Brimming With Hospitality—The Winter 2017 USPA Board of Directors Meeting

Chattanooga, Tennessee, is known for its popular hang gliding training center, world-renowned aquarium and one of the world’s steepest passenger railways. The Scenic City—brimming with southern hospitality—was the perfect host for the 2017 USPA Board of Directors’ winter meeting held February 10-12.

Going Digital

The USPA Executive Committee—comprised of the association’s six officers—handles broad, encompassing matters for the organization. At this meeting, one of those matters was the concept of USPA moving away from plastic membership cards toward digital credentials. The CEO of tech company Sigma briefed the committee and then the full board on the company’s credentialing system and its security protocols (important, since the company would handle member data).

By unanimous vote, the board approved the concept and agreed to a six-month test. Members with an email address on file with USPA will receive an emailed invitation from Sigma that will allow them to choose whether or not to participate. Members who elect to participate will receive their online Sigma profiles that show their USPA credentials—membership, licenses, ratings and awards—and expiration dates. In the meantime, all members will continue receiving their plastic membership cards. At some point after the test period, the board will decide whether it will allow members to choose how they receive their credentials (digital, plastic card or both) or whether it will eventually eliminate the plastic card.

Money, Money, Money

At the meeting, the board received USPA’s 2016 financial report that showed the association ending the year with a $3,904 operational deficit but a $196,014 total excess after accounting for investment returns. The deficit could have been worse; in fact, the 2016 budget foresaw a $237,000 operational deficit. USPA, always budgeting conservatively, counted on reduced revenues after 2015’s slowdown in membership activity and anticipated a large increase in legal fees. But membership activity bounced back in 2016 and legal costs weren’t as high as expected, so while a $3,904 deficit is still a deficit, it was much better than expected.

The Finance & Budget Committee always scrutinizes the budget before presentation to the full board, and this was the case with the proposed 2017 budget. This year’s budget projects a razor-thin operational excess of $7,099 and a total excess of $157,649 factoring in investment revenues. While the board approved the 2017 budget,  the committee reviewed whether the numbers warrant an increase in member dues and license and rating fees. The last increase in all three areas occurred in 2009, when U.S. member renewal dues went from $49 to $55, and licenses, new ratings and the renewal of all ratings went up by $10. Inflation and cost increases are hitting the association’s overhead expenses, and the consumer price index indicates that $62 now buys what $55 bought in 2009. Absorbing the higher costs of doing business without increasing membership dues and license and rating fees means that certain programs and services will have to be eliminated. The board engaged in a vigorous discussion and then tabled the motion regarding increases until the summer meeting, when more analysis and data will be available. So, no increases this year.

Safety Through Training

The Safety & Training Committee faced the enormous challenge of getting through its five-page agenda that covered a wide range of topics. With the added pressure of a reduced schedule of committee meetings, Chair Michael Wadkins did his homework to prioritize the agenda items and kept his committee and advisors focused throughout the weekend. In the end, the committee tabled some non-time-sensitive items until the next meeting but covered much of the agenda, which resulted in several proposed changes passing to the full board for approval.

Due to several incidents related to the use of hand-mounted cameras by less-experienced tandem instructors, the board passed a motion requiring tandem instructors to gain more experience before adding the complexity of a camera system to a tandem jump. Beginning immediately, a new Basic Safety Requirement mandates that tandem instructors have at least 200 tandem skydives before using or holding a camera device or attaching one to themselves or their students during a skydive.

The board also decided that in order to allow AFF instructor rating candidates to gain sufficient separation and deploy at or above 2,500 feet during evaluation jumps, the end-of-dive evaluation altitude will rise from 3,500 feet to 4,000 feet effective June 1, 2017. All other altitudes related to the bottom-end sequence will also rise by 500 feet.

Much of the agenda focused on administrative and candidate accountability issues surrounding instructor and examiner ratings. Because so many coach and instructor candidates failed to follow through with submitting correct rating applications following their courses, the full board approved a motion that places the responsibility on the examiners. Effective June 1, 2017, only USPA Coach Examiners and Instructor Examiners may submit rating proficiency cards and required course documentation for the candidates in their rating courses to USPA Headquarters for processing. Additionally, the Instructional Rating Manual will change to make it clearer to coach and instructor candidates which requirements they must meet before attending a coach or instructor rating course. Another change to the Instructional Rating Manual will provide clearer guidance in the tandem rating course syllabus to ensure that all tandem candidates practice all tandem emergency procedures while fully geared up and hooked to a person wearing the student harness.

The committee also discussed the examiner certification process in detail. Beginning immediately, the Safety & Training Committee must validate each AFF Instructor Examiner Rating Application before processing. Soon, the board will likely raise the other examiner ratings to the level of committee approval.

The committee also briefly discussed some additional changes related to instructor and examiner rating candidates, but these needed more development before implementation. These proposals will be on the agenda at the July board meeting in Seattle.

Competition Action

As is standard practice, the Competition Committee—led by National Director and International Parachuting Commission Delegate Kirk Verner—began by reviewing and adopting the rule changes that the IPC made earlier this year. The approved changes are included in the latest version of the Skydiver’s Competition Manual, available online.

With many bids to host events during the 2018 competition season, the committee thoroughly reviewed each and presented them to the full board for vote. The board chose hosts for the following events:

• 2018 National Skydiving Championships (formation skydiving, artistic events and wingsuit flying)—Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, Illinois

• 2018 National Parachuting Championships (canopy piloting, accuracy landing and canopy formation)—Skydive Sebastian in Florida

• 2018 National Collegiate Parachuting Championships—Skydive Arizona in Eloy

Other Committee Work

The Membership Services Committee, chaired by Steve Helffrich, first heard reports from USPA staff. USPA has enjoyed an increase in annual membership every year since 2006. Averaging a nearly 1,000-member growth annually over the past five years, USPA hit an all-time high of 39,147 members in September 2016. The license and ratings programs saw similar growth. USPA issued nearly 600 more licenses and more than 100 more ratings in 2016 than in 2015.

The committee then discussed the third-party liability insurance program. Committee members received a report on the 15 claims filed in the past two years. Most of the claims involved poor spotting, poor canopy control or both and included striking homes, power lines, cars and spectators upon landing. Another claim involved the weight on a flag releasing and causing extensive damage to a car. Headquarters will review these reports to see if it should provide additional guidance to jumpers to maximize jumper safety and minimize claims.

The USPA Board will discuss nominees for USPA service awards and make selections at its summer meeting. The requirements for each award and a list of past recipients are in Section 8 of the Skydiver’s Information Manual. Jumpers can send nominations to USPA Headquarters or their USPA Regional Directors.

The busy schedule and reduced committee working time required the board to work efficiently and often outside of the boardrooms. Fortunately, board members found respite in eclectic dining options and the camaraderie of those attending the concurrent Parachute Industry Association Symposium.

The board next meets this summer in Seattle, Washington, July 21-23.

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