Reflecting on the association’s past year is like digging through your gear bag after a long, hectic skydiving season. The things you expect to see are there, interspersed with surprising items that somehow got thrown in. For USPA, 2016 was just that mixed bag. Let me inventory those items for you.
Though yearly numbers are just numbers, they are certainly also an indicator of an organization’s health and trend lines. USPA continues to grow, adding some 6,804 new members throughout 2016 and reaching a record membership high of 39,147 in September. Some 8,211 skydivers applied for licenses, with 4,026 of those receiving their A licenses. A number of skydivers—1,204 to be exact—earned their USPA Coach ratings, the first stepping stone in the instructional rating hierarchy. Another 1,083 skydivers received an instructor or examiner rating. All of these member activity numbers are higher than in 2015.
In the U.S., 224 drop zones affiliated with USPA under the Group Member program, in which drop zone operators pledge to operate in accordance with the USPA Basic Safety Requirements and applicable Federal Aviation Regulations. We estimate that some 40 DZs chose not to participate. Around the world, 98 DZs joined as USPA Foreign Affiliates. Because they are under their own country’s aviation regulations and skydiving safety standards, we simply require that they have at least one USPA instructional rating holder on staff.
From a financial perspective, USPA is doing well overall despite going into 2016 projecting a budget deficit (not counting investment numbers). It was the first time in seven years that the USPA Board approved a budget that did not project an operational excess. Late 2015 indicators were that membership, license and rating applications would flatten, maybe even turn south. We also anticipated higher-than-expected legal fees as a dispute with the National Aeronautic Association and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale ground on. Fortunately, membership activity rebounded in 2016 and legal fees were not as high as expected. Also, USPA was graced with a very generous bequest. Instead of ending 2016 with the projected deficit of $237,525, we ended the year with a much smaller deficit of only $3,000. For 2017, the board again received a budget projecting an end-of-year operational excess, though slim, of $7,099. The fact is, despite growing membership and shrinking staff, it is getting more difficult for USPA’s revenues to cover costs. How can that be? Very simply, the overhead costs—postage, printing, travel, employee health care, outside services and the rest—continue to increase. More members mean we print and mail more magazines and pay higher credit card transaction fees.
The board’s Finance and Budget Committee is reviewing data to determine whether or when the board should consider a member dues increase. USPA last increased dues in 2009, when member renewal dues went from $49 to $55 per year. If the board decides to increase dues, we’ll provide plenty of notice and a full accounting of the decision. And the board and staff will recommit to ensuring that USPA members are getting full value for their dues dollars.