuration for the most effective results in an incident. According to FAA Advisory Circular 105-2E, “Conventional side-facing bench seats employing dual-point lap belts are superior ... and provide significant vertical energy absorption.” However, lap belts are “only effective if there is a solid support surface behind the occupant, such as a seat back, aircraft sidewall or bulkhead.” For rear-facing straddle benches or the floor, “single-point, single-tether restraints are not very effective” even if you’re not sharing a belt. The best solution is to use two belts, one on each side of the jumper.
Although single-point restraints may not be ideal, using them correctly will increase their effectiveness. Some jumpers think strapping the belt through a chest strap is good enough, but a single-point-tether restraint that does not attach to the parachute harness is not very effective. For these types of belts, you should put the belt around the leg strap and main lift web. There is no sharing scenario that would meet the regulations.
d) When insisting on seatbelt use, perhaps omitting the shouting would make the situation most palatable to others on the load. Regardless, assertively maintaining compliance with seatbelt regulations is an easy way to care for one another. Sometimes the right thing to do is not the most popular thing to do.
Jen Sharp | D-17516
Safety and Training Advisor, AFF and Tandem Instructor, PRO USPA Director of Information Technology