Question from Top Three Issues

Question from chuckakers on

Please tell us what you see as the top three issues facing USPA and our sport. Tell us your position on these issues and what – if anything – you intend to do about them. Finally, defend your position on how your plans for these issues will better the organization and the sport.

1) Remaining relevant in a time of declining sport participation. All economic indicators point to a tough time ahead for U.S. skydiving – fuel costs continue to rise, and the cost of a weekend of skydiving continues to go up and will likely price some people out of the sport for the short- or long-term.  Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that I or USPA can do to control the economy.

However, I think there are things that USPA can do in the face of what will likely be a drop off in membership, at least from the current base of skydivers. First, we can turn the Group Membership program into a way to grow USPA’s individual membership base.  Every tandem skydiver that comes through a dropzone is a potential USPA member.  I’m neither an aircraft owner or operator, but AOPA sends me email and snail mail regularly asking me to join.  USPA should be gathering demographic information every week from each Group Member dropzone and sending every single tandem jumper an email with a link to information about how to become a licensed skydiver and asking them to join USPA.  Maybe we just get them to join USPA – but they read Parachutist for a few months and decide to sign up for a first jump course because they’ve gotten excited about getting involved in the sport on another level.  Either way, it allows USPA to improve its membership base.

Second, USPA needs to get serious about promoting the sport.  Sure, happy articles about skydiving are nice.  But USPA needs to be where people are getting excited about the sport.  I’ll use an AOPA example again.  AOPA’s website includes a big report from Oshkosh – not an AOPA event, but the AOPA was there because its members (and potential members!) were there.  USPA was at Skyfest, which was a good start.  But I’d like to see USPA at places where non-skydivers are getting excited about the sport.  High-profile demos.  Air shows.

Third, USPA needs to do everything it can to retain its newest members.  Parachutist is the face of the USPA for most members and as such, needs to be relevant to all members.  I’ve seen some changes in Parachutist that have made it more relevant to the newer jumper (for example “How Skydiving Changed My Life”), but I think there could be additional features that could draw in the new member.  Instead of focusing on just the elite teams at Nationals, pick an Intermediate team that’s not going to be on the podium at the end, where all the jumpers have under 500 jumps, and give us a monthly feature on their training trials and tribulations leading up to Nationals.  These are the stories that make a big article on USPA Nationals relatable for someone who just got their A or B license, not another article about Airspeed or Fastrax.

What do I plan to do about this issue?  As a board member, I will do my best to navigate the “process” (something I’m still learning about) to make them happen.  Getting Group Member dropzones to provide tandem data would need to be proposed through the Group Member committee, so my first step would be to join that committee and bring up this plan to the committee, and try to work it through that committee to the full board, while also talking to other board members not on the committee about the idea to gather support for the idea.

Sport promotion is something that needs to be executed by headquarters, but the directive to do so needs to come from the board.   As a new member of the board, I need to figure out exactly how that process works, but I will work to ensure that one of this board’s directives to headquarters is to increase the amount of sport promotion work that is done on a regular basis (and that the board will evaluate and allocate the appropriate budget support to allow headquarters staff to execute that directive).  Same goes for changes in Parachutist content.

2) Maintaining safety in an evolving sport.  The recent rise in fatal and near-fatal canopy collisions is an all-too-real example of a risk that has always existed that has, because of a number of changing factors, moved from a relatively low risk to a relatively high risk.  It’s as if the “perfect storm” of risk factors is now coming together:

  • gradual increase in average number of jumpers in the air at any given time (fewer 182s and 206s, more Caravans, PACs, King Airs, and Otters)
  • gradual increase in average wingloading of jumpers in the air at any given time (what used to be high-performance is now what we give someone who just got their A license)
  • gradual increase in the percentage of jumpers doing high-performance landings at any given time (no, I’m not against swoopers, it’s just a fact – they’re out there)
  • gradual decrease in emphasis on canopy skills in A license training as many dropzones have transitioned from static line/IAD to AFF training (as a static line baby myself, this is just an opinion, and it is of course going to vary widely from school to school but I’ll put it out there as a possible factor).
  • lack of separation of high-performance and standard canopy traffic at many dropzones (still… even after the change in the Group Member Pledge).

So let’s use this as an example of a problem facing our sport – how do we maintain safety in a sport that’s rapidly evolving?   Since I declared my candidacy we’ve lost more lives in the U.S. to canopy collisions.  And I’ve had people send me private messages and ask “Do you think USPA can solve the problem?”  My answer is always the same: “No.”

Do I think USPA can be part of the solution?  Yes, and what’s in the Group Membership Pledge right now (re: separating landing patterns) may ultimately make its way to the level of a BSR.  But even if it does get to the level of a BSR, it’s still up to individual dropzones to create and maintain a culture of safety that actually saves lives.  There’s not a damn thing USPA can do to create that at an individual dropzone level. But USPA can control what we’re requiring individuals to demonstrate for licensure, and it’s probably time for the Safety & Training committee to take a hard look at the canopy skills requirements for the B, C, and D license and add something other than accuracy skills to the mix.

But what I think USPA can do is reconnect with dropzones as much as possible.  I’d like to see the S&TA program cleaned up to give it more “teeth”, and I’ve posted about that already.  As a National Director candidate, I won’t have any direct involvement in that, since the appointment of S&TAs is a Regional Director responsibility.  However, as a National Director, I plan to make a point of introducing myself to DZ managers and S&TAs when I visit dropzones, and providing my contact information as a liaison to USPA, and to discuss current issues.  The USPA board needs to stay in close contact with what’s happening on the ground at the DZs, and DZs need to know that the USPA board is both listening, and paying attention to what’s going on at their DZs.

3) Building/rebuilding member trust.  Most members don’t have a very strong opinion of the USPA Board of Directors and what they do.  I’d also venture to guess that the vast majority of members form that opinion without ever 1) attending a board meeting or 2) talking with a board member or members.  Yet they have formed strong opinons about the board and many individual members.  Go figure.

Flip side of that is that the board doesn’t do a very good job of helping its cause.  It publishes vague and cryptic agendas (not, I think because of any nefarious intent, but because most people raised in corporate America just don’t know how to write a useful agenda).  It publishes no accounts of committee meetings at all, and only vague accounts of the full board meeting (via the web site, Parachutist and official meeting minutes), and often months after the meetings have passed.

Many board members have been reported to not respond to emails.  They avoid online forums like (though sometimes I can’t say that I blame them).  They create a general aura of inaccessibility.   So, then, when issues come up such as the Skyride lawsuit that the board is legally prohibited from talking about, the board now has an image and credibility problem on its hands.  No one trusts them, and no one trusts the reasoning behind the board’s refusal to talk.

So what am I going to do about it?  Be as open and accessible as I can be.  Answer questions.  Talk to people about how the board works (and doesn’t work).  Talk to people about what the board can (and can’t) do.   Encourage people to participate in the process.  Solicit input and share it with the rest of the board as appropriate.  Help people to understand what a 22-person committee that gets together for six days out of the year is reasonably able to accomplish.   Frankly, I believe a lot of the anger at the USPA board is due to a lack of understanding of how it works.  I actually had a jumper say “so if you get USPA director thing that’ll be your full time gig, right?”  He genuinely believed that it was a paid position and a full-time job.  If USPA members believe that the USPA board is working full-time on their behalf and getting paid for it, well of course they’re going to be disappointed in the progress!  So, clearly the board needs to do a better job of educating members on what it is and isn’t, and what it can and can’t be expected to accomplish in a given year.


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