In early May, 2012, a wing suited “BASE” jumper died after leaping from a tandem paramotor. His parachute never opened (we think our sport is unforgiving). It’s a calamity for the jumper, his family, and the paramotor pilot who was, no doubt, a friend.

Note: this is not technically 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, no reserve, flights as BASE jumps.

As humans are wont to do, the question came up, is this legal under USPPA’s (or any other) tandem exemption? Although this flight was not operating under that exemption, the question remains: would it be legal if it was?

Like all these ultralight regulations, there’s little oversight until something forces it. It feels like two people who take a well-understood risk should be left alone. But regulators may see it differently.

So what 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 USHPA’s tandem exemption but USHPA has made it clear this isn’t so even for free flight, let alone for paramotors.

So what about a USPPA tandem instructor — can s/he drop a skydiver?

The exemptions only bypass the single-occupant provision of FAR 103.1(a) in order to allow training. They do not address how the jumper leaves the craft. The FAA (and courts) will likely focus on answering the question “was this flight for paramotor training purposes?” Color the answer gray.

If a BASE jumper is genuinely interested in learning to PPG and is taking lessons from a USPPA tandem instructor but leaves the lesson mid-flight, it may be legal. 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.

Scenario 1:

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 help his case with the judge–a check for training, the book, the test, and the syllabus all show that his purpose is paramotor training.

Scenario 2:

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 jumps.

This would be technically legal but difficult to prove since are no records to show the flight’s intent. 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 from certain.

Scenario 3:

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. The flight IS illegal and there wouldn’t be anything in court to show otherwise. 

Scenario 4:

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, he’s flying an illegal light-sport aircraft AND probably without a sport pilot license. That won’t end well 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 our helicopter. If a jump is from an airplane, then it seems to fall under FAR 105. If the jump is from something other than an airplane, then it could be called itself an ultralight.