Parachute Group Opposes Extra Maintenance, Training Proposal


The U.S. Parachute Association says a bill included in the Senate’s version of the next FAA Reauthorization will create needless expense and red tape for the industry. USPA Executive Director Albert Berchtold told AVweb in an interview that the Air Tour and Sport Parachuting Improvement Act of 2023, sponsored by Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, will burden jump zone operators without improving safety. “It will create redundant regulation that doesn’t solve the problem,” said Berchtold.

Under Schatz’s bill, jump pilots would have to undergo additional annual recurrency sessions “that address, at a minimum, operation- and aircraft-specific weight and balance calculations, preflight inspections, emergency and recovery procedures, and parachutist egress procedures for each type of aircraft flown.” Berchtold said commercial pilots are already trained and must demonstrate proficiency in all those skills and requiring extra training and testing will be another barrier to attracting new pilots to jump zones.

The bill would also require operators to overhaul engines and other life-limited components at the manufacturer’s suggested TBO and not be permitted to fly on condition as approved by maintenance professionals. Berchtold said that aspect essentially assigns a regulatory mandate to the manufacturers.

Berchtold said Schatz’s bill is a rehash of recommendations from the NTSB that were rejected by the FAA in 2008 when the board addressed drop zone safety issues. He said the FAA and USPA acted on other NTSB recommendations at the time but opposed these because of the same reasons he’s now citing. Berchtold said the industry is already amply regulated and he would rather see an emphasis on enforcing existing regulations. He also said the industry’s safety record has improved since the 2008 recommendations from the NTSB, but a major crash in Hawaii in 2019 marred that record.

Berchtold said Schatz’s bill was apparently inspired by the crash of the jump zone King Air from Dillingham Airport in Hawaii in 2019 that killed all 11 onboard. The NTSB found the aircraft stalled after an aggressive takeoff. It also found that previous unrepaired damage from a stall/spin accident in the crash plane left it with a twisted wing that may have contributed to the loss of control.

The House’s version of the reauthorization bill does not include these provisions and was passed in August. The Senate is expected to mark up its version of reauthorization next week, and Berchtold said there is opposition to the parachute provisions from some members.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. … from the very same people that brought us the Colgan ‘rule.’ Swell.

    This HI Senator needs to focus his engernies on the people of Maui — you know, his constituents — and stop fixing what ain’t broke! OH! He has a ‘D’ in front of his title … THAT explains it. Never mind.

  2. What would USPA’s suggestions to improve safety be? Why do they feel that additional training would not help? Are there no examples of accidents caused by human error that could be improved with training? Is the safety record of sport parachuting so high that there is no room for significant improvement?

  3. Article said the 2019 accident was a stall- related incident. Then we read of airframe damage from a stall/spin incident prior. Me thinks this is a pilot issue that no amount of training would fix. Unfortunately the pilot took other lives when fate caught up. In every profession you can find those who push the envelope to the point of being a hazard. It is not training, it is a mindset.

    • “” It is not training, it is a mindset.”
      “No amount of training would fix”

      Did you read the report? (WPR19MA177) If so, where in there are you basing your conclusion on? NTSB did a full investigation and the docket has the interviews, pilot logs, company training record, all there for anyone to read. This guy had basically zero real training in the King Air or drop operations. From page 13 of final report:
      “According to former Oahu Parachute Center pilots, there was no training curriculum for Oahu Parachute Center King Air pilots and no company training or procedures manuals. The Oahu Parachute Center pilot who provided King Air training to multiple other Oahu Parachute Center King Air pilots (but did not train the accident pilot) said the company did not have any direction in training, and he was told to take new pilots and teach them how to start the engines, taxi and takeoff, fly the jump run then land a couple of times, and then they were good to go. He said there was no money to take the airplane off the line to just train pilots, and training consisted of doing “…a couple of jump runs, hand them the keys and that was it.” There was no formalized training since there was no money to take the airplane out of service for training flights, and they primarily trained by viewing the King Air Academy videos on YouTube and not hands-on training.

      Another former part-time Oahu Parachute Center King Air pilot stated that the training at Oahu Parachute Center “was a joke.” He said his training was minimal, and when completed, his instructor hopped out of the airplane and told him “not to get uncoordinated.” There were no procedures given to him to follow, and there was no training on how to fly the airplane.

      The Oahu Parachute Center pilot who provided King Air training to the accident pilot’s instructor said he really did not train the instructor since there was no money to take the airplane off the line to just train pilots. His training consisted of doing “…a couple of jump runs, hand them the keys and that was it.” He further said the instructor “had a real hard time with the Beech” and Oahu Parachute Center did not use him often. He said the accident pilot’s instructor seemed confused by the King Air and did not understand the flows, and he also had a hard time figuring out how to start the King Air engines”

      • Problem here is that some pilots are so desperate to get multi-engine time they are will to overlook the obvious when dealing with a marginal operator. Keep in mind in the end all (pt105) parachute jump operations are the final responsibility of the PIC, even if something happens that is no fault of the PIC. I have flown jumpers for years and have walked away from an operator I felt was not safe. I have flown for operators that have kept their planes up to current standard and have made safety measures as much as possible with a bunch of crazy skydivers!

  4. Lest anyone think that “Oh, this is about PARACHUTING–it DOESN’T APPLY TO ME!”–THINK AGAIN!

    Overhaul engines at the recommended TBO–yet there wasn’t an engine failure in this case, and aircraft used for skydiving rarely are out of glide range of the airport for most of the flight. Engine TBOs have more than doubled on many engines–from an initial 800 hours on a Lycoming to 1200 hours to 1500 hours to 1800 hours to 2000 hour to 2400 hours–that factory-recommended TBO has meant a lot of perfectly good engines were overhauled over the years–and at a huge cost. If a Senator can force this through for ONE segment of aviation, there is nothing to prevent them from coming after YOUR segment of aviation.

    Even the FAA rejected the Senator’s earlier call for more regulation–if the Senator knows something the FAA doesn’t know, perhaps he should take it up with them.

    “Jump pilots would have to undergo additional annual recurrency sessions “that address, at a minimum, operation- and aircraft-specific weight and balance calculations, preflight inspections, emergency and recovery procedures, and parachutist egress procedures for each type of aircraft flown.” Every one of these is covered in a biennial flight review. Would doing it EVERY YEAR increase safety? I think not–and if anyone actually believes this, the Senator’s bill may target YOUR sector next.

    The NTSB found that the cause of the accident was caused by an aggressive takeoff–the action of ONE PILOT. If this is to stand, what would prevent any other “do-gooder” Congresscritter from introducing a bill for ANY OTHER PILOT-CAUSED ACCIDENT?

    The similar bill failed to find enough support to pass in the House–yet this guy is going to try to get it back in through the back door in the Senate. And politicians wonder why they get no respect!

    • Spot on! This is what has happened to your local airport sight seeing rides which are now for the most part illegal unless you comply with additional regs (drug testing is one).

    • “‘that address, at a minimum, operation- and aircraft-specific weight and balance calculations, preflight inspections, emergency and recovery procedures, and parachutist egress procedures for each type of aircraft flown.’ Every one of these is covered in a biennial flight review. Would doing it EVERY YEAR increase safety?”

      Uh, can you point me where in 61.56 it says that any of these are covered in a BFR?

      My last BFR was in a glider but I hold a ATP. We did the one-hour required ground portion. We did not cover any of these things above. I can fly a King Air tomorrow with the same signature. That’s not unusual, I’ve given dozens (100+?) of BFRs and I’ve done in-air emergency review (for the plane, but not for how to deal with emergencies related to jumpers in the dozen or so scenarios like chute opened in cabin, etc.), but none of the other items you listed, (unless someone wanted to go over them).
      On Saturday I can ask every CFI run into over bad coffee and stale donuts on how many of them have “parachutist egress procedures for each type of aircraft flown” on their BFR checklist and get back to you, but I don’t think it’s a big percentage.

      Was this covered on the accident pilots BFR? Well, since he was dead in less than two years since he earned his PPL, he never took one and we’ll never know.

      Yep, I have every confidence is going to a DZ that is following the USPA guidelines, but they are not government, and they don’t enforce anything. Yep, I get the reaction to more regs. Nobody like rules.

      If you browse the investigation docket there’s around 200 pages where it’s very clear, over and over, that this DZ was the wild wild west – no training, no ops procedure , shady mx procedures. The company had zero hiring standards other than an multi-com, and this guy had failed literally every FAA checkride, and one look at his very thin log book shows most of his supposed King Air time was pencil-whipped (he logged much of his King Air time two weeks after STARTING his first private pilot lesson in a PA-28)

      So what I don’t understand is comments saying that the system works just fine and this was just one isolated horrible pilot, and this is some huge reg overstep to have someone checked out in drop operations every year, or require a commercial operator to have an ops procedure, or training record or checklist or something in the drawer to show these guys have any clue on operating a King Air chop/drop.
      Yep, he was a horrible pilot, and we don’t know if a training program would have changed anything, but we do know there was absolutely no training, and this guy had absolutely no business being there in the first place.

  5. Canada regulates skydive aircraft under Canadian Aviation Regulations Part 702 (Aerial Work). This requires minimum pilot qualifications and pilot annual training and competency check flight, an approved operations manual, with an approved chief pilot and operations manager. The jump aircraft must be maintained under an approval maintenance schedule for the aircraft at an approved maintenance organization.

    Skydiving seems to be doing just fine in Canada and with a better safety record.

    • I’m curious, how much does a jump to 12.5k cost in Canada? I also know that Canada blocks off airspace for skydiving and jumping through clouds is legal there( correct me if I am wrong), something that is not done in the US and putting jumpers through clouds in the US is a big no no.

        • Thanks for the correction. Still waiting for someone to comment on how much a plane ride to altitude costs in Canada for a skydive?

          • American skydivers are notoriously cheap when it comes to jump ticket costs. There is a reason it cost so much more to fly on a pt135 charter flight vs the airlines. Does no good on a safety standpoint to have increased costs to the point that no one shows up to jump or can afford to do so.

    • Yeah, I get that a lot of folks are not big on government regulation in the comments (who loves more rules??) but I’ve been to some DZs and seen some stuff, and I get more scared on the trip to 14k feet that the fall from it. I mean, if you Google my local DZ, it autocompletes “… deaths” (really)

      The NTSB investigation docket for the Hawaii crash is sobering. The company didn’t make any money on training pilots and so they never did any training. From the investigation docket we have all kinds of evidence that they had no policies, procedures, records, handbooks, anything. The accident pilot had two working drop flights from the left seat on his first two days as “training” and then they set this guy free to work for 3 months until he killed a lot of people.
      No training standards, op standards, maintenance standards, and there was absolutely no hiring qualifications at this company. He’d failed every FAA checkride. According to the .pdf of the log book a good chunk of this guy’s King Air time was two weeks after he started his private pilot training in a PA-28; he just sat there and logged all this twin-turboprop time that he claimed as real flight experience. The NTSB had to subpoena the guy’s instructor to figure out why in the world this was log-able time and his instructor answered government questions only under threat of arrest.

      USPA president Berchtold said the industry is already amply regulated. That is disingenuous. Actually, sport parachute ops in the USA are by far the least regulated segment of all commercial aviation activity. They are under 14 CFR 105, and all of Part 105 will fit on 2 pages of paper (i.e. don’t take drunk skydivers, sunrise/sunset, clear of clouds, have a radio and announce drops, chute packed within 180 days. THAT’S ALL that’s in there).

      Looking at USPA data, over the past decade, on average around 20 people die a year skydiving, with a fatality rate of around 1 in 200,000 jumps, which is half of what it was 20 yrs ago. USPA will tell you exactly how every one of them happened, they maintain a very detailed database. Browsing through it, it seems most would not have been prevented by an FAA additional regulations, IMO.
      USPA is the unofficial authority of skydiving, and in the USA this works pretty well, since like most industries, operators mainly police themselves since they want to run a business and not die. And this usually works great, until it it doesn’t. If you look at the HI FSDO guy’s interview, maybe he could have done a better job of oversight, but the idea that there’s a ton of skydiving regs already that just need better enforcement is not credible, IMO.

      • The accident pilot “failing every FAA checkride” kind of says it all. This is not the fault of the DZ operator. If the FAA would do their job better overseeing some of those alleged failed checkrides, that pilot would have never been certificated in the first place. I know of another instance where a jump pilot who was not a CFI was giving multi instruction in an empty plane, feathering one engine doing an engine out demo, then when the pilot getting instruction tried to go-around with speed too low, ended up crashing due to below VMC. Can’t blame the DZ for a mistake made in flight “instruction” with a non certificated “instructor”.

  6. Even the FAA doesn’t want anything to do with these proposed changes. Putting drop zone airplane ops under pt135 would shut down the entire industry. Say goodbye to $30-35 jumps, try 3 times that to pay for the additional pilot training, getting ops manuals approved (usually takes up to 18 months), additional worthless maintenance requirements (say goodbye to C182 ops, would be a big money loser) and the additional personnel required to be paid for(director of ops, chief pilot, director of maintenance, any check airman). I can guarantee that these items will be the last things on an operations inspectors’ priority of work to do. Who in the FAA actually has any expertise in drop operations? Very few. And FAA inspectors won’t even fly unless weather is close to perfect so who knows how long it would take to schedule a check ride with them. Can you actually see a FAA inspector wanting to willingly ride along on a demonstration of jump run?

  7. Yikes

    I looked this up and:

    Federal regulations (14 CFR Part 119) describe the certification requirements for air carriers and commercial operators, but exempts skydiving flights operating within 25 miles of the departure airport. As a result, skydiving flights are conducted in accordance with 14 CFR Part 91 and 14 CFR Part 105.

    Since most accidents happen on takeoff and landing I cannot believe that skydiving flights are not under part 135 since they are commercial operations and probably do more TO and Landings over a given period of time other than flight instruction.

    • Be careful what you wish for. AOPA just got done with an interpretation battle with the FAA over whether a student is a passenger during flight instruction. The FAA does not consider skydivers, on an airplane with the intention of jumping, as commercial passengers. That is what allows skydivers to use the floor for seating positions, and to allow for formation flying to get the big skydiving formations. Making skydive ops pt 135 would shut down most operators not only due to cost but due to no insurance available for jump operations. Pt135 does have an insurance requirement.

  8. There are always commenters about “Unsafe!” (always with an exclamation point) operations. This is my 61st year of flying–and 52 in the FBO/airport operator business. Often, the commenters have little experience with the operation themselves.

    I have over 27,000 hours (nearly half of that in King Airs)–am typed in 5 biz jets, CFI Airplane, Instrument, Multi-engine, Glider–flown 397 unique types, Commercial Balloon, Glider, and Helicopter, and made 236 skydives–and safely dropped skydivers from a number of aircraft–from balloons to Skyvans and Twin Otters. I have NO accidents or violations. Yes–I’ve refused to fly some jump airplanes–but I’ve also refused to fly some FBO rental airplanes as well.

    Avweb has an experienced skydiver on staff–Paul Bertorelli–one of the best columnists I’ve ever read (I write for 4 aviation magazines myself–he IS one of the best!). He also has access to aviation safety accident reports–including parachute operations. We would all be better to get HIS TAKE on the relative safety of various commercial operations–rather than the “DO SOMETHING!” reaction of a Senator that has so little information that even the FAA and his colleagues have not seen fit to pass his proposed legislation!

    As an FBO/Airport manager, you can count on someone pointing a finger at some aspect of aviation (usually one that they are unfamiliar with) and setting themselves up as the arbiter of what they consider safe and those operations that they consider for banishment. That opinion works both ways–I’ve seen skydivers that refuse to get aboard a specific aircraft (a Skyvan, for instance)–and that’s as it should be.

    I’ve also had self-appointed would-be paragons of aviation safety tell me that “as an airport manager, you should ban (fill in the blanks here)
    “Ag Operators, glider operations, balloon operations, aerobatic aircraft (NOT performing at an airport–just VISITING), low-level pipeline patrol, ultralights, LSAs, operations on grass areas of the airport (never mind that it is a designated runway), helicopter operations direct to the ramp (OR hover taxi over paved surfaces), and even home-built airplanes. I couldn’t ban these operations if I WANTED TO–and the FAA (the people that codify the laws) has not seen fit to “banish” these aerial operations. I’ve even had VFR pilots complain about “Aircraft doing practice IFR approaches to a different runways than I was using” and “that X@#%*+ airplane landed straight in instead of flying the pattern” (the “offending airplane” is usually doing an instrument approach).

    The aviation safety record in the U.S. is one of the best in the world–and I’ve flown GA aircraft to 83 countries around the world. The nature of government is to enact more and more restrictions–enough so that it is too difficult to operate a GA airplane in many foreign countries–the reason that so many foreign students come to the U.S. for flight training–government over-regulation has killed the industry in their own country. DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN HERE!

    If you don’t like or understand an operation or pilot action, ASK the operator–or DON’T GET ABOARD THE AIRPLANE. If you are REALLY CONCERNED, you have the Aviation Safety Reporting System–you can contact the FAA anonymously–but TRY to work it out yourself. The very worst thing that can happen is to have a Senator like this, with NO UNDERSTANDING OF THE INDUSTRY–try to institute ineffective regulation outside of the FAA codes.

    You wouldn’t have someone that has no experience in medicine writing medical laws–why do this to aviation? It reminds me of the old saying (paraphrase) “First, they came for the businessman–but I wasn’t a businessman, so I didn’t object–then they came for the tradesmen, but I was not a tradesman–then they came for me–but there was nobody left to defend me………” (Sad)

  9. Was a skydiver for 23 years and USPA has a section on their site regarding Aircraft Operations and Flight Training which includes subjects including a Flight Planner, Flight Operations Handbook, and a Jump Pilot Training Syllabus which the Association has had for quite a while for Group Member Dropzones. Am also a retired A&P and agree with Albert Berchtold on this proposed bill.