Gearing Up - November 2016
Right up there with agricultural aviation, flying skydivers is one of the most demanding non-military aviation jobs. If the weather is good and manifest is busy, the jump pilot can count on working the entire day—sunrise to sunset—eating and hydrating in the airplane and getting few breaks. Load, taxi, takeoff, climb, level, descend, land, taxi and repeat. There is no en-route phase of flight where the pilot can kick back with cruise settings or engage an autopilot.
As skydivers, we expect a safe, smooth, professional flight. We expect the pilot to maintain visual-flight-rule conditions and keep us well clear of clouds, too. We expect ample fuel reserves on every flight. We expect the pilot to maintain communication with air traffic control and to be aware of every aircraft in the DZ’s vicinity. And we expect the pilot to always be ready to get us back safely on the runway or to a suitable emergency landing area should something suddenly go awry. The safety, efficiency and enjoyment of our sport hinges more heavily on the preparation and decisions of the jump pilot than anyone else at the DZ. The Federal Aviation Administration has an encompassing phrase for it: pilot in command.
With such good reasons to appreciate the dedication and professionalism of our jump pilots, you would think that skydivers and drop zone operators wouldn’t act in ways that jeopardize a pilot’s flying career. And yet they do. Part 105 of the Federal Aviation Regulations is comprised of 17 sections that specify federal rules that address many aspects of skydiving, with 13 of them holding someone specific—be it the skydiver, rigger, tandem instructor or drop zone operator—responsible for compliance. Eleven of those sections also name the pilot in command as being responsible for compliance. From the start, the FAA’s regulations have held the pilot responsible for actions of others, probably on the theory that the FAA can more easily suspend or revoke a pilot certificate than levy a fine against someone who holds no FAA certificates. When the FAA revised Part 105 in 2001, USPA submitted many comments, one of which tried to de-link the pilot from FAR violations committed by others. USPA prevailed on most of the Part 105 issues but not that one.
Are you thinking of exiting the aircraft before the pilot has radioed ATC? Jumping after drinking or abusing drugs? Freefalling or flying your canopy closer to clouds than permitted? Jumping at night without a light? Skydiving over a congested area or into a crowd without an FAA Certificate of Authorization? Jumping onto an airport without prior airport approval? Jumping without proper ATC notification or authorization? Using an out-of-date reserve? Conducting tandems without completing a tandem instructor course and being certified by either a manufacturer or USPA? Each of these actions can result in the FAA initiating enforcement action against your pilot.
Our pilots train hard and pay a lot to earn their FAA Commercial Pilot Certificates. Then they work hard understanding the regulations, the aircraft systems and the local procedures that DZOs and ATC call for. They must stay focused and ready for any situation on any flight. And all this for what is too often mac-and-cheese pay. The least we can do is respect their dedication and be sure our actions don’t embroil them with the FAA. Respect the regs. Your pilot is depending on you.