Gearing Up - September 2011
That Tuesday 10 years ago started memorably as a clear, blue-sky morning. Suddenly, there were news reports of a tragic airplane accident, which soon proved to be no accident at all. Some of the windows of USPA’s offices, then located in Alexandria, Virginia, faced north, and before long, smoke from the Pentagon obscured the sky. Throughout the day, it was hard to sort news from rumor. In nearby D.C., there were wild reports of car bombings, bomb threats, more inbound jets, and before long, the Alexandria streets that led out of the city were jammed. Before the day ended, all civil aviation, including skydiving, was grounded, with no indication of when things would get back to normal. In fact, no one knew what the new normal would be. At home that night, I took my 9-year-old son outside. Our house was near a busy general aviation airport and beneath arrival paths into both Baltimore and Washington commercial airports, and there were always airplanes overhead. Not that night. Only the sounds of the combat air patrol were heard.
Wednesday began a week of confusion about the restoration of flight, with the Federal Aviation Administration now making decisions with the White House. Fortunately, USPA had prominent friends in both, and they educated officials about how the short, local nature of skydiving flights and the air-traffic control regulations pertaining to them minimized any security risk. Yet, jump operators spent the weekend of September 15-16 on the ground. Finally, on the evening of September 19—eight days after the attacks—the FAA announced that some aviation operating under visual flight rules (VFR), including skydiving, could resume. However, sightseeing operations and flight schools conducting VFR training remained grounded until September 21. (For the full story of that week, see “One Silent Weekend” by Kevin Gibson, Parachutist, November 2001.)
But it wasn’t back to business as usual. DZs soon began reporting a dramatic drop-off in customers, which mirrored reports from other aviation businesses. Much of the public was afraid to fly; others had retreated to the sanctity of home. Adventure seeking was no longer cool. USPA membership topped out at 34,583 at the end of August 2001 after growing every year since 1993. September’s total dropped, and the decline continued unchecked for 62 months until it bottomed out at 30,488 in October 2006. Today, membership is back up over 33,000 and climbing.
The fallout from 9/11 created other work for USPA. Exhibition jumps into large stadiums were not allowed until January 2004, when USPA finally convinced the new Transportation Security Administration to restore the privilege (with new requirements, of course). USPA also worked to acquaint the air-travel security staff at TSA with rigs and automatic activation devices, resulting in TSA approval for rigs as both carry-on and checked items on airlines.
Those lost that day will never be forgotten. Nor will we forget our military and their families who have borne the greatest burden throughout, for which we are all grateful. We should also remember the resilience and resolve shown by Americans since that day. Let’s be thankful for a nation that allows freedoms like skydiving while trying to maintain security, and for an association like USPA that is ready to maintain that freedom.
Ed Scott | D-13532 | USPA Executive Director