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Piper Nearly Collides With Parachutist In Class B Airspace

While millions of skydivers take to the skies over the USA each year, only a handful of midair collisions have ever occurred between airplanes and skydivers since the 1930s. Here's what you should know when flying around parachute jump zones.

Report: Near Midair Collision

A pilot flying a Piper PA-28 Warrior near Los Angeles recently filed the following NASA ASRS report:

I was cleared into Class B Airspace and given direct to HHR and allowed to descend at my discretion. Approximately 5 miles out and approximately 2,000 feet MSL, I saw a person wearing a helmet, goggles, and some sort of harness at my 2 o'clock position. I applied full left aileron to avoid hitting the person. I was not able to tell if it was a para-plane, a parachutist, or exactly what I saw as there was no time. I did not see a chute or canopy, probably because it happened so fast. I notified SoCal Approach that I almost hit someone, maybe a parachutist. Approach asked me to contact Hawthorne Tower, which I did and continued to land the plane.

Keep in mind, there's not enough information in this report to determine if the pilot or ATC was aware of a parachute operation NOTAM. That being said, there are no parachute operations depicted in the immediate area around HHR on the VFR sectional (see below). Based on the location, it's likely that the parachutists shouldn't have been there.

This brings up an interesting point. As a pilot, what can you do to avoid parachute jump operations?

How Can You Avoid Parachute Operations?

Frequent parachute operations are depicted on sectional charts with a parachute icon. They're also sometimes listed in the airport remarks section of the Chart Supplement. Keep in mind, however, that just because there isn't an icon on the map, doesn't necessarily mean there aren't jump operations.

NOTAMs are typically one of the best places to look. NOTAMS published for jump activities include the location, altitudes, and time/duration of the jump.

How Skydive Jumps Work

Jump altitudes typically range from 10,000' to 18,000'. It takes just over a minute to freefall to parachute opening altitudes of 4,000' AGL to 2,000' AGL. Once the parachute opens, the rate of descent slows from 120 mph (roughly 10,500 fpm) to a normal descent rate of 1,000 fpm. Without an open parachute, skydivers are extremely hard to spot due to their small size and high speed.

Even with a minimum parachute opening altitude of 2,000' AGL, skydivers are generally well above normal traffic pattern altitudes for airports. Landing patterns for skydivers are generally contained well within aircraft traffic patterns. Except in rare cases, skydivers always open their parachutes upwind of the intended landing area and then land into the wind to minimize speed and maximize flare.

The video below demonstrates what a near miss looks like from the skydiver's point of view. Caution on the strong language used, following the near-miss:

Once all the jumpers have been released, skydive pilots typically initiate rapid descents to pick up their next load of jumpers. They may fly a maneuver similar to an emergency descent or steep spiral all the way to the ground. Be aware of this to avoid conflicts with jump planes.

Many parachute operations occur around non-towered airports. Even if you're transient through the airspace near an non-towered field without landing, it's a good idea to tune in the local CTAF frequency. Jump pilots typically announce their actions/intentions over the CTAF frequency. If a jump zone is active, avoid it by at least 5 miles.

Boldmethod

Parachute Operations Have Regulations Too

Parachute jumps are not authorized into controlled airspace, except without explicit permission and coordination from the controlling ATC agency. When operating in controlled airspace, jump pilots are required to communicate with ATC at least 5 minutes prior to jump operations. You can find a full list of regulations in 14 CFR 105.

How about NOTAMs? Surprisingly, jump operations are not always required to be NOTAM'd. However, at non-towered fields, the nearest ATC facility must be notified at least 1 hour in advance but not more than 24 hours in advance. The operation must also have approval from airport management. As for the actual jump, ATC must be notified 5 minutes prior to drop. This is another reason why it's almost always a good idea to pick up VFR Flight Following from ATC when available.

Have you ever heard a "jumpers away" call on the radio? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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