So you want to start a skydiving centre...
So you want to start a Skydiving Centre...
A guide for those starting a parachute club or drop zone from scratch
|APF ©2009; Free to APF Members
This manual is designed to list the requirements, procedures and problems associated with starting up a parachute club or drop zone from scratch. It may be useful to two groups of people:
- those who want to set up an organisation which will conduct parachuting operations at a drop zone, and
- those who wish to set up a “social organisation”, connected with parachuting but not actually running a drop zone.
It does not attempt to go into details – for which reference to APF manuals or discussions with officials may be necessary.
In the early days, most parachuting was conducted by clubs – groups of like minded jumpers who banded together to form clubs. When the APF Constitution was written, it referred to “clubs”. Since then, commercial organisations have sprung up, and have generally adopted the US terminology, “centres”. Much of the literature now refers to “clubs/centres”. More formally, they are referred to as “Member Organisations”. In the various APF rules, these terms are used interchangeably. All very confusing!
Classes of membership
The APF has two classes of membership: individual Members and Member Organisations. Most parachuting organisations in Australia are Member Organisations of the APF.
Do you need to be a Member Organisation?
If the DZ is going to deal with students (including tandem passengers), or novices (“A” certificate holders) - Yes, membership is mandatory.
If you are not going to be running a drop zone, or if the DZ is going to be dealing with “B” certificate holders and above only, membership is optional. There are certain advantages to having membership, and you should weigh these against the disadvantages (the membership fee!)
Parachute Council membership.
Membership of the local Parachute Council. Each Member Organisation is a member of the local Parachute Council and is entitled to send two delegates to Council meetings and to vote on the issues that the Council considers. Influence in the conduct of affairs on a local level or in selecting local representatives to the APF Board may or may not be important to you.
In recent history Australia has been embroiled in problems with insurance, litigation etc. At present, APF, and its members (including member organisations) are covered by insurance (details available from the APF Office). Apart from any other cover you might need, if you will be running a drop zone, it is likely that the land owner will insist that you do have adequate insurance cover. Membership of APF may be a simple (and cheap) way of achieving this. However, you should check carefully to what extent the APF insurance covers all the areas in which you need cover. There is no guarantee that APF will be able to maintain its insurance cover in the future.
Listing by APF.
Member Organisations are listed in the APF’s database. The database is used to create lists of clubs on the APF web site and in the APF’s publications. This may be important if you are hoping to attract members of the public to your organisation.
Who may become a Member Organisation?
Any legal entity other than a natural person. In other words any legally constituted company or association, but not a person. The applicant must provide an ABN or the legal name of the entity. This is so that the APF has a record of what entity its insurance is covering.
The trading name of the club/centre is frequently not the same as the official name of the legal entity. The APF will accept (almost) any trading name notified to it by the legal entity, and will use this name in dealing with the club/centre. A trading name which is obscene or confusing (perhaps too similar to the name used by an existing Member Organisation) may be rejected by the APF.
The legal entity making an application for membership must nominate a person (the “Nominated Person”) to be the person with whom the APF deals on business relating to the club/centre. (Where the club/centre has a Chief Instructor, the APF will deal with the CI on appropriate matters.)
Making application for membership.
Application must be made on the appropriate form:
Form CL4 New_Club_Application_Form
The form must be signed by the Nominated Person and sent to the Secretary or Administrator of the local State Parachute Council.
If the club intends to be a Training Organisation, the Chief Instructor must sign the form.
Approval by Parachute Council.
The membership of a new Member Organisation is conditional on the approval of the local Parachute Council. A Parachute Council may not refuse such approval because it does not wish there to be more parachute clubs in its area, but may refuse approval on the grounds that the applicant or Nominated Person is not fit and proper to be a member of APF. An adverse result from the Parachute Council may be appealed to the APF Board.
Approval by the APF Board.
The membership of a new Member Organisation may be vetoed by the APF Board at its next meeting. This is a formality which has never been invoked. One assumes that the same criteria for rejecting membership by a Parachute Council applies also to the Board, but this is not documented.
These terms are widely used but have no formal significance. A training organisation is one which may train students and novices (“A” certificate holders). These people are required to jump only under the Chief Instructor of a Member Organisation. They cannot jump under the control of a non-training organisation.
Essentially, a training organisation is a Member Organisation which has a properly appointed Chief Instructor. A non-training organisation is a Member Organisation which does not have a properly appointed Chief Instructor. (More about the appointment of Chief Instructors later.)
Many people think that there is a formal designation “Training Organisation” which the Member Organisation must attain before a Chief Instructor may be appointed. This is not so. It is simply the appointment of the Chief Instructor that allows a Member Organisation to deal with students and novices.
Rules relating to Member Organisations
If you are setting up a new parachuting operation, you should read and understand the following documents: they contain many details not covered in this document.
- APF Constitution
- Operational Regulations
- Training Operations Manual
Member Organisation fees
The basic fee for membership is: Training Organisation $400 per year and Non-Training Organisation $215.00 (July – June) (at July 2010) all inclusive of GST.
Each training organisation is also charged an additional $250 per year for each drop zone which is required to be audited (these are essentially DZs used for students or novices). The Area Safety Officer of the local Parachute Council determines which DZs require audit.
The Chief Instructors collectively are probably the most important people in the APF’s safety and training procedures. They are highly qualified and experienced people who are required to be approved by the local Parachute Council and by the Federation’s Director Instructors before they make take up their duties.
If no Chief Instructor is in place, a Member Organisation cannot deal with students and novices (“A” certificate holders). It may deal with jumpers with “B” certificate jumpers or higher.
The APF has published rules and procedures for the appointment of Chief Instructors. They can be found at:
The APF holds the Chief Instructor responsible for all matters of parachuting safety and training. It is the Chief Instructor that APF and Parachute Council officials will contact first to resolve any problems in these areas. The Nominated Person is deemed responsible for other dealings between the Member Organisation and the APF.
Finding a Chief Instructor
If you intend to deal with students or novices, finding a person to be your Chief Instructor will probably be one of your most important jobs. There are not many parachutists qualified to be a Chief Instructor who are not already acting as a Chief Instructor of a club or centre (because few instructors bother to attain the Instructor “A” rating required in advance). The APF office will be able to supply a list of qualified instructors. Note that attaining an Instructor “A” rating usually takes some months for an Instructor “B” starting from scratch. Getting a qualified person appointed as a Chief Instructor can take some time too, if you have to wait for the next meeting of the local Parachute Council in order to get its approval.
Chief Instructors supervision more than one drop-zone
It is possible to come to an arrangement with the Chief Instructor of another club/centre under which he/she agrees to operate your training operations under his/her auspices. However, note that the Chief Instructor is required to be present on the DZ for at least one third of operational time when training operations are being carried out. This will tend to limit the number of DZs which a Chief Instructor may supervise. Questions may be asked where a CI appears to be spreading him/herself too widely to exercise adequate supervision over all the operations he/she is responsible for. Some Councils do have local rules about the supervision of multiple DZs. Where these are known, the APF publishes them (see Parachute Council). If you are setting up a new drop zone you should seek advice on such local rules from the Parachute Council.
Before any DZ may be used for regular student/novice operations, it must be subject to a safety inspection by the ASO of the local Parachute Council. The extent of this inspection is not defined, but you should expect that the DZ itself will be inspected for hazards, size etc, and that your equipment to be used for student training will also be checked.
Additionally, each drop zone used for training operations will be audited by Parachute Council officials each year, to ensure that parachuting operations are being conducted in accordance with the Federation rules. A copy of the pro-forma used by the auditor may be obtained from the Operations Manager at the APF Office. The fee for the audit is presently $250 for each DZ, and is charged along with the membership fee.
Relation with Parachute Council, APF and other bodies
Powers of the Parachute Council
The Parachute Council oversees parachuting operations within its area of operation. It appoints people to a number of official positions. Significant here are Area Safety Officer (ASO) who has quite powerful privileges to ensure that operations are conducted in a reasonable degree of safety, and the Instructor Panel Chair (IPC), who oversees instructional matters. There is a wide degree of overlap between the two functions. Other officials who may impinge on the running of parachuting operations include the Rigger Panel Chair, Display Licence Examiner (DLE), and Chair of the Council Board of Review, who oversees the Council’s disciplinary system.
The Parachute Council must be consulted in order for an organisation to become a member of the APF, or for the appointment of a Chief Instructor by the organisation.
Some Parachute Councils have local rules which have a bearing on the operation of DZs. Where these are known, the APF publishes them on its web site (see area councils) If you are setting up a new drop zone you should seek advice on local rules from the Parachute Council.
APF and CASA control
The APF exerts control over parachuting operations through the Operational Regulations, and a subsidiary document, the Training Operations Manual, and to a lesser extent through various other manuals referred to in the Operational Regulations. The APF’s regulations are largely mirrored by CASA’s “Parachute Descents – Authorisation and Specification”, which has the force of law.
Generally, CASA delegates its powers of enforcement in parachuting matters to the APF, and will not usually be involved in the surveillance of the day-to-day conduct of parachuting operations, although it has the right to do so if it sees fit.
The Board of the APF appoints Technical Directors to be in charge of areas such as Safety, Instruction, Rigging, Aircraft etc. Although these people oversee their areas of authority nationally, in most cases where any intervention by APF is necessary, the first approach would be by an official appointed by the local Parachute Council.
Some aspects of Parachuting aircraft operations are overseen by the APF. More information on this area can be found at: http://www.apf.asn.au/Forms---Publications/Pilots-and-Aircraft/default.aspx
Relation with APF Office
Pink cards are student membership application forms. Each jumper is required to be a member of APF, so every new tandem passenger or AFF or static line student must fill out a pink card. They are purchasable in advance from the APF Office by persons authorised to do so by a training organisation. The cost varies according to the payment mode and the number ordered. Completed pink cards must be returned to the APF Office by the tenth day of the following month.
Pink cards contain a waiver statement for the new member to sign. This affords some protection for the APF against litigation. It has been tested in court, and shown to be effective, although it is not totally litigation proof.
Member organisations will be supplied with a book of blank incident report forms. It is the CI/DZSO's responsibility to ensure that a report is made of accidents and injuries. Completed incident reports must be returned to the APF Office by the tenth day of the following month
Calendar of Events.
APF publishes a Calendar of Events on it’s web site. You can organise an entry in the Calendar by contacting the APF National Office.
Use of APF logo.
The APF logo may be used by member organisations in their promotional material, but not in any way which is misleading or that could be construed as implying a relationship which does not exist. Consult the APF Chief Executive Officer if in doubt.
APF’s main function is to set and maintain standards. A secondary function is to help members and member organisations in other ways. Note that the APF has little expertise in business planning etc, and you should not expect a great deal of help in matters of taxation, employment law, dealings with town councils and neighbours, or which are the result of poor business practices, etc.
Member organisations are listed in the APF’s database. The database is used to create lists of clubs on the APF web site and in the APF’s publications. The web site listing gives you the opportunity to provide a link to your own web site and up to 50 words of description about your operation. In this description, APF will not accept superlatives (“best”, “biggest”, “highest”, etc), nor anything that appears to denigrate other member organisations, nor anything that could be construed as misleading (“safe”, “soft landings”, etc).
Setting up a new DZ
If you are not an experienced skydiver, you will need advice on a myriad of details if you wish to set up a new DZ. This document can only point to some of the main areas.
If your dropzone will be used for students other than tandem passengers, it will be subject to inspection by the Area Safety Officer before you start operations. If there will be no students other than tandem passengers, there is no requirement for a pre-start inspection, but the dropzone will be subject to annual audits by the ASO.
During the early stages of starting up your DZ, it would be wise to consult the ASO, so that any problems may be discovered and rectified well before your start-up date.
Land owner’s co-operation
The land owner will almost certainly require you to have adequate insurance cover. The cover you get with APF membership may or may not be adequate. APF can provide a copy of the cover document on request. It covers parachuting operations, but may not cover all the areas involved with a group of people occupying the land owner’s land.
Neighbours and town councils
Constant aircraft noise is a worry to many people living in rural areas. You will probably need to spend a great deal of effort in ensuring good relations with neighbours. The footprint of noise from an aircraft operating up to many thousands of feet is large, so there may be many people to keep on side. Possibilities to keep them on side include:
- Invite them to the DZ
- Money coming into the town
- Airstrip available to flying doctor
- Free displays into local events
The Town Council may also require you to submit a Development Application before establishing your DZ. This might be a major task.
Airport users’ groups
If you will be operating where other airspace users are operating, you can expect that there will be problems to be overcome. This is especially so it you will be operating on an airport. Antagonistic neighbours on an airport constitute a problem you do not want. Many other airspace users do not understand parachuting, and need help in understanding how predominantly vertical parachuting operations can be integrated with their predominantly horizontal operations. Being involved in an airport users’ group is usually a good way of sorting out some these problems in a co-operative manner. Once problems get to a more bureaucratic level, there is the possibility for less co-operation and more hassle in making the solutions work.
Nice to have things
- Close to population centre (say not more than one hour’s drive)
- Shelter from elements
- Creeper pad
- Reasonable toilets
- Range of accommodation options: camping, bunk house, local motels etc
- Good quality jumping
- Right aircraft
- Right people
- Good instructors
- Good tutors
- Good vibes
Must have things
Your DZ must have a clear landing area at least as big as required by the OpRegs for the class of people who will be jumping there. If there is the possibility that you will be jumping students there in the future, it should be big enough for them.
There are legal requirements for freedom for hazards described in the OpRegs. Additionally, you will need to avoid things that may not legally constitute a hazard such as rocky or uneven ground, dangerous stock in nearby paddocks, fences, turbulence-causing things, etc
Check out the airspace with an experienced pilot with skydiving knowledge. There are many areas where the airspace structure will make it difficult to conduct parachuting operations effectively. Specific problems with airspace use may be resolvable by talking with the officer in charge of Air Traffic Control for the area.
Equipment & staff.
Apart from parachuting equipment and aircraft, you will/may need
- Wind sock(s)
- Wind meter
- Communications with aircraft
- Classrooms, training aids, mock ups, etc as appropriate.
- Phone or other means of assisting help in an for emergency
- Check-in system to ensure all jumpers have landed safely
- GCO and DZSO (see elsewhere in this document)
- Instructors, manifestor
- Your own organisation’s paperwork, including:
- Manifesting and money collecting system
- Waiver forms to protect your organisation – similar to the statement on the APF pink card
This document does not intend to cover the business side of running a dropzone. A few points only are mentioned here.
Small business is governed by a multitude of State and Federal regulation. If you do not have a business background, you will need to consult someone who does.
- Employment matters
- Employees or contractors
- Pay roll and tax matters
- Workers compensation
- Leave, sick leave, long service leave
- Development applications
You may also need help with
- Cash flow management
- Insurance and asset protection
- Risk management
Note that you will almost certainly need a contract of some sort with your clients (the jumpers). The APF pink card waiver is designed to cover the APF and its subsidiary bodies. You probably need something similar for yourself and your staff, not only for first jumpers, but also for all your other jumpers.
It is the domain of each club/centre to determine where they will advertise their product. It would be useful to set up a web site.
The yellow pages are also a form of advertising for clubs and centres seeking to attract new first jumpers and tandem passengers. Advertisements here are expensive, and in some areas there appears to be unproductive battles to outdo rival operations by buying ever bigger and more expensive advertisements. This is unfortunate.
Parachuting flying operations are presently classified as “Private”, despite considerable opposition from various parts of the aviation industry. CASA made this classification on the basis that the flying is an incidental part of learning to parachute, and that the people undertaking parachute training were taking an informed risk. Were the flying operations to be classified as “Commercial”, much more stringent conditions would apply.
One consequence of this “private” classification is that the flying part of the operation must not be promoted as any part of the reason to undertake the activity. If you advertise the flight up as a “joy flight” or refer to “scenic views” etc, you run the risk of falling foul of CASA and having your flying operations grounded.
You should also avoid anything in your advertising which may be interpreted as misleading under the Trades Practices Act. People have rights under this Act which cannot be removed by waivers or disclaimers. The words “safe”, soft landings” etc may be construed as misleading by someone who breaks an ankle on landing.
This document does not intend to cover the day-to-day running of a dropzone. A few points only are mentioned here.
Jumping through cloud.
Until 2002, it was illegal for a parachutist to pass through cloud.
This rule was widely ignored, because it was seen as using a tank to kill a mouse. There were good reasons for forbidding jumps through thick unbroken cloud, but a parachutist inadvertently passing through a thin wispy cloud did not deserve the same prohibition.
There is now provision for parachutists to jump through cloud, under defined procedures. DZ operators and safety officers need to be aware that the new procedures are strictly defined and should be adhered to. They need to be aware that the attitudes prevailing before 2002 are still there, and there are many experienced skydivers at all levels who cling to the old assumption that uncontrolled jumping through cloud is OK provided you don’t get caught.
Note in particular that there is a requirement for a DZ-specific manual of cloud jumping procedures which must be approved both by APF and CASA before any jumping through cloud may happen. Details about the requirements for this manual are on the APF web site at Cloud Jumping Procedures.
DZSO, GCO. Every operational DZ must have a DZ Safety Officer (DZSO) and a Ground/Air Communications Officer (GCO) appointed before any jumping occurs. These officers must be present while jumping is going on
The DZSO is appointed by the CI of a training organisation. If it is not a training organisation, see OpReg Part 7 Division 2 - Operational Safety Requirements . The DZSO has quite wide powers, defined in the Operational Regulations.
The GCO is responsible for communicating with the aircraft in cases of necessity. Note that if radio communications in the aircraft frequency range are being used, the radio operator needs an appropriate operator’s certificate.
Some important facts which are not always obvious
- All jumpers who do not hold an “A” certificate are students (in the sense used by the OpRegs). This includes tandem passengers. There is sometimes the mistaken assumption that tandem operations are not subject to the full range of regulations which apply to AFF and static-line operations.
- All students require a CI; All displays require an LDO (Licensed Display Organiser). It is often stated (erroneously) that a tandem jump made as a display jump does not need to be under the supervision of a CI. However, a tandem jump is a student jump, and it does require the supervision of a CI. So a tandem display jump requires the supervision of both a CI and an LDO. The CI and the LDO may be the same person.
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