After years of effort by USPA and the Parachute Industry Association, the FAA has approved a new final rule that will lengthen the parachute repack cycle from 120 days to 180 days. The final rule will appear this week in the Federal Register and take effect 30 days later*. The effort had more twists and turns than a funneled 20-way, but the change happened when PIA and USPA joined together and finally convinced the FAA to grant a 180-day repack cycle.
USPA initiated the first run at the change in 1998 when its board of directors approved a motion authorizing USPA to petition the FAA for the rule change. At the time, the FAA was preparing to revise Part 105. However, the FAA declined to include the lengthened repack cycle as part of its Part 105 revision in 2001, saying the initiative didn't have full industry support.
In early 2005, Allen Silver, a well-known rigger and PIA’s Rigging Committee chair, initiated discussion with the FAA about accepting a petition for an exemption that would allow a 180-day repack cycle. Getting FAA agreement, PIA and USPA formed a task group to develop the petition language. This resulted in an effort in which all aviation groups whose pilots used emergency parachutes, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Soaring Society, among others, to join PIA and USPA in jointly petitioning the FAA for an exemption to the regulations addressing those parachutes. The exemption requested a 180-day repack cycle for the emergency parachutes worn by pilots, as well as the sport parachutes used by skydivers. The joint PIA-USPA petition was submitted in July 2005. Ironically, while the FAA saw good cause for a lengthened repack cycle, the agency said its own rules prevented it from granting an exemption to so many beneficiaries; exemptions were intended for small groups. The FAA denied the petition for exemption.
However, acknowledging the support of so many pilots, riggers and skydivers, the FAA declared that it would publish its own Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to lengthen the repack cycle, which it did on May 22, 2007. At urging by USPA and PIA, nearly all of the hundreds of comments to the docket were in favor of the proposal. The end result is a final rule published this week granting the lengthened repack cycle.
"This result shows what can happen when two organizations like USPA and PIA decide to work together on common goals," said USPA Executive Director Ed Scott. "We look forward to doing even more together for the benefit of skydivers." PIA President Cliff Schmucker said, "The 180-day repack rule change is a fine example of what PIA and USPA can accomplish working as one. Together we will endeavor to continue improving safety for parachute users.”
* Edited 11/19/08 from "The final rule will appear this week in the Federal Register and take effect 90 days later" to "The final rule will appear this week in the Federal Register and take effect 30 days later".
The FAA has revised the rules under which larger aircraft operate and USPA has succeeded in ensuring that the impact on skydiving is minimal. Nearly all jump planes operate under Part 91, the general operating rules. Larger airplanes "which have a seating configuration of 20 or more passengers or a maximum payload capacity of 6,000 pounds or more" are required to operate under Part 125, which imposes far more burdensome maintenance, training, and operating requirements. Few jump planes have payloads exceeding 6,000 lbs. or more, namely the CASA 212 and DC-3, and many of those operators flew under an FAA blanket deviation from Part 125. Though Twin Otters and Skyvans routinely fly with up to 23 skydivers, years ago USPA had won an FAA policy ruling that Part 125 did not apply.
Last year, the FAA announced that it would no longer issue blanket deviations for the larger planes, starting April 1st, 2008. USPA's concern turned into action when FAA officials began insisting that any jump plane that carried more than 19 skydivers would also have to be flown under Part 125. If so, Twin Otter and Skyvan operators had two choices, obtain a letter of deviation that allowed jump flights, but no other flights with passengers or cargo, or limit the number of skydivers to 19. The affect would be devastating. For the better part of a year, USPA kept up negotiations. It wasn't easy. Turnover in the agency meant that USPA had to deal with three different FAA individuals, each time starting over. And each time hearing official remarks that were ominous. So it wasn't clear that USPA's view would prevail. Until now.
The FAA has announced that the only skydiving airplanes that will be subject to Part 125 will be those airplanes that previously had a letter of deviation. Twin Otters and Skyvans will continue flying under Part 91, with as many seat-belted skydivers as weight and balance will allow.
USPA has submitted comments to the FAA concerning the agency’s proposal to move to a new system of air traffic control called NextGen. A component of that system is known as ADS-B, for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast. The ADS-B system combines the GPS system, aircraft avionics and ground stations to enable more accurate transmission of position and trajectory information between aircraft and ATC, and between aircraft. The FAA is proposing that by 2020 all aircraft be equipped for ADS-B when operating in Class A, B or C airspace, and Class E airspace areas at or above 10,000 feet mean sea level (MSL). Because most skydiving jump planes fly above 10,000 feet MSL, USPA took the opportunity to advise FAA’s planners of the impact on jump operations. Though there may be safety benefits (still to be determined), there could also be huge costs. For instance, the FAA noted that the costs for a piston aircraft could range from $6,578 to $22,283; the costs for a turbine aircraft could range from $12,906 to $486,000. Stay tuned to the USPA website and Parachutist for updates
The FAA has issued new rules affecting “sightseeing” flights, allowing many small sightseeing companies to continue flying under Part 91, the general operating rules. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), issued three years ago, had proposed requiring all operators to fly under the more stringent regulations that apply to commercial air carriers. USPA submitted comments to the docket opposing the FAA’s proposal overall and making sure the FAA did not confuse any aspect of a skydiving flight as a sightseeing flight. “We could have safely assumed that the FAA would not include skydiving in the proposal, but USPA wanted to ensure that skydiving’s interests would be protected,” said Executive Director Chris Needels. Here are USPA’s comments.
The FAA has older airplanes in their sights, and USPA is involved to make sure the right actions are forthcoming. Hosting a conference entitled, “Aging General Aviation Aircraft,” in Kansas City last week, the FAA said it is concerned that the average general aviation aircraft is 35 years old. The agency says it wants to be proactive and prevent accidents due to corrosion and metal fatigue. The FAA is especially concerned with for-hire operations flown for special uses, like skydiving. To make sure the FAA understands skydiving operations, USPA attended the conference with a two-fold message: “First, maintain a high level of safety for skydivers by ensuring continued airworthiness,” said Ed Scott, USPA’s director of government relations. “But also use cost-effective maintenance and reporting strategies that don’t make operations cost-prohibitive and don’t create throw-away airplanes.” USPA has joined the working group that will review for-hire operations.
The joint USPA/PIA petition for exemption to allow a 180-day repack cycle has been rejected by the FAA in favor of permanent rulemaking. The exemption was aimed not just at sport reserves, but all emergency parachutes as well, which are worn by glider pilots, aerobatic pilots, and others. Support for the exemption was solicited from pilots groups and other organizations, totaling over 700,000 members by some estimates. However, the FAA said it rarely issues an exemption for such large groups. Instead, the agency will initiate a Notice-of-Proposed-Rulemaking process to formally change the rules. While this is ultimately good news, it is unknown how long the process will take.
USPA has deflected an FAA requirement for a Terrain Awareness and Warning System potentially costing tens of thousands of dollars per turbine jump plane. The rule requires installation of a TAWS by March 29, 2005 on all turbine aircraft with six or more passenger seats. USPA successfully argued that jump planes should be exempt since they fly only in visual flight conditions. The FAA agreed and wrote an exemption for jump aircraft into the final rule. View the final rule summary.
An October 19 rule issued by the Transportation Security Administration requires baggage search and passenger screening procedures before each flight for CASAs, DC-3s and other aircraft configured for 20 or more passengers or that have a payload of 6,000 pounds or more, when operated under FAA's strict Part 125. Affected jump planes operate under Part 91 with an FAA letter of deviation from Part 125. USPA has written a letter to TSA asserting that jump planes are not subject to the new security rules and is waiting for a reply.
With the national threat level returned to the same code yellow
All commercial sightseeing flights will have to be conducted under the stringent rules of Part 135 if a new notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is adopted by the FAA. Non-stop sightseeing and skydiving flights that range no more than 25 miles from the departure airport are currently exempted from Part 119—the rules that specify which commercial operations must be certificated by the FAA. The FAA estimates that about 1,600 sightseeing operators with 3,000 aircraft will be affected, and that some 700 operators will abandon the industry. The proposal was prompted by several recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board that arose from investigations of sightseeing accidents over the years.
The proposal hits close to home by targeting a segment of aviation much like skydiving—as far as aircraft operation—for increased regulation. USPA intends to comment on the proposal to ensure that the FAA fully distinguishes skydiving from sightseeing, including observer rides on jump planes.
For the next two years, air traffic controllers have more incentive to give priority handling to the airlines, to the possible detriment of general aviation, including skydive operators.
The Dec. 10 issue of The Washington Post describes a new two year extension of the labor contract between FAA and the controller’s union. A change will allow controllers to qualify for incentive pay for the first time. According to the Post, “…pay raises…over the next two years will be based on progress in meeting certain goals such as reductions in runway incursions, reductions in controller errors, and increased airline on-time performance.” (USPA emphasis.) “USPA has no problem with incentive pay and performance measures,” said USPA Executive Director Chris Needels, “but we can foresee expedited handling of airliners to the detriment of general aviation flights, including skydiving.”
USPA wrote to Steve Brown, FAA’s Associate Administrator for Air Traffic, and asked for details. The skydiving association also asked the FAA how its policy of “first come, first served” in the air traffic system will still be honored.
In a November 20 meeting with top Transportation Security Agency officials, USPA Executive Director Chris Needels advised TSA of the impact of its temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) on skydivers and skydiving businesses. USPA joined the general aviation coalition, comprised of groups like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the Experimental Aircraft Association, the National Business Aviation Association, and the National Air Transportation Association, in a two-hour meeting with TSA’s acting administrator and top staff. USPA described how the 60-mile-wide TFRs that are imposed over areas visited by President Bush, such as at Kennebunkport, Maine, wreak havoc on skydiving centers that are required to shut down for long periods of time. He also pointed out that one of the Disney TFRs may preclude an annual Santa Claus jump. TSA officials promised to look into the specifics.
The US Aviation Security Advisory Committee has adopted general aviation airport security recommendations developed by a group of aviation association representatives (including USPA staff), airport managers and state aviation officials. The group was tasked with developing methods to make general aviation airports—and the aircraft and businesses located on them—more secure from potential terrorist activity. The report recommends an airport watch program and allows airport managers and local officials to choose security steps that reflect local security assessments and affordability. Expensive and burdensome requirements like perimeter fencing, automated gates, and access badges, had been floated earlier, but were withdrawn since nearly all costs would be assumed by airport users. Since Fall of 2001, USPA has distributed detailed security recommendations for skydiving schools, clubs, and centers at their airports. Download USPA's recommendations.
New Jersey skydivers are no longer required to use boots and a round reserve, and may jump in winds exceeding 18 mph. After USPA appeared at a public hearing last July, the State of New Jersey has agreed to discard many outdated skydiving statutes, including these. New Jersey drop zones are still required to maintain a state permit and perform certain administrative duties.
USPA has notified the FAA that it is opposed to airspace changes in the Philadelphia area. The FAA has proposed altering and enlarging the Class B airspace around Philadelphia International Airport. If enacted, the new airspace could dramatically alter operations at Freefall Adventures/Skydive Cross Keys, located only 14 miles from Philadelphia International. Class B airspace, installed at the 32 busiest U.S. airports, imposes layers of strictly-controlled airspace out to 20 or more miles from the major airport. A pilot must receive a clearance from air traffic control to enter Class B airspace. Part 105 requires a parachute operation to also receive an air traffic control authorization.
As proposed, a layer of Class B airspace would overlie the Cross Keys Airport from 3,000 to 10,000 feet above mean sea level. Currently, the airport lies beneath more benign Class E and G airspace, where no clearance is required and a parachute operation must simply notify air traffic control. The FAA notice is just the start of a long process involving public comment and the establishment of informal working groups. USPA is working closely with Skydive Cross Keys DZO John Eddowes and plans to stay involved.