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Mon, Feb 02, 2009

Aero-TV: FAA Parachute Safety -- A Master Rigger Explains Updates

FAA Extends Mandatory Repack Interval To 180-Days

At the ever-intriguing 2008 ICAS Convention, ANN's Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell, caught up with Master Rigger, Allen Silver, to get caught up on parachute regs, technology and associated issues. Allen is a "Rigger's Rigger" and one of the most knowledgable guys in the craft.

Allen Silver owns and operates Silver Parachute Sales & Service in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has been an FAA Master Rigger since 1974 and in 1991 was designated as a Parachute Rigger Examiner for the FAA. Allen was recently re-elected and is now the current chairman of the Parachute Industry Association (PIA) Rigging Committee. This is a worldwide organization that represents the parachute industry.

Having spent 25 years with the California Air National Guard, Allen retired in 1991. Seventeen of those years were spent as a Survival Equipment Technician working with parachutes, life rafts and oxygen equipment. This background has been beneficial in obtaining contracts with NASA and other aerospace companies requiring services for sophisticated and specialized parachutes. In 1962 at the age of seventeen, Allen made his first parachute jump in Southern California after watching the old television series Ripcord. He now has over 3200 parachute jumps as a sport and professional skydiver.

Allen noted that there has been some good news, of late, on the chute scene. Parachutes have benefitted from an extra 60 days between mandatory repacks of their parachutes, under a revised regulation published late last year by the FAA. The rule change was praised by the two organizations which had jointly sought it for nearly four years, the Parachute Industry Association (PIA) and the United States Parachute Association (USPA). The revision extends from 120 to 180 days the period between required inspection and repacking by a certificated parachute rigger. It takes effect December 19, 30 days from publication in the Federal Register.

The rule applies to reserve parachutes worn by all skydivers and smoke jumpers, as well as emergency parachutes worn by pilots of aerobatic airplanes and gliders, air crew members, and the growing number of military special ops jumpers using commercial "off the shelf" parachute equipment.

The US Parachute Association first petitioned the FAA for an exemption in 1998, but its initiative was rejected in 2001 for what the FAA found was lack of full industry support. Allen Silver, chair of the PIA’s Rigging Committee, reignited discussion with the FAA in early 2005 and USPA joined to form a task group which submitted a joint petition to the FAA. Other organizations whose members use parachutes also joined the effort, including the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Soaring Society of America.

Initially, the group sought an exemption from the 120-day rule, but the FAA determined that an exemption would be too broad and a rule change was more appropriate. It published its proposal for change in May 2007, as ANN reported. The FAA said in approving the change that it had received 338 comments about it during the four-month comment period; only eight commenters explicitly opposed the new rule.

In justifying the extension, the FAA cited "new reliability data from the parachute industry and other sources" which indicated that modern materials and construction techniques made it safe to allow parachutes to remain packed for a longer period.

"Recently acquired data from the US military, foreign aviation authorities, and parachute industry representatives suggest that the current 120-day packing interval is too short, " the FAA said. "Numerous experts asserted that modern parachute materials last longer when the packing interval is longer than 120 days and that too-frequent packing shortens the life of the materials. Those experts found the parachutes’ porosity was affected by handling and manipulation of the parachute while being packed."

The longer repack cycle is consistent with US military parachute regulations, as well as with regulations in many foreign countries. The FAA noted that it has for some time allowed many foreign skydivers visiting the US to use reserve parachutes that comply with their countries’ regulations, "and many of those foreign parachutists’ countries had much longer repack intervals."

The FAA last addressed the repack cycle in 1978, when it increased the repack period from 60 to 120 days. In making that change, the FAA noted that modern parachutes were constructed of synthetic materials far less subject to degradation than parachutes made of silk, cotton, and other natural fabrics.

Aero-TV Talks Chute Care And Feeding With Master Rigger Allen Silver

FMI: www.silverparachutes.com, www.pia.com, www.uspa.org, www.faa.gov, www.aero-tv.net, www.youtube.com/aerotvnetwork, http://twitter.com/AeroNews

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