How to Know if a Smaller/Foreign DZ is Safe; What to do When Jumping at a new DZ

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I’m extremely excited to go on a big tour of different DZ’s around Europe. Im planning to hit up a lot of the bigger/well known spots like Empiriabrava, Algarve, Skydive Spain, Interlaken, but also want to check out a lot of smaller spots in other countries. 

I do have a couple concerns. Within the last couple years I read about major plane crashes in Hawaii and Sweden which were the result of plane failures and which killed everyone onboard. Obviously I’m not trying to do down that road. I remember one AFF instructor telling me that when funds are tight on a DZ, the first thing that lacks is plane maintenance. 

I’m wondering how to assess whether a small DZ is safe to jump at. Parachutist Magazine from the USPA lists “Foreign Affiliates” which are supposed to have at least 1 USPA member on staff. That seems like it could be a good start. When looking on Dropzone.com there are lots of other DZ’s in a given country not listed there. How would I know if I’m good to go there? Reading reviews? Calling and asking certain questions? It sounds absurd but I’m obligated not to get seriously injured or killed; recently had a near-fatality in the immediate family, my parents made me promise I’d be as safe as possible, especially in countries where no one speaks the same language as I do. 

Please note, I’m still under 100 jumps. I do plan to knock out about 25 a week while there so I’ll get my numbers up quickly. I’ll also be taking a Flight-One course. I plan to have my C-License before I seriously take off to different smaller DZ’s. 


What kinds of safety measures do you guys take when jumping at a new DZ? I feel like standard ones are knowing the landing pattern, knowing the winds/exit separation, knowing when each group is exiting/exit order, and knowing alternative landing spots if necessary. I’m not too keen on doing much spotting on my own, would rather go shortly after another group. 
Also, re-calibrating altimeter, and not turning on AAD until you’re on the DZ. 

What else can you guys think of? Again, I’m trying to play if safe. 

Also if you guys have any suggestions for great DZ’s in Europe please provide any info on them. 

Edited by Bkleven7

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The USPA group member affiliation means nothing in terms of safety. It only shows that they paid their annual dues. There are no inspections or other mechanisms to actually evaluate the safety of those operations. They could lose the designation, but that is long after a crash or a student dying because of poor instructing/student gear/etc.

Your instructor made a good comment about aircraft maintenance being one of the areas cut back on, but I think that is more of a symptom of a ineffective DZO. Low funds and poor maintenance are both symptoms. A safety focused DZO isn't going to fly the plane when it isn't in the right condition, even if the money is tight and they have to send the tandems home. A smart DZO is setting aside the right reserves for maintenance so that won't happen in the first place.

But MX isn't the only area of risk, smaller DZ's may also have green jump pilots that are earning their hours. I think that is of at least equal risk, because a good pilot can get you down safely when the rubber band breaks, and a poor pilot might panic and stall you in at the end of the runway. It isn't uncommon to have relatively new pilots with operations flying smaller single prop planes that aren't turbines. They should meet comercial hour requirments but sometimes just barely. The DZO needs to bridge the gap by getting new jump pilots good training from a more experinced jump pilot, and making sure that emergencies like engine outs are drilled. 

When you get to bigger more expensive jump planes the insurance companies start demanding more hours and training.

Your best way to start evaluating DZ safety is your eyes and ears.

- What is the condition of the dropzone on the ground, does everything look well maintained?

- How does the student gear look. Is it nice and new, or does it look beat to shit?

- Do you get a good safety briefing, or are they super casual about having a new jumper visiting. What about inspecting your log book and your gear, do they give everything a good look, or do they not seem to care.

- Ask them about the pilot, how long has he been flying jumpers. If you ask nicely you should get a nice response.

- How is the plane loaded. Do the instructors and jumpers communicate well, work out exit order, or does everyone just pile on the plane.

- Are there seatbelts in the plane, and are all the jumpers using them? I won't jump at a DZ without seatbelts. And you should really start to question when people don't use the ones in the plane and no one seems to care.

- What do they do about the landing pattern. Is it set, is it discussed, or does everyone act like it is their own personal landing area and land however they want, it which ever direction they want. Are people swooping in the middle of the pattern.


Safety comes from the deliberate actions and the tone set by the DZO or club governance. If they make safety their key focus everyone else will follow. If fun jumpers and staff aren't being safe what kind of tone is the leadership setting, and what else isn't getting done?

Edited by DougH
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