Gearing Up - July 2010

EdScott

Now that we are well into the 2010 skydiving season, we can report on a USPA initiative that is a success on a couple of different levels. In late 2008, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a special report that looked at 32 fatal jump-plane accidents over the previous 28 years. The NTSB concluded that many DZs and jump-plane operators were not performing required aircraft maintenance, so it issued a couple of recommendations to the FAA and USPA to do something about it. (The NTSB also recognized that there are many operators who perform exemplary maintenance.) While the NTSB has no regulatory authority, it can (and often does) capture the attention of Congress and the media by holding hearings and press conferences when its recommendations are ignored. In order to be proactive, USPA’s board of directors directed staff to develop a workable plan to comply with the NTSB’s recommendations.

USPA had to move quickly to ensure that the FAA did not impose additional regulations on jump aircraft, as the NTSB initially recommended. USPA staff researched the reasons for DZ and operator noncompliance and concluded that the primary problem was that Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) weren’t crystal clear and were open to misinterpretation by both operators and FAA inspectors alike. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon to find an operator who performed only an annual inspection on his jump plane, sometimes with full FAA knowledge and concurrence, instead of both an annual and a required 100-hour inspection or other enhanced inspection. A meeting with officials at FAA Headquarters resulted in solid agreement on the agency’s position on jump aircraft, and soon afterward, the September 2008 edition of Parachutist stated that the FAA had well established that parachute operations are commercial in nature and higher maintenance standards apply.

The FAA also endorsed USPA’s two-point plan to ensure DZO understanding of and compliance with the maintenance regulations. First, putting words into action, USPA’s board endorsed changes to the Group Member Pledge signed by each affiliating DZ to read, “Ensure that all aircraft utilized for the purpose of parachute operations comply with commercial maintenance requirements described in FAR Part 91.409(a) through (f).” Secondly, upon a Group Member’s application and at each renewal, the DZ must submit an aircraft status sheet for each aircraft offered, specifying the type of maintenance inspection program the aircraft is under and the responsible mechanic or certified repair station. Together, these actions ensure that operators thoroughly understand the regulations and that jump aircraft are placed under the proper inspection program.

The final component, DZ acceptance, wasn’t known until completion of the 2010 Group Member renewal effort, which incorporated the new pledge language and the aircraft status sheet requirement. Through its publications, USPA advised DZs of the development of the new program as it progressed. Would the DZs understand what USPA was asking, and would they comply by providing the required information? With the 2010 Group Member renewal now complete, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Only about a dozen DZs initially balked at signing on, but nearly every one of them did after discussing the issue with USPA staff. Only one DZ disagreed with USPA’s efforts and chose not to renew its Group Membership. Going forward, every Group Member now knows the regulations and has verified its jump plane’s compliance with the commercial maintenance inspection requirements.

Blue Skies,

Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director

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