Gearing Up - February 2012
Just as no skydiver would board an aircraft knowing the pilot is under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, then by the same standard, no skydiving student or novice should be entrusted to a coach or instructor who is similarly impaired. All of skydiving's working professionals—the thousands of coaches and instructors working with students each day at drop zones across the country—must agree that chemical or alcohol impairment while skydiving is not an option.
Federal Aviation Regulation 105.7 is quite clear when it states, "No person may conduct a parachute operation, and no pilot in command of an aircraft may allow a parachute operation to be conducted from an aircraft, if that person is or appears to be under the influence of-
- Alcohol, or
- Any drug that affects that person's faculties in any way contrary to safety."
There is a similar regulation—FAR 91.17—restricting pilots from flying while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and from carrying any passenger under the influence of either substance.
Regulations aside, most skydivers can agree that the use of illicit drugs or alcohol while jumping has no place in our sport. A few may want to argue that their states of mind or levels of intoxication when they leave the aircraft for a recreational skydive is their business alone, but then some simply like to argue a point. Do jumpers really ignore the added risk to others, as well as to themselves, and jump while under the influence? History suggests that a small number do. The use of drugs or alcohol has played a significant role in some fatalities, as detailed in the subsequent autopsy reports. And at least one USPA Tandem Instructor has had his rating permanently revoked after making a tandem jump under the influence of alcohol, endangering himself and his student.
Recently, a member asked USPA how the Federal Aviation Regulations apply to the use of medical marijuana, now approved in 16 states and the District of Columbia. The U.S. Department of Transportation addressed this same question in 2009, after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that federal law enforcement officers would not pursue those who sell or possess marijuana in clear compliance with state medical marijuana laws. After reviewing the Justice Department's stance, the Transportation Department reiterated that its drug-testing requirements for transportation workers in safety positions (pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, subway operators and aircraft maintenance personnel, among others) would not change, noting that, "Marijuana remains a drug listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It remains unacceptable for any safety sensitive employee... to use marijuana." It is true that neither jump pilots nor skydivers are subject to DOT's drug-testing requirements, but the Federal Aviation Regulations restricting the use of alcohol or drugs by both still apply. Moreover, marijuana use, including medical marijuana, is still a disqualifier for the FAA medical certificate.
USPA Coaches and Instructors work in a potentially dangerous environment, and they need to take every step to keep both the students and themselves as safe as possible. Quick thinking and rapid reflexes are required. Jumping under the influence of drugs or alcohol while training students is irresponsible and is still in violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations.
Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director