What will be the new normal at drop zones?
By Ed Scott
As this issue goes to press on May 1, a tentative few DZs have reopened, with others announcing May reopening dates. By doing so, these DZs are inserting themselves into the great public debate about whether a return to normal is (pick one): a) overdue, b) too early or c) dangerous as hell.
Some would ask if DZs should even be allowed to reopen at this time. Because there are so many differing rules issued by a multitude of municipalities and states, some DZs will have wide latitude to reopen while others will have to remain closed by the rules in place where they are. Each DZO needs to know the rules in place in his or her jurisdiction and decide accordingly. Currently in one state, a business can open only if it can provide six feet of distance between people, and if not, install a physical barrier. In another state, businesses can operate if employees practice good hygiene and employees and customers alike wear masks and keep their spacing. In yet another state, the government has lifted statewide restrictions, but the capitol city is keeping its tight municipal business restrictions in place. USPA is urging DZs to know and comply with any governmental requirements they are subject to.
Then come questions about the specific practices that DZs, once operational, should put in place to safeguard their staff and their customers. Several DZOs have asked USPA for guidance. We declined because USPA has no expertise in health standards. Instead, we advised DZOs to research Centers for Disease Control and state and local health agency guidelines and strive to comply. Many DZs are already posting their procedures; some are well thought out and detailed.
What will be the new normal at drop zones? We know there will be distancing requirements, so you may have to wait for space in the packing area. There may be restrictions on where you can hang out in between jumps. At those DZs not yet using manifest apps, the line at manifest will seem longer. Post-jump socializing at the bar or bonfire may look different, too. We’ll likely see more cleaning crews throughout the day, including a wipe-down of the aircraft after each load. Just as with the airlines, social distancing on a jump plane is not plausible.
Drop zones are also considering tandem procedures. Jumpsuits may no longer be an option, but masks will likely be mandatory. Helmets or frap hats? Only if they can be disinfected after every jump. And take-home goggles may become included in the jump price.
The big question is, what will the activity level be at DZs upon reopening? And how long will it take until first-jump customers and experienced skydivers return to normal levels? No doubt that skydivers are anxious to get some air and will be there when the doors open, at least those not affected by job loss or reduced wages. Will John and Jane Q. Public come out to complete their bucket-list first jump? Perhaps they’ll be relieved to finally get out of the house and do something adventurous. Or perhaps they’ll need more time to get comfortable with the thought of being among a group of strangers and in a confined aircraft.
Together, we’ll find the answers to these questions as we enter the world of the new normal. And one day we’ll look back on 2020 as truly a year of adversity, but also a year when our bond as skydivers drew us closer.