Sky Diving From A Paramotor
May 5, 2012 |
Section II | Common Sense & The Law
In early May, 2012, tragedy
befell a wing suited "BASE" jumper who, after leaping from a tandem
paramotor, never got his parachute open and died of his injuries. What a
calamity for the jumper, his family, and the paramotor pilot who was, no
doubt, a friend. I hope nothing comes of it — this paramotor pilot will
Note: Technically this is not a "BASE" jump since it's from an
ultralight and not a Building, Antenna, Structure, or Earth. I've
used the term since so many people
think of these low-opening
flights as BASE jumps.
As humans are wont to do, the
question came up, is this legal under USPPA's (or any other) exemption?
Although this flight was not apparently operating under USPPA's
exemption, the question remains: would it be legal if it was.
Like all these ultralight
regulations, there's almost no oversight until something like this
happens. Personally, I see it as two people who take a well-understood
risk; they really ought to be left alone. Lets face it -- any wing suit
flyer or BASE jumper is painfully aware of the risk. They've probably
lost a handful of friends engaging in the sport. Sad to say, but I've
lost far too many friends in aviation (including paramotor) starting
with my best friend in College, David Bolesky. But all that aside, what
are the legalities of jumping from a paramotor?
If the paramotor pilot
doesn't operate under a powered tandem exemption (like
USPPA's) then the tandem flight is obviously illegal. They'll get
hammered in court if anything goes awry. I've met a few who think they
are operating under the USHPA tandem exemption but USHPA has made it
clear that theirs does not cover paramotors.
So what about a USPPA tandem
instructor -- can s/he drop a sky diver?
The only part of FAR 103 that
is exempted is 103.1(a) which limits it to one occupant. USPPA's
exemption is only for the purpose of training so the question will be,
not how the jumper leaves the craft, but was the flight for training
If a BASE jumper is genuinely
interested in learning to PPG and is taking lessons from a USPPA tandem
instructor and decides to leave the craft mid-flight, I see nothing
illegal. But if the PURPOSE of the flight is for jumping then it is
clearly illegal. The only time it will come up, of course, is if
something happens, like what happened in Oregon where the wingsuit flyer died. If his family sues the paramotor pilot, a lawyer may get into this
stuff. Here are some examples.
A wingsuit flyer decides to
take paramotor lessons and enrolls in a PPG 2 course. He writes a check
to the instructor and buys a book. On day one, he takes and passes his
PPG1 written test and spends several hours kiting the paraglider, a fact
that gets noted in his PPG1 syllabus. The next day he goes out for a
tandem paramotor flight but asks the instructor if he can jump from the
craft after their lesson is over. He realizes that he'll have to do
another tandem probably to see the landing.
In this case, it would seem
legal. The fact that there are documents showing his intent will be
clear to the judge--a check for training, the book, the test and the
syllabus all show that his purpose is paramotor training.
A wingsuit flyer asks a USPPA
certified tandem instructor to take him up for a lesson but also that he
wants to jump out. The flight lasts 40 minutes and the instructor indeed
shows him a basic introduction to paramotor operation then the student
This would be technically
legal but difficult to prove since are no records to show intent of
instruction. If the instructor had a document, signed by the jumper,
that the flight was for the purpose of paramotor training, and the
student paid the introductory flight rate, then it would help but is far
You guessed it, this one will
be obviously illegal. A wingsuit flyer asks a USPPA tandem instructor to
take him up so he can jump out. There won't be anything in court to show
that the purpose of the flight was for paramotor instruction.
If the tandem pilot is not
even certified as a tandem motor pilot than he has far deeper problems.
He's in not even in violation of USPPA's exemption unless he's telling
customers that he's operating under their exemption when, in reality,
he's not certified. That would probably go down REALLY poorly in court!
If he's a USHPA tandem pilot than his best defense would be to say that
he thought his USHPA tandem rating covered the flight.
Is It Legal for the Jumper?
The next question concerns
the jumper and I'm not at all familiar with those rules but Scott
Roberts is. He pointed out that BASE gear is rarely certified and there
are a number of requirements for jumping from an aircraft (FAR 105). I
have looked at these because I've had requests to jump out of my
helicopter. It appears that BASE jumping itself may fall under FAR 105
and, if so, is probably illegal.