Performers often hear “Break a leg!” before the start of a performance, but it’s not really what a skydiver wants to do during a demo. Almost all of us have thought about making a demo jump of some sort, whether jumping into a party out in the middle of nowhere or jumping into a 70,000-seat NFL stadium. Landing your parachute in front of a crowd of non-skydivers is a lot of fun, and who wouldn’t want to have a chance to be a rock star for a day? But jumping into places outside of your regular drop zone can be tricky. Demos require proper planning and execution—including adherence to Federal Aviation Administration Regulations and USPA Basic Safety Requirements—to ensure that the jumps are successful.
USPA long ago developed the PRO rating as a way to help ensure that skydivers have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform jumps into public areas. However, some demos require PRO ratings and some don’t. Unfortunately, several jumpers have run into problems after misinterpreting the rules and landing-area requirements. Doing your homework ahead of time can help to make sure you stay out of hot water with the FAA and USPA.
How do you know when a PRO rating is required? First, you need to look in the Skydiver’s Information Manual. Section 2 contains the Basic Safety Requirements, and Section 7 covers PRO ratings and demo jumps. Landing-area size determines whether the jump qualifies as an open-field, Level 1, Level 2 or stadium landing area. This and the distance you will be from the crowd determine whether the jump requires a PRO rating. Finally, the size of the landing area, location of the jump and the surrounding area determine whether you can make the jump by filing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) with a phone call or if it requires a 7711-2 certificate of authorization from the local Flight Standards District Office of the FAA. In other words, there is a lot you need to consider when it comes to jumping for an audience away from your local drop zone.
Generally speaking, if you’re jumping into a very large open grass area that allows you to pass over people at no lower than 250 feet and land no closer than 50 feet (level 1) or 100 feet (open field) from them, you do not need a PRO rating. This does not mean that the demo will be easy, and history has given us plenty of examples of jumpers who completely blew it during demos into large landing areas. If you fly your canopy into an obstacle or the crowd, it terrifies everyone, causes injuries and results in the exact opposite of the intent of any demo; instead of the crowd leaving amazed and possibly even interested in pursuing the sport, most of them will walk away swearing to never try skydiving and will tell anyone who will listen how crazy it would be to even think about.
Smaller, congested landing areas and football-style stadiums require a PRO rating. No, you cannot count the surrounding open fields around a stadium and call it an open-field demo. For PRO-rated demo jumps, each skydiver must pass no lower than 50 feet above people and land no closer than 15 feet from any one person.
When do you need to submit a 7711-2 certificate of authorization for a demo jump? Federal Aviation Regulation 105.21 covers that information:
“No person may conduct a parachute operation, and no pilot in command of an aircraft may allow a parachute operation to be conducted from that aircraft, over or into a congested area of a city, town or settlement, or an open-air assembly of persons unless a certificate of authorization for that parachute operation has been issued under this section. However, a parachutist may drift over a congested area or an open-air assembly of persons with a fully deployed and properly functioning parachute if that parachutist is at a sufficient altitude to avoid creating a hazard to persons or property on the surface.”
What constitutes a congested area? The FAA does not really define it, and technically, two people standing on the ground could constitute a congested area. So, if there’s any question, request a certificate of authorization so you have your ducks in a row.
When they are executed correctly, public display jumps are fun for the jumpers and exciting for the crowd. The professional demo teams make it look easy, but there is a bunch of work and preparation that makes it look that way. If you are just getting started with demos or a buddy invites you on one, make sure you are following the rules and that the jump is something you can handle safely. Because breaking a leg in front of 200 people and getting busted for violating the rules governing a demo is nobody’s idea of a stand-out performance.
Jim Crouch | D-16979 | USPA Director of Safety and Training