If you saw media reports after the recent fatal King Air crash in Hawaii, you saw National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy say that the NTSB has investigated 80 jump plane accidents over the past 10 years. While only 10 of those were fatal accidents, nearly all were preventable. Skydiving has its risks, but the flight to jump altitude should be the safest part of any jump. That depends almost entirely on the professionalism of the pilot.
Fortunately, most jump pilots do fly professionally. A professional pilot is dedicated to providing a safe, smooth, drama-free flight to jump run. And then doing it again, time after time, all day, every day. A professional pilot frequently reviews the Federal Aviation Regulations, the Airman’s Information Manual and the aircraft flight manual. A professional pilot continuously monitors the airworthiness of the airplane and always has enough gas for every flight plus 30 minutes of reserve. A professional pilot insists on recurrent training and is primed and ready to react quickly and properly to every emergency, especially losing an engine during takeoff. A professional pilot is willing to ground the airplane when mechanically warranted and is willing to resist management and jumper pressure to fly in unsafe ways. A professional pilot guards against fatigue and dehydration.
Professional pilots don’t perform high-speed, high-angle takeoffs; aerobatic maneuvers while climbing; fly-bys of jumpers in freefall or under canopy during descent; or ground-level buzz jobs. Pilots that do so are revealing their boredom with flying or their susceptibility to jumper pressure. Either way, those pilots are demonstrating their disdain for “the safest part of the jump” and need to find a new line of work.
For years now, USPA’s website has provided pilot training and aircraft-operation resources, and USPA has urged DZOs to get these tools into the hands of their pilots. Just a click away are a host of aircraft-operation articles, including installments of the Parachutist column “The Front Office,” with information about jump aircraft authored by pilot Chas Hines. There are also more specific resources like USPA’s Skydiving Aircraft Operations Manual, Chris “Diver Driver” Schindler’s Jump Pilot Training Syllabus and former DZO and fleet operator Ray Ferrell’s model Flight Operations Handbook. A pilot reading and applying these resources will make any operation safer.
But with high turnover among pilots and no direct way to reach them, there’s no certainty that the majority of jump pilots use the materials. So now USPA is inviting all jump pilots to sign up and connect with USPA. They’ll receive the monthly “Professional” e-newsletter, which will begin carrying more pilot-oriented content. We’ll also send the pilots emails with links to our web resources and with breaking Federal Aviation Administration and aviation news.
Just as in skydiving, recurrent pilot training is critical to maintaining flight safety. We’ll urge pilots to use their DZs’ Safety Day activities to knock off the winter rust, get training and review emergency procedures for their airplanes and DZs.
If you’re a current jump pilot, go to uspa.org/jumppilot , sign up and begin looking through some great material and resources. After all, a professional pilot is always learning.