Gearing Up - August 2012
Like every aviation association, USPA develops working relationships with many Federal Aviation Administration officials, not only at FAA Headquarters but also in district and field offices. Open and frequent communication is vital to balancing federal interest in—and regulation of—skydiving. Sometimes, we want the FAA’s attention, as when the agency needs to tell a local airport operator that it is unfairly denying a skydiving business access to the airport. Other times, we need to convince the FAA that additional regulation is unnecessary or unworkable.
In early 2011, the Airports Division of the FAA decided that a standard for parachute landing areas was needed. The FAA has design standards for runways, taxiways, helipads, lighting, parking ramps and myriad other on-airport facilities, described and diagrammed in FAA Advisory Circular 150/5300-13. With some glee, FAA officials pitched the idea to USPA as an initiative to help skydiving, since airports were denying skydiving proposals by saying they weren’t large enough to accommodate it. USPA’s reaction was cautious. We knew that most airport denials were based on the airport being too busy for skydiving, not that the airport was too small. And of course, as with many government initiatives, the end result could be worse than the status quo. USPA countered by suggesting that the FAA adopt the landing area standard found in USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements. The FAA found that idea too simple, but the agency did commit to working closely with us as it conducted a study and began developing the proposed standard.
Our concern rose when we saw how the FAA was to conduct its study. There was to be no collection of data regarding accidents or even near-misses involving skydivers and aircraft on airports (which we knew to be rare). Early meetings with the officials involved were also alarming. Their initial approach was to declare that parachute landing areas could be no closer than 40 feet to any paved areas on airports and had to be clear of the expansive runway and taxiway safety areas that extend far to the side of every runway and taxiway. Fortunately, we were able to dampen that approach, and FAA officials focused only on how to provide a buffer from an airport’s taxiways and runways.
More discussion ensued. USPA didn’t object to efforts to ensure reasonable separation between parachute landing areas and runways; it makes sense to consider some distance between landing skydivers and aircraft operating on or above a runway. Our larger concern was the FAA’s application of buffer zones between parachute landing areas and taxiways. Taxiways are slow-speed environments on every airport. Pilots are taught to taxi aircraft no more quickly than they can walk. And many existing DZs have parachute landing areas that overlap one or more taxiways. We voiced our concern that strict application of the proposed standard will force some DZs to move their landing areas to far corners of airports, introducing new and unintended consequences. Skydivers might then have to walk back from landing areas, or DZs might need to buy and operate on-airport shuttle vehicles, either scenario increasing the number of skydivers or vehicles crossing active runways and taxiways. In a few instances, some airports with DZs won’t have enough space for the landing area; what’s that DZ supposed to do? Please read the article on page 24 to learn more about our concerns and how to help.
Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director