USPA Raises Minimum Deployment Altitude

by

One of the actions arising from last week’s meeting of the USPA Board will raise the minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders in the Basic Safety Requirements from the current 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. The board had discussed this idea at previous meetings, and it has now come to the conclusion that the change will save lives.

Since 2001, there have been nine fatalities—two of them this year—associated with low reserve deployments after automatic activation device activations, most of them at line-stretch. In each case, the AAD activated at the proper altitude. There are a variety of factors that can interfere with a timely reserve deployment, among them a jumper’s body position, a weak pilot chute spring, a low-drag pilot chute, a pilot chute caught in the jumper’s burble, a bridle that briefly snags on something or a tight reserve container that slows extraction. And while it is often impossible to determine whether any of these factors were present in these accidents, what is known is that if there had been only another second or two, we could have asked the jumper what happened. Clearly, an AAD-activation altitude higher than the current 840 feet for one product and 750 feet for another may have provided those precious extra seconds.

But the AAD manufacturers had a dilemma: They couldn’t increase their activation altitudes if the BSR allows a 2,000-foot altitude for initiating deployment. If jumpers deployed at 2,000 feet and waited on main canopy inflation or fought a malfunction while going through 1,000 feet, then low-altitude two-canopy-out scenarios or worse, main-reserve entanglements, would become more likely. Raising the minimum altitude for C- and D-licensees to 2,500 feet provides more time for the main to open or for a jumper to enact emergency procedures before the AAD activates and, hopefully, now at an altitude that helps ensure a fully-inflated reserve canopy.

Yes, most jumpers already deploy higher than 2,500 feet; you almost have to if you are complying with the long-standing Skydiver’s Information Manual recommendation for B through D licensees to enact emergency procedures by 1,800 feet, especially with today’s slow-opening main canopies that are quick to go into a hell-bent spin. But some jumpers still deploy below 2,500 feet, sometimes for good reason. To allow those good reasons, the board motion allows Safety and Training Advisors to waive the BSR on a jump-specific basis. If there is a low ceiling and the airplane can’t get above 2,500 feet for low exits or accuracy jumps or if the same low ceiling threatens a demo or if the big-way attempts need a little more room at the bottom to ensure adequate separation, then the S&TA simply waives those specific jumps from the BSR. There is no required paperwork or time spent waiting on someone else’s approval. However, DZ-wide or season-long waivers are not the intent. Otherwise why enact a rule that could be universally waived?

Finally, USPA isn’t ignoring the tight-rig issue. Back in 2010, USPA formally asked the Parachute Industry Association to research the accidents in which the container design may have infringed on reserve deployment. The PIA committee tasked to do so is also setting up testing protocols to try to identify rig designs and components that have the potential to inhibit reserve deployment. We continue to monitor PIA’s progress and look forward to seeing continued improvement in rig design.

Update 08/21/2013:

There were many reasons behind the USPA Board’s decision to increase the BSR minimum deployment altitude for C- and D-license holders from 2,000 feet to 2,500 feet. In no particular order:

  1. USPA’s long-time SIM recommendation of 1,800 feet for initiating emergency procedures more or less requires main initiation above 2,000 feet. The fact that the SIM has listed a 2,000-foot minimum container opening while at the same time recommending 1,800 feet as a decision altitude has always been an unrealistic set of guidelines to provide to our members.
  2. The 2,000-foot minimum altitude was in place years before the now faster freefall speeds, slower-opening mains and slower reserve deployments, which all argue for a higher main deployment altitude, even when no AAD is involved.
  3. Too many jumpers are running out of altitude with low cutaways after experiencing a spinning line twist. Many of them had deployed below 2,500 feet.
  4. Recent fatality statistics indicate that the performance of our canopies and rapid altitude loss during a malfunction have gotten to a point where the 2,000-foot BSR is no longer enough of a safety margin.

And yes, there had been discussions with the AAD manufacturers about a series of too-low (i.e. fatal) reserve deployments following proper AAD activations. With a BSR allowing a 2,000-foot main deployment, the AAD manufacturers did not feel that enough buffer existed for them to raise their baseline activation altitude. Now, a 2,500-foot main deployment BSR provides them that opportunity.

The new CYPRES with programmable activation altitudes actually argues for increasing the main container opening altitude, since Airtec states that a jumper should plan for a fully open main at least 1,000 feet above the programmed CYPRES activation altitude.

Skydiver safety is always the primary focus of USPA. The higher deployment altitude is safer for our members, and there is little or no downside to the increase, especially with a Safety & Training Advisor able to allow sub-2,500-foot deployments if circumstances require it for demos, big-ways, etc. S&TAs already have the authority to waive important BSRs like wind limits, landing area size and the need for flotation gear when near water; they can easily handle this waiver as well.

Ed Scott
Executive Director

23 Responses to “USPA Raises Minimum Deployment Altitude”

  1. Zach Says:

    So for the sake of the makers of an optional piece of equipment….. Who don’t have the guts to say “our product activates at 1000 feet, when using our product we recommend pulling above 2500.” uspa makes a rule for all of the members.

    Kinda disappointing. Thought uspa was about the members….. Not the manufactures

  2. Ron Says:

    So the USPA *knows* there is an issue with rigs and reserves and instead of fixing the problem, caves to pressure from the manufacturer.

    Who is the USPA supposed to work for, the jumpers or the equipment manufacturers?

  3. Julius Says:

    In 5000+ jumps, I’ve had nine cutaways after deploying at 2000′ and have never been open below 1200′ under reserve.
    To bow to the pressures of the equipment manufacturers is a disservice to the membership!
    Unfortunately, some people have failed to execute emergency procedures in a timely manner, they paid the price.

  4. Rob Jonson Says:

    I’d love to see AAD manufacturers introducing a ‘cautious’ setting which jumpers can choose. This would be somewhere between the ‘expert’ and ‘student’ settings which are currently available.

    It’s shameful that we have cases where the AAD has fired, and the reserve has not had time to deploy.

  5. Edward Says:

    Not a problem for me. My hard deck is 2500. Wingsuit I open at 4K and freefly I open at 3K – 3.5K.

    Edward D-27670

  6. Ken Says:

    Will the USPA release all of the information about the incidents of AAD fires and no reserve deployment? If not, why not? Please release immediately which rigs, reserves, mains, and AADs were involved in each of these incidents so that members may make more fully informed choices about their gear.

  7. Nancy Says:

    Do I have this right: in 12 years, there have been nine fatalities associated with low altitude. This sounds to me like a solution to a non-existent problem. How many total skydives were made in the US during those 12 years? The USPA BOD needs to look at the same statistics that are brought out for the media every time there is a fatality of any kind. Out of literally millions of skydives, nine fatalities related to this BSR. What is the statistical ratio there? So everyone now needs to follow a new rule? Of course, no one ever wants ANY fatalities in our sport of “managed risk.” But, will a broad blanket regulation like this really serve its purpose? Finally, how will it be enforced? By observation from the ground? By video replay? By testimony from others on the jump? What are the consequences if the BSR is not voluntarily complied with?

  8. Dixie Says:

    In this age of small canopies, slower openings and possible faster windups on malfunctions and the fact that people are voluntary deploying higher for safety reasons, i think its a good move.
    In Australia you must be under canopy by 1800 ft, ie a deployment at 2500ft but jumpers deploy higher just for safetys sake.
    It dosn’t matter what rule you create someone will allways find a reason to complain about it!

  9. Julius Says:

    I propose an E license. Pack opening altitude 2000′. I hate the canopy ride.

  10. JohnS Says:

    I think this is a great rule and will help with safety. I would like my AAD to fire higher, but understand the issue the manufacturers face. Hopefully, now it can. Everyone I know who flies safely is under canopy at 2500 anyway. Good job to the Board in moving on a tough subject.

    • Julius Says:

      @JohnS, are you impling that someone who opens lower than 2500′ is flying unsafe? By opening at 2000′, I have LESS canopy traffic in the landing pattern and landing area.

  11. M1ke (@M1ke) Says:

    I don’t see a benefit to manufacturers from this change, so it semes unlikely that the USPA is acting illegitimately.

    The people complaining about the ruling claim that there is minimal safety impact; the evidence given has been 9 fatalities, so what rebuttal evidence is there to suggest that none of these would have been stopped by a higher AAD altitude? If this change is necessary to allow the AAD to fire higher then so be it – if you use an AAD it needs to be reliable.

    For those not using an AAD maybe your S&TA will agree to waive the requirement, but is 500′ that much of a difference?

  12. Phillip Bell Says:

    Nothing here to address pull altitude for AFF Instructors. I have to assume USPA will increase pull altitude for AFFIs to 2,500 feet. I’d like the freedom to go a bit lower to save my student if it ever comes to that.

    Queue all the armchair quarterbacks to tell me what a crappy AFFI I am for ever needing to go that low, in 3 .. 2 .. 1 ..

  13. Michael Says:

    While I think that opening at 2500′ is a good idea, and usually do myself. I am appalled that this board, once again, without any input from the membership, has gone, behind our backs to make changes at the request of an outside entity. Is this really a significant problem? Were so many people dying, or in such imminent danger that you had to act immediately, without any input from those it effects? Yet, when the membership asks for a wing loading BSR, it is not seriously considered. You compile the statistics, what is really killing skydivers-reserves not extracting in time, or inexperienced people hooking themselves into the ground? If there is a problem with reserves not extracting as they are supposed to do, then this issue needs to be brought to the FAA-if you are serious about ‘saving lives.’ If it is a problem with a particular rig, combination of gear, whatever….why have you not published this information-why do you continue to risk the members lives by forcing us to remain in ignorance. Why aren’t you, in the interest of ‘saving lives’ insisting that makers of rigs prove that they still fall within the limits of their TSO, or should they prove to be reluctant to retest, will you petition the FAA to force the issue. How serious are you really?

    • Julius Says:

      Right on Michael! Lets get the FAA involved if USPA doesn’t fix the real problem. This (2500′ opening alt. ) is just a bandaid thats not even on the wound.

  14. mike Says:

    We all know the risk we take. And we know are own rigs. I for one,do not use an aad. I pull at 3500 ft.All the time. So as for the ruling on the 2000 ft to now the 2500 ft pull. Well i think we know what we want as jumpers. And what is safe. I understand some jumpers pull low so they can beat the crowd and land without traffic. So blueskies to all,and just be safe and think of others. And staying with a student until he or she is safe and under deployment ,and makes the affi a little lower in altitude.So be it.To save a life is better than letting one go.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Good luck on enforcing this. Are we going back to timing with a stopwatch to catch offenders? This will be ignored by most all the experienced folks so what was the purpose of this effort?
    Richard Baker
    D-14235 POPS #3668°

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Good luck on enforcing this. Are we going back to timing with a stopwatch to catch offenders? This will be ignored by most all the experienced folks so what was the purpose of this effort?
    Richard Baker
    D-14235 POPS #3668

  17. Sam Haley Says:

    Michael and Julius wrong!! The FAA are the last people we need to bring into this matter. We happen to enjoy a sport pretty much free of FAA watch dogs on our backs. At the same time I agree that this matter should have been brought up to the membership as a whole and only after our feedback should our BSR’s been changed instead of an “oh by the way here is a new BSR for you”. Being in this sport for 36 years I have seen many changes in our gear and skydiving disciplines. The gear manufactures we have in this sport for the most part are right there keeping pace and providing us with the best and safest gear of any sport on the planet, with scuba maybe being the exception. I agree with Anonymous this is a rule that will be almost impossible to enforce or regulate so what’s the point other than covering someone’s butt in a court room in some future litigation.
    Sam D – 9189

  18. Chris Pedersen Says:

    A few people have commented that the USPA ‘caved’ to the interests of gear manufacturers. I don’t think that’s the case at all. It seems as if the USPA changed a rule that will allow the AAD manufacturers to feel comfortable increasing activation altitudes. Personally, I would definitely set my AAD to fire a little bit higher than its current setting if given the choice.

    And in addition to increasing AAD activation altitudes, I think a rule change regarding the mandatory use of RSLs will also save lives. I’ve met many young jumpers that don’t use an RSL because they don’t know any better. In my opinion, RSLs should be mandatory, and jumping without one should only be allowed with a waiver from the S&TA.

    • julius Says:

      The real issue is people are waiting FAR too long to execute their EP’s. This is very evident on YouTube videos!
      The failure of a few people should not affect the rest of us who KNOW how to use our gear.
      My AAD is to back me up in case I get knocked out. If I am conscious, I will pull all my handles in a timely manor. An opening altitude of 2000′ is plenty high to deal with a malfunction. Some people already pull higher anyways.
      Personally, I will not use an RSL nor will I deploy my reserve (my LAST chance) unstable.
      Increasing the activation altitude of AAD’s is not necessary, leave it to the individual! Same for RSL use!

  19. Bob Pfeifer D3878 Says:

    Peoples reaction times are different be it age or experience or both not to mention other things that can complicate the situation other than a “clean” malfunction. 500 hundred feet, that’s about 3 seconds of freefall. What’s the big deal? All the sky above you doesn’t do you a darn bit of good especially when you need it.

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