Gearing Up - October 2016
Skydivers who enter USPA's instructional rating hierarchy by becoming a coach, instructor or examiner take on immense responsibility. But it is the USPA Examiner who assumes the highest responsibility, since he has the sole privilege of teaching and certifying others to be coaches and instructors.
An examiner's failure to fully meet his number-one duty—to fully teach and certify a skydive instructor—has a threefold effect: Instructors are inadequately prepared and can't be all they are expected to be. This leads to students who are not thoroughly trained or motivated, which decreases their safety levels and increases the chances that they'll quit out of frustration. And then the sport suffers a decrease in participants and a potential black eye from incidents or accidents that were preventable.
The sport recently suffered all three effects and worse as the result of two USPA Tandem Examiners who fell short of what's expected of someone who holds that rating. A fatal tandem accident and information that subsequently surfaced led to the conclusion that some tandem instructor courses may have been abbreviated and inadequate and that some candidates may not have met USPA and Federal Aviation Administration requirements to hold a tandem instructor rating. And it appears that some post-course rating applications were mishandled and lost and others submitted with falsified information and forged signatures. In all, some 140 tandem instructors were affected. To top it off, media scrutiny was intense, and even the FAA voiced concern.
In the interest of public safety, USPA was forced to take unprecedented action. First, USPA revoked the tandem instructor ratings of 12 people who went through a course taught by a suspended tandem examiner whose post-course rating applications were falsified. These people must complete another tandem instructor rating course taught by a current tandem examiner. USPA required another 111 individuals to undergo a refresher course with a current tandem examiner within 30 days. USPA designed this two- to three-hour refresher to make sure the affected tandem instructors received thorough training and gained full knowledge of tandem rules and procedures. And a remaining seven who never submitted applications for any tandem instructor rating were required to produce their original course completion paperwork and undergo the refresher training before receiving their ratings. (This number will likely continue to increase as USPA receives additional rating applications during this process.)
Our message to the media and the public is that the skydiving community takes seriously its responsibility to certify trained, qualified individuals to conduct tandem jumps. The message to the FAA is that USPA and the self-responsible skydiving community can take proper action when confronted with people who don't meet their responsibilities. There are 2,853 USPA members who hold tandem instructor ratings, and 173 of those also hold tandem examiner ratings. These recent events shouldn't tarnish the extraordinary efforts these men and women make to safely land the half-million tandem students who jump in the U.S. each year. That's not just sloganeering; the tandem safety record backs that up, with an annual average of just one tandem student fatality. Recent events are just a reminder that it takes all of us to keep watch and take action when the few among us fail to meet expectations.