In early May, 2012, a wing suited “BASE” jumper died after leaping from a tandem paramotor. His parachute never opened. And 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) 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 purposes?
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 jumps.
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 from certain.
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.