Why You Have to Wait…
With safety first, sometimes you have to wait. But why? Your stomach is in a knot, you have butterflies every time you think about your forthcoming jump. It’s the morning of your jump and you’ve been up all night with mixed feelings; you’re terrified, excited, worried… Hell, you just want to get it over now! But then, just as you are packing your bag to head to the DropZone (DZ), you get a phone call to say, “I’m sorry but we have to postpone your skydive, the weather conditions aren’t suitable for today”. Trust me, DropZone operators throughout the world hate making that phone call just as much as you hated receiving it. Our top priority is to book you in for the experience of a lifetime, but that also means that the Parachute Centre has to put safety first and sometimes the glorious British weather prevents your skydive from going ahead.
The skydiving industry in the UK is the safest in the world, there are rules and regulations for every discipline in the sport to make sure that it is as safe as can possibly be (and it really is a safe sport in comparison to the likes of rugby, horse riding, etc. Just take a look at the British parachute Association statistics here). However, safety often means delays. You may have to wait 30 minutes, a few hours or even a few weeks.
In this short blog, we want to explain why Parachute Centre’s can’t operate like an airline with firm dates and times for your skydive. There are so many variable factors affecting your jump, it is more akin to a space shuttle launch than a holiday flight, which is why we all need to remain flexible.
- Weather: Probably the biggest reason for delays throughout the world is the weather. Conditions need to be ideal. To simplify it, we need a clear day, low wind levels, and minimum cloud cover to keep you safe. However, it is a little more complicated that that. You might turn up to the DZ on a day with clear blue skies and what feels like a slight breeze on the ground, but you are told you can’t skydive because the upper winds (the winds at the various altitudes, usually, read at 1,000 feet, 3,000 feet, 5,000 feet and 10,000 feet) are too strong. Cloud cover and rain may also prevent your skydive. To make sure we touch down exactly where we need to, we have to be able to see the landing area from the aircraft at jump altitude. So when the door opens, if the Jump Master cannot see the landing area, chances are you will go around in the aircraft again until the cloud clears or you may have to land. Finally, visibility may also cause delays. In the UK we need to have a minimum horizontal visibility of 5 km. So if it is a foggy day, you will have to wait until the sun is out and warm enough to clear the fog.
- Schedule: The weather might be perfect when you arrive, but due to unsuitable conditions earlier in the day the jump programme might be behind schedule; it’s likely that there will be a backlog of customers that were booked in earlier in the day and are itching to jump. Please be patient if this is the case. Go and enjoy your training and a nice cup of tea in the café while you wait for your turn.
- Aircraft Operations: Most DZs now operate Cessna Caravans, which are large turbine aircraft that can climb to jump altitude very quickly. However, it isn’t a good idea to shut down turbine aircraft regularly. It’s inefficient and if done on a regular basis can put a lot of strain on the aircraft engine. Therefore, any DZ that operates a turbine aircraft will usually run a 3 lift cycle and then shut down the aircraft to refuel. Once the aircraft has been shut down, they will need to wait 30 minutes for it to cool down enough to start the jump ship again. So if you are next in line to jump but the aircraft is sat on the ground, chances are it’s just been refuelled and the pilot is giving the aircraft its 30 minutes of rest.
- Customer bookings: Drop Zones will often book you in as part of a group and you will receive your training together but you won’t all necessarily be on the same lift. You might be on the first, second or third lift, etc., so you might have to wait a short while once you have been trained. Drop Zones book people in in groups because they need a contingency for no-shows or for people that are travelling long distances. This way, there will always be enough people to fill the aircraft and not cause any unnecessary delays.
Then, of course, there is the other scenario. The one you hope for as you drive to the DZ. You might arrive and get hurried along and kitted up instantly because the plane is in the air and you are wanted on the next lift. In an ideal world, that is how we’d love everyone’s skydive to be, but there are just so many other variables affecting your jump that we can’t guarantee it. Parachute Centres can only plan for it as much as possible.
So, while there are plenty of factors to consider, your job is to relax, let the DZ operators take care of everything to keep you safe and give you the experience of a lifetime.
When you’re finally sitting on the aircraft it will be worth it; the door opens, you feel the rush of cool air filling the plane and the inside of your body cools as you gasp and the air fills your lungs. It takes your breath away for a moment… and then you’re out. Free-falling. Your heart is beating like never before as you accelerate towards the earth. Adrenaline is pulsing through your body, it’s euphoric. And then the canopy opens. Everything is calm, it’s quiet, serene and peaceful. You try to take in as much as you possibly can; the views, the drop, how your body feels at the moment… it’s tingly with excitement, the hairs on your arms are standing up and you get a lump in your throat because you have finally done it. You’ve conquered your fears or ticked an item off your bucket list.
Once your feet are firmly back on terra-firma, you just want to get back up there and do it again! You think back to all those frustrating hours spent on the ground looking up to the sky, wishing you were there and you realise it was all worth it. Every tandem instructor and camera-flyer in the world will tell you of their frustrations when they are sitting on the ground, not earning a penny, but the moment they jump with someone new, they remember too why they work in an industry that has so many factors affecting it’s schedule.