Gearing Up - April 2014


At what age should a person be allowed to skydive? At its most recent meeting, USPA’s board of directors decided the age should be 18 effective May 1. Anyone under 18 who has made a jump prior to that date may continue skydiving as long as they acquire a USPA A license by the last day of 2014. Anyone under 18 who is already licensed by May 1 can continue skydiving without condition.

USPA has struggled with this issue for decades. As early as 1963, the minimum age was 21, or 16 with notarized parental consent. In 1970, USPA changed the Basic Safety Requirements to apply the age of majority (which each state establishes separately) as the minimum but kept 16 as the minimum with parental consent. In 1983, the board dropped the age to 18 but still retained the 16-with-consent rule. The history of the age-minimum BSR—21, age of majority and 18—reveals a concern more with liability than with safety even as early as the 1960s, before the explosive rise in lawsuits and court-awarded settlements.

For the past few years, USPA’s board continued to struggle with the issue. Others did as well. When the Federal Aviation Administration first allowed tandem jumps under an exemption process, one condition was that participants were to be at least the age of 18. In 2001, when the FAA finally incorporated tandem jumps into Part 105 of the Federal Aviation Regulations, removing their FAA-exemption status, the manufacturers implored USPA to adopt new BSR language that required compliance with any age limit set by the tandem manufacturers. Early drafts of revised Part 105 also showed FAA interest in putting a minimum age for all skydivers in the FARs, a provision that USPA successfully eliminated.

Why should USPA be concerned about minors jumping? In many if not most states, minors cannot be a party to legal contracts, including the hold-harmless agreements (commonly but erroneously called “waivers”) used by DZs; it goes against public policy. DZ owners would never allow anyone to jump at their facilities without signing a waiver. Yet that is exactly what they do when they let a minor jump, since the courts in those states will not recognize the waiver. “Then let the DZ owner decide,” some say. We have, and some DZOs let minors jump. And that means that everyone listed on the DZ waiver—the pilots, riggers, packers, instructors, aircraft provider, parachute equipment manufacturers and dealers, as well as USPA—are left without the defense and protection of a waiver when an injured minor or the estate of a minor decides to go to court for redress.

USPA’s board is all about promoting skydiving and opening the sport up to any and all who have the desire and ability to participate. In a less litigious society, most on the board would agree that skydiving offers today’s youth opportunities way beyond the virtual world many of them inhabit. But lawyers and litigation and million-dollar judgments are a reality. And so USPA’s board took action to limit our sport’s liability and thus the litigation. And most agree that it is a damn shame.

Blue Skies,

Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director


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John Dial
Wed, 05/07/2014 - 09:40

I started skydiving at age 16 in 1980. My parents gave their consent by signing a waiver. I find the idea of limiting the age to 18 a little absurd, of course in todays society it's all about limiting your liability. Teens that would like to experience this amazing life changing activity will sadly miss out until they are 18. While it's only two years it could make a huge difference in their life. Truly sad to read this.

Ariel Nechemia
Sun, 06/29/2014 - 16:47

I am turning 16 in about 2 months and my plan was to get my A-license in 3 months time. Hearing about this has truly made me feel devastated. I care about skydiving more than pretty much anything (except for the usual family, friends, and school). It is still kind of mind boggling how I can enlist in the Navy and get paid to do this at 17 but I cannot do this as a hobby until I am 18 years old. I can even take flying lessons at my age & even get my private pilots license at 17. It is also a shame that society has fallen into a state where someone cannot get hurt without a lawsuit trailing right behind. I respect the decision but I feel that it is truly a shame. I envy your freedom. I guess I was just born at the wrong time.

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