The USPA Board of Directors held its fifth meeting of the 2019-2021 term in Cincinnati, Ohio, January 29-31. As with the previous board meeting, the board’s 22 members decided whether to attend in person or virtually, as could USPA members in good standing and invited guests. USPA broadcast the board meeting live via Zoom Webinar, and more than 130 people took advantage of the opportunity to view, listen and participate from the comfort of their homes. Naturally, there were a few minor hiccups along the way, but overall, it was a great success and marked big step toward making USPA governance more transparent.
To update the board and USPA members on the state of skydiving around the country, President Chuck Akers provided a brief report. Akers stated that DZ operators and the USPA staff are doing a great job navigating all of the challenges posed by coronavirus and that skydiving is making a strong comeback due to their efforts. He was optimistic that jumping activities will further accelerate with increased vaccinations, improved DZ protocols and warmer weather in the spring and summer.
USPA Executive Director Albert Berchtold also addressed the attendees and gave a report on the current state of USPA, as well as its future goals. This was Berchtold’s first board meeting as executive director, although he had plenty under his belt as a member of the board and the organization’s treasurer. Not coincidentally, this was also National Director Melissa Lowe’s first meeting as a board member. USPA members elected Lowe in a November special election to replace Berchtold when he resigned from the board to take the staff position.
Berchtold reported that USPA—like so many other organizations—saw its membership numbers and financial metrics fall in 2020. Compared to the end of 2019, membership numbers at the end of 2020 fell 9% (from 40,296 to 37,045), new memberships fell 21% (from 7,006 to 5,809), and group memberships fell 12% (from 226 to 201). The good news is that USPA took proactive measures to control costs during the year and remains in a very stable financial position. Just like Akers, Berchtold stated that he’s very optimistic about USPA’s prospects in 2021, which also happens to be its 75th anniversary year.
Over the next two days, board members met in committees to discuss items in areas of their expertise. Out of these committees arose motions that went to the full board for a vote. For this meeting, USPA created a webpage complete with a schedule that included committee descriptions, member lists and agendas, allowing attendees to learn about happenings in their areas of interest.
The competition committee, chaired by Kirk Verner, welcomed new member Lowe and quickly got to work. Up first were the bids for USPA’s 2022 events. The board awarded the USPA National Skydiving and Parachuting Championships to Skydive Chicago in Ottawa, Illinois, and nearby Skydive Midwest in Sturtevant, Wisconsin. The Sturtevant location will host all canopy piloting events, while the Ottawa location will host the remainder of the parachuting and all of the skydiving events. The board awarded the USPA National Collegiate Skydiving Championships to Skydive Arizona in Eloy.
In exciting news for those just getting into competitive formation skydiving, USPA will hold a 4-way FS beginner-class test event at the 2021 Nationals at Skydive Arizona and the 2022 Nationals at Skydive Chicago. The six-round test event will use a dive pool consisting of select block formations (blocks 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 19 and 21) and all of the random formations found in Skydiver’s Competition Manual Chapter 9 (available under the Competition tab at uspa.org). Beginner teams must include no more than one member (excluding the videographer) who has won a medal in a higher class at the five previous USPA National Skydiving Championships.
The competition committee also adopted new dive pool images that USPA Graphic Designer Nate Hill developed for the SCM; allowed both artistic events and FS judges to certify vertical formation skydiving performance records; extended the rating expiration date for national judges to December 31, 2025; and announced that the development of a U.S. Parachute Team Uniform Fund is in progress.
Safety & Training
The Safety & Training Committee, led by Michael Wadkins, tackled a full agenda of diverse topics. Perhaps the most noteworthy was the board approving the addition of Section 6-12—Movement Jumps to the SIM. This new section, which provides guidance for angle-flying and tracking jumps, was developed in consultation with experts in the field. More information is available in “Safety Check” in this issue of Parachutist.
Other changes to the SIM included adding a recommendation in Section 7-1.H that PRO-rated skydivers use AADs and RSLs while performing demo jumps. The board also amended SIM Section 4-3.F.1 to read: “The most important skill a skydiver must develop is the ability to cope with and respond to emergency situations. A student should review emergency procedures at the beginning of every jump day. The review should cover emergency procedures for these areas:
In addition, the board made changes to the signature requirements in Section 3-1.
Another hot topic in the committee was the possible adoption of a USPA E License. After much discussion of what creating a higher license level would entail, the committee tabled the topic to give USPA staff the time to research the topic further and to determine whether the membership supports this proposal.
The committee also spent time discussing the process of military jumpers transitioning into sport skydiving but tabled implementation of formal transition documents while Director of Safety and Training Ron Bell and Mountain Regional Director Ray Lallo continue working with the military on the details.
The Membership Services Committee, chaired by Chris Wagner, formed a Sport Promotion subcommittee to “collaborate on promoting diverse, consistent communications to inspire the general public to experience skydiving, convert them into skydivers and support them as licensed jumpers with diverse, consistent, relevant communications, promotions and resources.” National Director Melissa Lowe will chair the subcommittee, which consists of board members Sherry Butcher, Charles Crinklaw, Shauna Finley and Josh Hall, along with USPA staff members Jen Sharp, Laura Sharp and Shannon Searls.
In the meeting of the Regional Directors Committee, chaired by Jack Pyland, USPA Director of Safety and Training Ron Bell gave a presentation on incident reporting. He explained how USPA has been on a mission to increase incident reporting in the past two years, and that the effort is paying off. Incident reporting helps USPA help its members by allowing it to quickly identify unsafe trends and respond immediately with educational resources. Bell asked for the help of regional directors in this effort and urged them to file incident reports when appropriate.
Since the board recently appointed Pyland as treasurer, he resigned as chair of the Regional Directors Committee following the meeting to focus on his new duties. Southern Regional Director Paul Gholson will now chair the committee.
As the winter meeting concluded, board members thanked Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger, who is retiring in May, for his 13 years of service to USPA. Ottinger has made a huge impact on the sport, fighting tirelessly to secure airport and airspace access for drop zones and skydivers in the U.S. USPA is currently conducting a search to fill the position.
The board will next meet August 27-29, again in Cincinnati, in conjunction with the Parachute Industry Association Symposium. It will be a great time for USPA members to attend—either remotely or in person—and get an idea of how the board operates in preparation for this fall’s election to select a new board for the 2022-2024 term.