With the surge in popularity of wind tunnels among both skydivers and non-skydivers alike, USPA is faced with many questions regarding the sport of indoor skydiving. First and foremost, how involved should USPA be with the burgeoning sport? Is indoor skydiving actually skydiving, or is it only related to skydiving?
Should USPA remain entirely hands-off and consider it a different sport, just as it does with BASE jumping? Or should USPA completely incorporate indoor skydiving into the organization and issue memberships, licenses and records and select champions and U.S. Teams just as it would for jumpers of any other discipline? Or should we take some middle ground?
Although USPA had considered the issue for years, the topic came to a head in January 2014, when the International Parachuting Commission of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (sport parachuting’s international governing body) created a new category of competition called “indoor skydiving.” The IPC did not make this decision on the fly; it took many years of conversation between nearly 40 nations. USPA did not support the idea, but our position did not prevail.
Regardless of USPA’s position on the matter, by virtue of its letter of agreement with the National Aeronautic Association, USPA is the delegated authority for Class G air sports in the U.S. The IPC’s action in 2014 includes indoor skydiving under that mantle, and the FAI changed the title of the FAI Sporting Code Section 5 to read “Parachuting and Indoor Skydiving.” This is a truth regardless of whether you consider indoor skydiving to be skydiving (which, by USPA’s definition in the Skydiver’s Information Manual, requires an airplane and a parachute) or even whether you think indoor skydiving can really be considered an air sport. The FAI decided the latter for us when it recognized and sanctioned international competition.
Consequently, over the last three years, USPA made some changes to support members who are interested in this arena. We began to recognize national records set during FAI first-category events (such as world championships); we acknowledge the constitutional mandate to select the U.S. Team (a task we delegated to the International Bodyflight Association); and we nominate international judges to the indoor events. But there are problems with the current methods, and the USPA Board of Directors is seeking input about which, if any, elements of indoor skydiving USPA should take responsibility for.
USPA does have the option to decline its role in indoor skydiving competitions and leave it in the hands of the NAA. In fact, we did exactly that for the 1st FAI World Cup of Indoor Skydiving in Austin, Texas, in 2014. However, USPA doesn’t know whether the NAA—which has little to no modern experience with the practical mechanics of deploying an international team—would even be willing to take on the role going forward.
Within the competition environment, indoor skydiving features two disciplines and several different events. Artistic events include 2-way dynamic and 4-way dynamic, as well as solo freestyle (similar to the USPA freestyle event but without the interactive camera). Both dynamic events are very popular with tunnel flyers but are difficult (if not impossible) to do outdoors in freefall. Formation skydiving features two familiar events: 4-way FS and 4-way vertical FS. However, there are also differences. In 4-way FS, jumpers launch from the tunnel door (to reproduce an aircraft exit as closely as possible), and in 4-way VFS, jumpers launch from standing on the net.
USPA could decide to fully incorporate these indoor skydiving competitions under its umbrella rather than delegate their governance to another organization as it currently does. However, doing so involves a host of issues that need to be resolved. USPA would need to host a USPA National Championships of Indoor Skydiving, a task USPA currently delegates to the IBA under IBA branding. To do this, USPA would need to solicit bids for hosting the events and adopt existing IPC rules (as it does for other skydiving competitions).
USPA would then use its Indoor Skydiving Nationals to select the U.S. Team. This then brings up the question of whether the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund, which partially funds U.S. Teams participating in World Championships, would also be used to fund indoor skydiving teams.
Integrating indoor skydiving into USPA also creates membership questions. Participation in FAI first-category events requires all competitors to possess an FAI Sporting License. In the U.S., these are issued by the NAA and require membership in the relevant air-sport association (USPA in this case). So, since 2014, all tunnel flyers in FAI first-category events have become members of USPA (although many already held memberships).
In a USPA Nationals, all U.S. jumpers must be USPA regular members. If USPA adopts indoor skydiving as a Nationals event, this would hold, as well. The questions are: Would those who are solely indoor skydivers see any benefit to having USPA membership for this purpose alone? Would USPA need to adopt a separate class of membership just for tunnel flying?
An additional consideration is that indoor skydiving competition includes junior categories, which allows the participation of those as young as 12 years old. The IPC introduced the junior category as a means of drawing younger people into skydiving (though this doesn’t seem to be occurring) and to address the Olympic Charter’s goals for youth participation in the hopes that skydiving will one day become an Olympic sport. This makes USPA membership mandatory for children who cannot legally exit an aircraft in flight. While this is not an issue with respect to USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements, it does place an additional financial burden on competitors. It also brings up the question of what USPA’s legal liability would be if a competitor were injured during competition.
Expanding further, if USPA completely incorporates tunnel flying as a discipline, should it require membership for all tunnel flyers after a student period? If USPA sanctions teams, is it obligated to make sure that they’re properly trained and able to safely compete? Should USPA then require some level of demonstrable skill in tunnel flying? Would USPA need to take on issuing licenses and ratings for tunnel flyers? Obviously, license requirements would be different (e.g., there’s no reason an indoor skydiver would need to take a canopy control course). Currently, the IBA has an instructional rating program that is similar to USPA’s. Could USPA adopt this program or would it need to reinvent the wheel? Would wind tunnel operators even agree to require USPA membership, licenses and ratings if they see no benefit in doing so?
Years ago, the Flyaway brand of wind tunnels coined the term “indoor skydiving” to attract tourists into its tunnels. After all, “simulated skydiving” just didn’t have the market punch they were looking for. Little did they know that the term would become so widespread that it would be used to expand the arena of international competition!
Should USPA embrace this new sport or not? The board discussed this topic in committee at its February meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It reached no definitive conclusions but recognized the need for input from the membership. Every member with an opinion on this topic should discuss their thoughts with their Regional Director so that USPA may come to a more definitive position and create a plan of action that meets the needs of our members. The question of whether USPA should fully incorporate indoor skydiving as a Nationals event or continue to farm out the task of selecting a U.S. Team to another entity is already on the agenda for the USPA Board meeting scheduled for July 21-23 in Seattle, Washington.