What the BLEEP Does USPA Do for Me?!
Features | Jul 06, 2021
What the BLEEP Does USPA Do for Me?!

Shanon Searles

Many members wonder what USPA does exactly, not only as an organization, but also for its members. Well, since USPA turns 75 this month, what better time to share how the organization works and where it’s headed from here?

Founded in 1946 as National Parachute Jumpers-Riggers Inc. with an interim name change to the Parachute Club of America, the United States Parachute Association has actually been around longer than the Federal Aviation Administration, which was established in 1958. USPA is a not-for-profit membership association (meaning it operates as a collective for public or social benefit) dedicated to supporting safe skydiving and those who enjoy it. It is principally an individual membership association for skydivers in the U.S. and beyond, but it also enlists drop zones—USPA Group Members and Foreign Affiliates—to extend the fulfillment of USPA’s mission.

USPA is incorporated in the state of New York and runs on a system of bylaws, which you can find in the USPA Governance Manual (free to download at uspa.org).

Simply stated, USPA’s mission is three-fold:

  1. to promote safe skydiving through training, licensing and instructor qualification programs
  2. to ensure skydiving’s rightful place on airports and in the airspace system
  3. to promote competition and record-setting programs

These three simple goals are what drives the organization and all of its day-to-day decisions.

Sixty-Six Dollars

If you’re one of the nearly 40,000 USPA members, you may recognize this amount as your annual fee to be part of the organization. It’s true, $66 is a lot of money! But in the grand scheme of your investment in the sport of skydiving, it’s well worth it. By comparison, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, which is comprised of more than 380,000 members, has multiple membership levels starting at $79 per year. The United States Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association has just under 8,500 members with membership dues at $89 for non-pilots and $150 for pilots. So comparatively, USPA membership is a bargain!

USPA performs all its functions with a staff that currently consists of only 17 people, as well as a 22-member board of directors. (Yes, USPA has fewer paid staff than volunteer board members). The board directs the organization, but USPA’s leadership truly begins with its members who elect the board (usually active leaders in our community). Running a skydiving organization with multiple departments and intricate moving parts is a complicated task. Your $66 goes toward ensuring that any member or non-member can show up to a drop zone and safely and professionally experience the thrill and excitement of skydiving.

The Big, Bad Board of Directors

The division of labor at USPA can be summed up in one sentence: The board makes the policy, the staff executes.

The individual members of USPA elect the board of directors, whose job is to determine the policies for the association and govern it accordingly. The board, in turn, directs the headquarters staff, which performs administrative functions and designs, implements and manages USPA programs according to the board’s policies. While the USPA staff is paid and works a regular full-time schedule, members of the board of directors are volunteers who meet as a whole only twice a year (although they work many more hours throughout the year on behalf of their constituents or in committee meetings, all of it unpaid).

Officially—as stated in the USPA Governance Manual Section 1-2.3—the full board has the following specific responsibilities:

  • To determine the policies of the association
  • To establish the operating budget for the association
  • To develop and establish programs for the association in concert with the headquarters staff
  • To hire (and remove if necessary) an executive director to serve as the association’s chief staff executive

The individual members of the board also have specific responsibilities:

  • Each board member must represent the interests of the regional or national constituency whom that board member represents.
  • All board members are expected to consider the interests of the association as a whole in all deliberations.

The USPA Board is comprised of eight national directors and 14 regional directors who all serve three-year terms. The regional directors are elected by only those members who reside in their USPA region, whereas national directors are elected by the entire membership. At times, national directors have been regional directors first, but that certainly is not always the case and is not a prerequisite. Whether regional or national, all USPA Board members’ votes have equal weight at meetings. 

Regional directors are responsible for safety, training and membership services in their regions and appoint at least one USPA Safety & Training Advisor to each recognized skydiving location. S&TAs provide advice and training for extraordinary jumps (night jumps, water training, demos, etc.), verify rating renewal requirements and issue license tests. They are also expected to address safety problems and violations and may be called upon to investigate skydiving accidents or fatalities.

You’re Invited to the Board Meetings!

USPA BOD meetings are thought-provoking, intense and jam packed with content. They take place in the summer and winter, usually at a hotel conference room in a hub city. Starting on a Friday promptly at 8 a.m. and running through Sunday until 5 p.m., the 22 go to work for the membership. These meetings are open to all USPA members in good standing (unless the president directs the meeting to be closed for handling agenda items such as disciplinary actions or organization lawsuits, which require privacy). The roundtable of directors is impressive, as it includes skydivers with long lists of achievements both in and out of the sport. World-class drop zone owners? Multi-time world champions? Record-breakers? Check, check and check! Regardless of their particular credentials, all directors are passionate USPA members who aim to effectively represent their constituents on a variety of skydiving-related topics.

Though some complain that the USPA Board rarely changes and lacks diversity, it is only the members themselves who can alter that. Elections take place every three years (or during special elections, should a board member resign midterm). In the 2018 full-board election, only 5,843 of 39,827 members voted. That’s less than 15%! Even fewer are the number of members who actively seek out change by attending board meetings or placing themselves on the ballot.

Board Committees Working for You

The USPA Board operates through a committee system. Board meetings include both committee meetings and plenary (full board) sessions to act upon motions presented by the committee chairs. Meeting minutes—short reports on the happenings and outcomes of motions for each committee—are prepared, approved and made available for member review online.

The committees, which provide guidance and advice in major areas of activity within the sport, are comprised of board members with special qualifications and interests in each area. Each board-appointed committee chair chooses qualified people to have a voting seat within the committee. There are also non-voting committee members who act as advisors but do not have a vote on any motions. The actions of each working committee must receive full board approval before becoming USPA policy.

The following committees currently comprise the USPA board: Competition, Executive, Finance & Budget, Governance, Group Membership, Membership Services, Regional Directors and Safety & Training. The leading committee is the Executive Committee—president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, chair and member-at-large—which the full board votes in at the first meeting of its term. This group is responsible for making decisions and taking care of important matters that arise between meetings.

On the last day of each board meeting, after the committees have each had time to discuss all agenda items, the full board rejoins to vote on any motion that passed through committee. Each director has one equal vote, regardless of their seat on a committee or the topic. USPA Board members cast their votes based on the input they receive from their constituency, as well as their own judgment.

Board members appreciate member feedback about USPA programs and policies, so don’t hesitate to contact them about anything policy related. Members who have issues related to specific drop zones, safety concerns or questions about anything related to skydiving should contact their local Safety & Training Advisors, who are the direct link to the Regional Director and USPA Headquarters. If the S&TA doesn’t know the answer to your question, they will know who will.

Headquarters Staff Directors

The USPA Board hires the executive director, who works at USPA Headquarters in Fredericksburg, Virginia, just a short ride from the government agencies in Washington, D.C. In turn, the executive director hires the staff to carry out the policies and projects assigned by the board. USPA staff currently consists of 17 employees, including eight staff directors who each manage a department. Those are: 

Membership Services—This department is the largest at headquarters and processes hundreds of thousands of individual transactions—including memberships, licenses, awards and ratings—each year, as well as group memberships for the nearly 300 affiliated drop zones (about 200 USPA Group Members, who pledge to uphold USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements and use USPA-certified instructors; and 100 USPA Foreign Affiliates, who pledge to have at least one USPA rating holder on staff). The department also handles clerical changes for mailings (including Parachutist) and provides information on demo insurance and the insurance that accompanies membership.

Competition and Records—The competition department is robust, and the USPA Constitution binds USPA “to sanction skydiving competitions, to document officially all state, national and world skydiving records set by citizens of the U.S., and to select and train the United States Parachute Team for world competition.” Consequently, the Competition Department is responsible for the annual USPA National Parachuting and Skydiving Championships, which selects the teams who will represent the U.S. at world events. Current Nationals disciplines are accuracy landing, artistic events, canopy formation, canopy piloting, formation skydiving, speed skydiving and wingsuit flying. USPA also hosts the National Collegiate Skydiving Championships annually. The Skydiver’s Competition Manual prescribes procedures by which national competitions are conducted and how judges are rated, records are set and teams are selected.

Safety and Training—Since its founding, USPA has been dedicated first and foremost to safety. It has accomplished this primarily through the development of training programs, especially for beginning skydivers; the licensing of skydivers at increasingly higher levels of proficiency as they advance their skills and experience; and the creation of a multi-tiered rating program for skydiving instructors. The department also works with the industry to help educate members on the proper use of gear and equipment, drop zone safety and all-around jumper discipline both in the air and on the ground. Over the years, the department has conducted countless hours of research and reported it to the membership, which has been instrumental in reducing skydiving injuries and fatalities.

Government Relations—although the Membership Department handles the nuts and bolts of group membership, USPA-affiliated drop zones find that much of the value of their annual dues (which are based primarily on the size of their aircraft and business volume) comes from the services of the Government Relations Department. When drop zones have problems with local, state or federal officials or have problems accessing the national airspace system, this is the department they turn to for advice and advocacy. But individual members reap the benefits of the department, too, as it discreetly advocates for the sport with the FAA, the U.S. Congress and state transportation departments and legislators. Much of the department’s activity focuses on monitoring and evaluating bills and regulatory action to assess their impact on skydiving and then working to keep jumpers in the air. (If you were jumping in 2001, you will remember that skydiving came back faster after the 9-11 attacks than most aviation activities thanks to the Government Relations Department.) Government Relations also educates agencies, pilots, airport managers and air-traffic controllers about the sport and its success self-regulating. USPA represents the membership on many aviation working groups, coalitions and councils that to ensures that skydivers retain their ability to use airports, airspace and government services such as air-traffic control.

Communications—Primarily known as the folks who produce Parachutist, the world’s foremost skydiving magazine since its launch in 1957, Communications is also responsible for working with other departments to help produce the other written and graphic design content that USPA provides—manuals, forms, letters, certificates, logos, e-newsletters … you name it, as well as the USPA Store. With a trove of archival material, the department also acts as the unofficial historian of the association. Scrolling through the Parachutist archives on Parachutist.com—which is also the location for late-breaking USPA and skydiving news—is like a jumping into a hot-tub time machine at the drop zone.

Sport Promotion— With a large and diverse target audience, this department takes on the all-encompassing role of handling social media, digital marketing and public relations between our members, Group Member DZs and the general public. The main goal is to positively promote USPA in all its capacities to anyone who is or has the potential to be a USPA member. Recently undergoing a makeover, the Sport Promotion Department has amped up USPA’s presence in the digital realm. This department also handles media inquiries on competitions, injuries and fatalities and general sport information.

Technology—It has been only four years since USPA formed its Technology Department, and wow has USPA made great strides since then! This is particularly noticeable to members applying for licenses and ratings or renewing memberships, most of which can now be completed online rather than on paper. The Tech Department also serves as the membership database administrator and is USPA’s web programmer, building out more features to USPA’s websites.

Human Resources and Accounting—The department that is invisible to most USPA members is also the glue that keeps the whole organization together: Human Resources and Accounting. This busy department administers a complex budget so USPA can continue to keep member costs low and value high, and also administers four donor funds.

USPA is a unique organization with many moving parts and groups. Take a look at the org chart to the right, which helps categorize each part of the puzzle.

What’s Next?

A lot of that is up to you, the USPA member. Have a suggestion about a policy or regulation? Talk to the board—start with your regional director or the relevant committee chair. The Skydiver’s Information Manual and the Instructional Rating Manual are the official literature works of the board. Don’t like what they say? Take it up with the board. Have a feel-good story about skydiving that you want to share with the world? Talk to staff in the Communications or Sport Promotion Departments. Experience a problem getting your AAD-equipped rig through security? Talk to the staff in Government Relations. Have a complaint about a safety issue at a DZ? Speak to an S&TA.

USPA is committed to providing the best and most updated services to its members. If you’d like to see the process in action, attend the next Board of Directors Meeting August 27-29 in Cincinatti, Ohio. You can attend in person or virtually from the comfort of your couch. Most importantly, vote in the October elections for the 2022-2024 USPA Board of Directors. After all, it’s your USPA!

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