For aviation enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike, the thought of combining their love for flying with the adrenaline rush of skydiving is undeniably appealing. When it comes to private pilots seeking to fly skydivers, the question often arises, “Can a private pilot legally take someone up for a skydive?”
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set specific regulations and requirements for pilots participating in skydiving operations.
Are you familiar with the unique privileges afforded to private pilots? Our article breaks it down for you.
It is important for private pilots to carefully consider and adhere to all applicable regulations before attempting to fly skydivers.
Table of Contents
FAA Regulations and Legal Aspects
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets specific regulations and legal requirements for both private pilots and skydiving operations. Understanding these guidelines is essential for ensuring a safe and legal skydiving experience.
According to the FAA, pilots involved in skydiving operations are required to hold a commercial pilot certificate and a current second class medical certificate. This is because skydiving is considered a commercial activity and is subject to additional regulations under 14 CFR Part 61 Subpart E.
Private pilots who wish to fly skydivers must first obtain a commercial pilot certification. This typically involves additional training and an increase in logged flight hours to ensure that the pilot has sufficient skills and knowledge to handle such commercial activities.
While a commercial pilot certificate is mandatory, there are additional FAA requirements for skydiver endorsements.
Private pilots operating skydiving flights within 25 miles of the departure airport are exempt from certain certification requirements under 14 CFR 61.113, but are still subject to other specific conditions and regulations.
For example, pilots must ensure they have a complete understanding of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) that apply to skydivers, as well as adhere to any specific drop zone restrictions and guidelines.
This includes understanding the responsibilities of the skydiver, pilot, and parachute rigger, as detailed in Section 9 of the Skydiver’s Information Manual.
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Pilot and Plane Considerations
Experience and Training
When considering skydiving operations, it is important for private pilots to have the necessary experience and training.
While a private pilot can technically take someone up to skydive, there are additional procedures and regulatory requirements to comply with, such as filing a flight plan with the nearest Flight Service Station and obtaining a special weather briefing for skydiving operations (source).
Pilots should also be aware of certain limitations and visibility rules when flying below and above 10,000 feet (source).
Since skydiving flights are often considered commercial operations by the FAA, private pilots need to thoroughly understand the regulations and gain practical experience before attempting to fly skydivers.
Aircraft Adaptation for Skydiving
Not every airplane is suitable for skydiving operations. A private pilot is usually limited to flying planes with a maximum of 5 passengers and a maximum takeoff weight of 6,000 pounds. The Cessna 208 Caravan is a popular skydiving plane.
The aircraft should be adapted to accommodate skydivers, which may involve modifications to the door, seating arrangements, and other safety features.
Private pilots should also be mindful of their altitude and airspeed limits. With a PPL, they are generally restricted to altitudes below 18,000 feet above sea level and airspeeds below 250 knots.
These limitations should be taken into account when choosing an appropriate aircraft for skydiving operations.
Passenger and Jumper Safety
Flying a skydiver as a private pilot requires following safety guidelines and procedures to ensure the well-being of all involved.
This section covers the key aspects of passenger and jumper safety, with a focus on briefings and communications, and emergencies and risk management.
Briefings and Communications
Prior to any skydiving operation, private pilots and skydivers will need to have a proper briefing.
These briefings cover important topics such as aircraft performance, jump procedures, altitude and airspeed limitations, weather considerations, and drop zone location. Proper communication between the pilot and skydivers is vital in avoiding potential risks and ensuring a safe jump experience for all.
Emergencies and Risk Management
Private pilots must be prepared to handle emergencies and minimize risks in skydiving operations. One important safety measure is for pilots to have an emergency parachute and know how to use it, as mentioned by AOPA.
Being prepared with an emergency plan, such as knowing the appropriate exit points and emergency procedures, is essential for managing any unexpected situations.
Adequate separation between the aircraft and skydivers during freefall is a must. Since skydivers fall at speeds of 120 mph or more, maintaining a safe distance is necessary to avoid potential collisions.
Pilots should also adhere to visibility requirements, ensuring clear and safe conditions for both flying and parachuting.
Drop Zone Requirements and Operations
When it comes to skydiving, the drop zone (DZ) plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of both pilots and skydivers.
For private pilots who intend to fly skydivers, it is essential to become well-acquainted with the various aspects of drop zone requirements and operations.
Coordination with DZ Operators
Drop zone operators bear the responsibility of establishing designated landing areas that are clear of obstacles and typically marked by a brightly colored windsock [source].
These operators work closely with jump pilots, airport management, and aviation officials on key safety concerns and practical aspects of sharing airports and the surrounding airspace. Obviously, stablishing clear communication with DZ operators is vital for a private pilot flying skydivers.
Navigating to the Jump Spot
To ensure the safe execution of a skydive, it is critical for the private pilot to accurately navigate to the designated jump spot. The jump spot must adhere to strict clearance from cloud requirements, which vary depending on altitude.
Below 10,000 feet, pilots must maintain at least 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, and 2,000 feet horizontally from clouds while ensuring three miles of visibility. At and above 10,000 feet, the requirements change to 1,000 feet below, 1,000 feet above, and one mile horizontally, with five miles of visibility [source].
Flying to the jump spot may require the pilot to report specific information, such as location details, distance and radial from a VOR or VORTAC, maximum altitude, drop zone radius, day and time of use, and the ATC frequency as per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations.
Compensation and Paid Arrangements
Flying skydivers as a private pilot requires a clear understanding of the rules and regulations surrounding compensation and paid arrangements.
Pilots with private pilot privileges are usually restricted from receiving compensation for their services.
However, there are specific circumstances and limitations applicable to pro-rata cost sharing and flying for charitable, nonprofit, or community events.
Pro-rata cost sharing is considered compensation, but private pilots can participate in such flights as long as they follow the guidelines laid out in FAR 61.113(c). This regulation allows private pilots to share operating expenses with passengers, as long as the expenses only cover fuel, oil, airport expenditures, or rental fees.
The FAR 61.113(d) regulation permits private pilots to act as a pilot in command of a flight for charitable, nonprofit, or community events, given certain conditions are met by the event’s sponsor.
When it comes to skydiving operations, the FAA standards classify most jump flights as commercial operations since they typically involve some form of compensation.
As an example, if a private pilot is flying a skydiver and their receipt of compensation depends on operating the aircraft, the flight would be considered a commercial operation by the FAA.
In most cases, you will need to ensure compliance with the pro-rata cost-sharing and charitable flight rules to avoid penalties or jeopardize your pilot’s license.
Best of luck if you’re going to take the plunge into the skydiving world. Break a leg! Or, actually, maybe don’t!