Boy how some people play loose with the truth!
If you encounter
Dell Schanze slamming the USPPA (or
any organization, for that matter), make sure to get both sides. There's
a lot more than meets the eye.
First off, no organization is perfect. It's made up of people,
usually passionate people, who
want to better the sport and are among the few that are willing to dig
in. But that takes time. It takes working with people who may share the
vision but not exactly. No two humans will agree on everything so,
like any collaborative effort, there is give and take. That's good
because it engenders balance. But it will never be perfect in everyone's eyes. The people
in charge have to do the best they can with what
situation and resources they've got.
It's easy to throw rocks at an organization for problems in the sport
even when the problems are well beyond the organization's control. And
frequently the org is working to improve problem areas which is
certainly the case with USPPA, just like it is for the other ultralight
USPPA is not the government—it
doesn't wield an almighty stick that dictates who does what. In fact, it
doesn't wield much of a stick at all. Primarily, it provides the tools
that instructors and pilots can use but it can't force teh tools to be used. USPPA's
biggest area of "power," if you will, is in
the execution of its own ratings program, just like the much
larger US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA or HPA), upon
which USPPA's program is based.
USPPA got it's "authority" the same way USHPA did and USUA and EAA
and many others. A group of passionate pilots saw a need. In this case,
a better, more standardized training program. The sport could also could
benefit from some organization and some structure to present a unified
voice to government. So these people
they got together to make it happen. Eventually the org became
recognized by a majority of its instructors and now by the federal
government, both the FAA and the IRS. USPPA's first meeting was in the
office of Southern Skies, at the base of Moore mountain in North
Caralina. It was
adjourned when we determined that soaring conditions existed and we all
These people were already involved with paragliding and were some of
paramotoring's most prolific teachers and pilots. All were members of
the USHGA (which is now USHPA). More on that below.
(Jeff Goin) is professional aviation. So when I set out to learn
powered paragliding in 1999 I knew enough to seek a recognized, thorough,
paramotor training program. There was none. So I took the next closest thing which was
the USHGA program. It was a great course but didn't have
anything for powered flying. So when I bought a motor, I made sure
motor training was included. Good thing, too. I recognized there would
be significant differences in flying the motor and indeed there were,
some of which came out later. Many free flight instructors thought of powered flying as only a
launch skill, and a few still do. I eventually learned there's a lot
more to it than just strapping a motor on. Looking at the accidents
of motor pilots and the accidents of soaring pilots bears that out.
Soaring had been a passion since I started flying sailplanes at age
13. So soaring with a paraglider was a welcome similarity. Through the process I continued with free flight
(and still do), eventually earning my P4 paraglider rating.
Two years after I started powered paragliding, I saw the benefit of powered
flyers and instructors having similar standards and training as the USHPA.
When the North American PPG Association failed to take hold, I got with
several other USHPA pilots, two of them advanced instructors, and
started the USPPA. It's first president, Alan Chuculate, was also an official with USHPA
and held their highest instructor ratings, including tandem. These
among powered paragliding's most talented, dedicated and prolific
Clearly these were well qualified individuals.
At the time USPPA was forming, there were some who felt that its program was way too difficult, especially for instructors. The org wove
a fine line of requiring too much to get anyone to participate and being
too easy to be meaningful. It was a lot harder to earn USPPA Instructor
certification than it was for the other orgs and those orgs granted
In 2002 USPPA filed for a Tandem exemption that was based
on the USHPA's with dramatically higher requirements than what was needed
at the time. 100 hours or 300 flights for USPPA as opposed to 25 hours
for the other orgs. That
tandem exemption didn't get approved until Sept 2008 and, as of this
writing, is the only way to legally do tandem powered paragliding (and
that must only be foot launched).
The goal wasn't to be "exclusive," it was to recognize the
significant skill in safely conducting foot-launched tandem flights. But
it's amusing to hear the org decried for making its program too
To relate accidents to a failure of the org is ridiculous. USPPA
stresses the importance of thorough training, ratings and using the
syllabus. But it can't force pilots to get ratings or instructors to give
USPPA even puts its money where its mouth is by reimbursing pilots for getting
rated. How many orgs do that!?!? It can afford this because
expenses are low and it has gotten tax deductible donations. Policies
are continually being modified to further the effort at improving the
lure of quality, thorough yet realistic training. The syllabus itself is
a result of preventable training accidents and incomplete training that
pervades the sport.
Blaming accidents on the org is bizzare. Is USHPA responsible for the
more-frequent paragliding accidents? Fatalities? Is As best we can tell,
twice as many paraglider pilots die (per 1000 flights) as paramotor
pilots. Is that because of the USHPA's inadequate program? Hardly.
Skydivers seem to die at an even higher rate (if one jump is equivalent
to one flight). Is that because of the U.S. Parachute Association's
inadequate efforts? Hardly. I'll bet the USPA discusses the risk in BASE
jumping (where the jumper dives off a relatively low height without a
reserve)but still BASE jumpers do it, dying at a horrendous rate
relative to other air sports. No, the orgs provide guidelines, knowing
that pilots ultimately want to make their own call on equipment, safety
gear, and maneuvers. Likewise, USPPA puts out guidelines that are there
for pilots to follow or not follow. Look at "USPPA's top 10 Tips" from
the home page.
Another thing, beating up on those who file accident reports is
incredibly counterproductive! As one involved in airline safety efforts,
I can tell you with certainty that shutting down the free flow of information is widely recognized as
complete folly. We need to collectively encourage pilots to report
accidents and not berate them or their equipment in a negative way.
Suggesting improvements is great, damning equipment or flyers is
utterly destructive, especially by virtue of decreasing motivation to
report details of future accidents.
A quick digression on gear. There is room for improvements in
equipment safety (see "A
Better Paramotor") but asserting the solution as buying one
brand of machine or wing is ridiculous. Unrealistic, too. After all, a
driver on the highway is safer if he's driving a big, heavy truck. But
some of us like lightweight simplicity and good handling like those who
enjoy riding motorcycles. They may be more dangerous than the truck, but
sure are more fun. I'm glad to have the choice and will work hard to
protect that choice. Plus, experience has shown that nearly ALL
paramotors provide some amount of crash protection.
Equipment certification is another area of misunderstanding. I'm a
big fan of certification, in general, especially for beginner gliders,
but after that, its benefit decreases. Any glider in its smallest sizes
will not likely be certified for the weights it will be flown at. Plus,
certification itself is hotly debated since it doesn't recognize the
passive safety offered in reflex gliders which essentially trade risk.
They're less likely to collapse but are nastier when they do, as will
any wing at high speed.
An instructor gets certified for two reasons. 1) To show the world
he's got skills as demonstrated to a third party, and 2) to be able to
administer officially recognized ratings of the organization. Especially
now that the FAA has recognized USPPA as the only paramotor certifying
org, that has a bit more weight.
A pilot becomes certified by demonstrating skills, passing the tests
and getting recommended by two other instructors. Once he's rated, it's
up to him whether or not he gives ratings and uses the syllabus. Just
like USHPA. Just like FAA Instructors. What they do afterwards is
largely up to them.
USHPA and USPPA don't dictate the business practices of the
instructor. For example, what if a student just wants to come for 3
days? Do you think the instructor will turn him down? That's not enough for a PPG2, the basic pilot rating, so the
instructor is left with a choice: decline the student and let him go
elsewhere, or provide as much training as possible while explaining
what's required to set out safely on his own (PPG2).
USPPA and it's material make it clear that the PPG2 rating is a
minimum for a pilot to set out on their own. It's up to the instructors,
and to the community to get the word out. It's up to the instructor to
encourage ratings. USPPA has built the dinner table and put food on it,
the diners have to come on their own.
As to revoking an instructors certification, that's possible but, as
USHPA found out, it takes a lot. Primarily, an instructor has to be
issuing ratings without actually doing what's required. There has to be
written accusation, evidence, a meeting of peers, opportunity for
rebuttal and finally agreement on action by the training committee. It's
a big deal. Of course if it needs to happen, then it must.
USPPA puts out a thorough pilot proficiency program and, although its
use is increasing, most pilots go to instructors who do little more than
show them how to fly and even then sometimes just barely. Some of these
"instructors" are not certified by anyone. It's a travesty, of course,
and the organization has been working on ways to improve the benefit of
Tandem ratings are only for teaching and, as of Nov 2008, USPPA is now the only org certified to give tandem ratings.
There are precious few instructors willing to do
foot-launched tandems but that will probably change since it's the only
legal way to do tandem training.
Efforts have been going on for some time to increase the benefit to
instructor's who give ratings but much of it has to do with very basic
issues of time. All changes require significant expenditure of time to
implement. The volunteers all have real jobs and so changes have to work
within the confines of that reality. First, everybody has to agree to
the change, then all the documents and website have to be updated. Some
changes were recently made by USPPA but they'll take a few weeks get
through the system and out to the instructors.
Again, throwing stones is easy. It's also fruitless and destructive,
too, of the only group trying to make realistic and lasting improvements
to the training situation, to change the culture of "lets just throw
them in the air" in an environment where that's exactly what the
low-cost competitor is likely to do.
In free flight, ratings are dramatically more relevant because
they're required for access to the limited soaring sites. You have to
have a rating. Plus, it's easier to apply peer pressure since the
instructors tend to congregate at soaring sites and see each other (and
their charges) in action. Motor instructors tend to operate out on their
Some new blood has come into the USPPA and will hopefully continue
making improvements. These are respected pilots and instructors who want
to better the sport and share a passion for making it safer while
remaining a viable business for the few instructors who make it their
livelihood or an adjunct to their livelihood.
Discipline of instructors is a tough issue and the USHPA has found
out. Anytime an instructor's livelihood is threatened, there is likely
to be a severe reaction. So it cannot be taken lightly and that's why
the emphasis on improving the carrot rather than trying to swing the
stick. At some point the stick will have to be used, but it must be done
oh so wisely.
So don't just throw stones, join those who dedicate their time and
encourage participation in the ratings and who work on the committees.
That's by far the most likely way to make lasting changes.
And when you hear someone bashing any of the volunteer orgs that
support your favorite form of flight, make sure to look at the big
picture. You'll find it's not black and white and not even shades of
gray. It's full of colorful people and their passions that help make the
sport so incredible.
Here's to success!