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USPA Plays Important Role in Airport Access

By Ed Scott

Gearing Up | July 2020
Wednesday, July 1, 2020

In this issue you’ll read the article “Airport Access” about one of USPA’s most important missions: ensuring skydiving’s rightful place in what the Federal Aviation Administration refers to as the NAS—the national airspace system—which is composed of air-traffic-control systems, navigational aids, regulatory airspace, as well as airports and other landing areas. With respect to airspace itself, skydiving enjoys nearly unfettered access. When jumping in Class E and G airspace (which is the majority of airspace below 18,000 feet mean sea level) the FAA simply requires us to provide advance notification to air traffic control, and then have the jump pilot establish radio communication prior to the jump. Even in more congested airspace where we must first receive an ATC authorization—the Class B, C and D airspace that typically surrounds the busiest airports— that authorization is often accomplished with a phone call.

Accessing airports can be an entirely different matter, since Federal Aviation Regulation 105.23 requires prior approval from airport management before skydiving can occur. In the past (and to some extent still) skydiving didn’t fit with airport managers’ plans and they often withheld approval when drop zones were proposed. Today, many more airport managers appreciate that a drop zone brings activity and vitality that can benefit an airport and its surrounding community. But some DZ proponents still meet with an initial denial for airport access. However, no airport in receipt of federal funds for capital improvements can arbitrarily deny skydiving or any other aeronautical activity without justifying that denial on the basis of safety or efficiency of the airport. What is an arbitrary denial? It is what the FAA says it is. In other words, the FAA must agree with airport management that skydiving decreases safety or efficiency at an airport. If the FAA doesn’t agree, then the denial of skydiving access is arbitrary. Increasingly, USPA is able to convince the FAA to not agree.

It’s not always a battle. Some airport managers embrace the new activity, knowing that the airport and surrounding businesses will benefit. Others, unfamiliar with skydiving, need information and education about the applicable FARs and USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements. Once they’re up to speed, they’re on board with allowing skydiving.

But some airport managers are dead-set against skydiving; it just doesn’t fit with their idea of what their airport is for. They forget that a federally funded airport is supposed to serve the public while also serving those aviation users and businesses that require the structure and amenities that airports provide. That’s where USPA’s decades of experience in assisting members accessing difficult airports pays dividends. Over the years, USPA has amassed a stunning record of helping to establish DZs on airports of all sizes and activity levels, from sleepy one-runway airports to airports with control towers and airline service.

In “Airport Access,” you’ll read about the formation of USPA’s Airport Access and Defense Fund and how skydivers like you have donated enough to provide more than $271,000 in helping DZs get established, while building a current reserve of $344,000 and growing for future battles. You’ll read how USPA staff, working with an aviation attorney, have become expert at helping DZOs file formal Part 16 complaints with the FAA against airport managers who discriminate against skydiving. And you should feel proud that your association has firmly established skydiving as an equal general aviation partner in the safe and efficient use of the system of airports and airspace.

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