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peek

"The Decline in Skydiving in the 21st Century", a white paper

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I have written a white paper titled, "The Downturn in Skydiving in the 21st Century".

(Except for my suggestions), none of the information in this writing should seem new to most skydivers, since most of the ideas contained in it have been discussed by many people over the past few years.

I attempted to get it published in Skydiving magazine, but after 7 months I decided to "publish" it using internet related resources in time for the Parachute Industry Association Symposium, starting in a few days. I will also be handing out copies there are entering into many discussions about it.

The following is a link to a web site where the document may be downloaded. www.skydivestlouisarea.com/skydiving21st.doc

The paper is also presented below with formatting, because I know someone will copy and paste anyway, so I might as well do it now with formatting.

It is not a short paper, but if you are interested in it, please take the time to read it in its entirety including the Author's Comments.

I'm sure there will be many comments.




The Downturn in Skydiving in the U.S. in the 21st Century



by Gary Peek, May 2006




The 1990's saw an increase in skydiving activity that delighted skydivers, skydiving instructors, and drop zone owners everywhere. The talk of the sport was how great things were going and how many people were finding the wonderful sport of skydiving. However, just as the 1990's were good for skydiving, the turn of the century brought a downturn in skydiving, when the same skydivers, instructors, and drop zones owners were left wondering what happened.


The increase in activity in skydiving in the 1990's was an anomaly.

It was caused by a good economy, a few decent skydiving movies like "Point Break" popularizing the "bad boy" image of skydiving, and the fact that "extreme" sports and doing "extreme" things became popular at that time. It was not a "new horizon in skydiving" where skydiving became a "mainstream" sport which changed the industry and provided the opportunity for many people to build careers on it.

The current downturn in skydiving activity is, most of all, skydiving adjusting itself after the anomaly. Skydiving activity is now at about the level that it would have been if this anomaly had not occurred, perhaps even better!


Some contributing factors:

The "downturn" in skydiving (at least in the US) in the early 2000's was caused by a number of things, including the economy, the problems in aviation caused by the terrorist attack on the US, insurance prices, and fuel prices. But it was, and continues to be, caused by the sport and industry itself as well.

Skydiving may have been one of the first of the extreme sports to become popular in the 1990's when "extreme" seemed to be the popular thing to do, but some of the other extreme sports that followed in popularity were much less expensive. Young adults were the segment of the population most likely to participate in extreme sports, but they did not have as much disposable income as other groups. So many of them made a number of jumps, but few of them stayed with the sport long term.

In the 1990's the sport of skydiving began referring to skydiving as "safe". The better gear that was being developed in the 1980's and 90's provided the potential for improved safety, but this was not fully realized, at least not for long. Eventually the sport realized that it should not refer to skydiving as safe, but this misconception had sold many people on the idea of skydiving. When accidents happened, the public was likely to bring lawsuits to dropzones, encouraged of course by the growing trend in the US for citizens to not accept responsibility for themselves, but to blame others.

Tandem skydiving became widely used as a way for drop zones to make money rather than as a training method, which created multiple problems. Tandem skydiving provided another way for skydiving to erroneously refer to skydiving as "safe". It also provided a passive carnival-style skydive ride for those people interested in "instant gratification". Drop zones and instructors often encouraged their "passenger's" passive participation rather than encouraging their "students" to learn skills in a sport that would give them a sense of accomplishment and encourage them to continue in that sport.



Other reasons for the downturn in skydiving activity




Skydiving is not as fun as it used to be, for a number of reasons:

Skydivers that are not extremely current are criticized as not being "safe".

Experienced skydivers who want only to skydive periodically and have fun are often criticized. These skydivers are looked down upon because they do not care to pursue particular disciplines or planned dropzone activities, or to be coached by famous name skydivers, all of which increase the cost of their skydiving.

Students who are not current are looked upon with suspicion and assumed to be "dangerous".

Even though they may now have much more disposible income available for skydiving, experienced skydivers who quit skydiving when they were younger and now wish to continue are often treated as being "old", and with old (or lacking in) knowledge and skills, rather than being welcomed back with open arms.

Very current and experienced skydivers, and often, drop zone owners and their staff, for the most part are gear snobs, suggesting that if a person does not have the latest gear that they are unsafe, even if this gear is perfectly safe for the type of skydiving the owner intends to do.

Experienced skydivers that practice the "latest" skydiving discipline are often snobs, suggesting that they are better than the others.


Skydiving is more commercialized and more expensive (even beyond the economy and fuel price issues)

Skydiving instruction has been made more formalized, allowing for less flexibility, and causing it to cost more. Commercial skydiving operations often take advantage of this to require that their students make more jumps and more expensive jumps.

There is an increasing divide between recreational skydivers and "professional" skydivers, or instructional staff. The path from being an experienced jumper interested in working with students to an instructional rating holder is longer and more expensive.



Basic problems with skydiving that skydivers often forget or will not admit




No one cares about skydiving except skydivers. The general public is more interested in a fatality than they are something positive about skydiving. The only time most people care about skydiving is when they want to make a single jump. The sport is simply lucky when someone enjoys it enough to continue.

Skydiving is almost entirely a frivolous activity that uses the world's dwindling supply of fossil fuels.


Skydiving for the most part is not "professional". (No it's not!)

Skydiving aircraft have accident and incident rates that exceed other commercial aviation industries. Things that are considered inappropriate in other aviation activities are considered normal in skydiving.

Drop zone "help wanted" advertisements for instructional staff often contain references that the applicant be "sober" or not be a user of illegal drugs. It is apparent that the skydiving industry attracts substance abusers.

Student skydivers with problems or "issues" (physical or skill) are often made fun of with widely circulated videos, some of which are shown in public venues.

Advertisements for skydiving and skydiving related products often contain sexual content and are accepted as normal by many skydivers. Some of the photographs and videos contain explicit sexual content and are shown in public venues.

Many people attempting to make a living from skydiving live in vehicles at a drop zone. Some of these places are actually referred to as "ghettos".

Only a handful of skydiving businesses or organizations are professional enough to have names that are a registered trademark.



Suggestions for dealing with the reality of skydiving in the 21st Century




"Professional" skydivers:

Stop trying to make a living on skydiving! This is impossible to do in a professional manner except in areas:

1. where the weather is extremely good most of the time.
2. where there is a very large population base nearby.
3. that have absolutely no other drop zones nearby.

Pursue business interests outside of skydiving. Consider getting a "real job".


Drop zone owners:

If you are having trouble making ends meet, then downsize! This seems to be a difficult thing for drop zone owners to do, even though many businesses in difficult economic times have no problem laying off employees or selling off divisions of a corporation that are not profitable.

If you are a drop zone owner and have children in the business, encourage them to pursue other business interests.

Unless the reason you are a drop zone owner is to be popular with other skydivers, then operate your drop zone as a business. Set prices at the point where profit is possible.

If experienced jumpers ask you for discounts or "deals" and you cannot make money at that price, tell them no. No further explanation is necessary.

Treat Tandem skydiving as the training method that is was designed to be, and train your Tandem students well. Show them the gratification they will experience by learning to be a skydiver rather than a passive rider.

Your "competition" is not your neighboring drop zone, but is other recreational activities. Skydiving is just another "extreme" sport now, and is not special. You must help your fellow drop zone owner in order to survive.


Experienced jumpers not "working" in the skydiving industry:

Do not open a drop zone unless there is an overwhelming reason to do so! (Do not let your ego "overwhelm" you.) You do not possess any special skills and knowledge that seasoned drop zone owners do not have, particularly if you do not have business experience.

If you are tempted by the concept of "cutting away" from your real job, (as portrayed in the movie "Cutaway"), don't!

Remember this: Except for larger drop zones that cater to experienced jumpers and have a large volume of experienced jumper loads, drop zones make little (if any) money from your business.

If you have started skydiving recently, you have probably been spoiled! You have gotten used to drop zones that have provided you with facilities and aircraft that are possible only because their student skydivers have needed them and paid for them.

If a drop zone is student oriented in order to be profitable, and they allow you room on a load, then take the slot, shut up, and go skydive. Consider it a privilege to have a drop zone nearby where you can do this, because many skydivers must travel a long way to a drop zone.

When drop zones offer you a discount of any type or amount, thank them, purchase jumps at that price, and go skydive.

Do not ask for a discount or "deal" without providing a deal to the drop zone. You are already getting a deal.



Author's Comments



I would like to thank a number of my friends and colleagues in the sport of skydiving for reviewing this writing and for their comments and ideas. The suggestions for dealing with this downturn are mine, but the reasons for the downturn have been items of discussion among many people for a number of years. Although some people may consider the direct manner of this writing to be negative about the sport, I consider it to be positive, by identifying and catagorizing many of the issues leading up to the inevitable downsizing of the sport, which will have a positive effect on the sport in the long run.



About the Author

Gary Peek began skydiving in 1981 and is an active jumper with over 6800 jumps. He holds Static Line, IAD, AFF, and Tandem Instructor/Examiner ratings and actively teaches student skydivers in all of these training methods. Gary holds an FAA Commercial Pilot certificate and is a Master Parachute Rigger. He is a Para Publishing author and has been a speaker at 6 PIA International Parachute Symposiums. Gary is is a co-founder of the Parks College Parachute Research Group and makes a living in electronics and computers, having founded an industrial electronics company called Industrologic, Inc. He can be contacted at his office at (800) 435-1975 or [email protected]

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Interesting read - as you say, not a lot of new knowledge there, but it's good to see it being pulled together in a single place.

My only critisism is that you seem to lose the professional and impersonal feel that the paper has for the majority of it from "Suggestions for dealing with the reality of skydiving in the 21st Century" onwards. It's probably a reflection of using 'you' a lot more.

Thanks for the read though!

:)

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My only critisism is that you seem to lose the professional and impersonal feel that the paper has for the majority of it from "Suggestions for dealing with the reality of skydiving in the 21st Century" onwards. It's probably a reflection of using 'you' a lot more.
Thanks for the read though!



Thank you. You are correct in that observation, and indeed I am being more personal in that section talking to my skydiver friends.

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Very interesting Gary. Although I only skimmed through it, I did note at least one thing in there that I have an alternate view on.

The observation about other extreme sport being competition.

I agree that a single DZ in an area is not a monopoly but rather a monopolistic business, competing with rock climbing, hang gliding etc. when it comes to attracting core participants.

What I would add is that in the first time market, they are not entirely competition.

We have had agreements with rock climbing and hang gliding business to promote their business to our first timers while they promote our business to their students.

Working with these businesses is a unique opportunity to market to the skydiving psycho graphic, the same people who try hanggliding are the same type of people who try skydiving.

We have gone so far as to rent some of our hanger space to a Hang gliding school. We have had their students spontaneously try a tandem hang glide and they've had many of our students and even regulars try Hang gliding while waiting for or just after their load. We've also picked up at least 1 Hang glider pilot as a regular jumper.

We have also been able to incorporate some of their safety systems in our training such as the "Robertson Charts of Reliability"

Just some food for thought.

Tim
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

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Pursue business interests outside of skydiving. Consider getting a "real job".



I like that one ^^ But what do I know, I'm just a newbie :SB|

Good article, it isn't that long either..
http://planetskydive.net/ - An online aggregation of skydiver's blogs.

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Hey Gary,
Just wanted to say 'hey.' (it's been a while!) While I don't know that I'm in a position anymore to comment in depth, I think your paper brought up some good points that resonated with me and I hope other experienced jumpers will give that some thought and see what they can do to have more fun, welcome others and continue to give the sport more positive visibility in the 'everyday' world. --Julie

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you just gave a lenghthy and in depth answer to posts like this one and severeal others asking more or less the same question :)
allthough i'm from another part of the world and most of the problems discussed in the states don't apply over here it is an interesting read B|
The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle

dudeist skydiver # 666

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Nice read, thanks. :)
I wrote a similar diatribe (though littered with a few more 4-letter words) on the Australian boards a few months ago, which got some interesting responses: Skydiving Retention and the Old Days

(I don't think you need to register to read it).

I've given up on ever thinking we are going to return to the immediately post-Point Break days, but it was fun while it lasted. :)

nothing to see here

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Thanks Gary - that was a really good read. My favorite part about your article was the advice you gave to experienced Skydivers to make their sport better for them and for the community as a whole.

One thing I would like to personally see is Skydivers actively promoting their sport on the civic level. Citizens have a stereotype of us, and a good, sober handshake can do wonders! Tell business owners you are a skydiver and how much you appreciate their business when you travel to jump. Little things jumpers can do add up.

A good read - Thanks again Gary.
=========Shaun ==========


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Gary,

I agree with most of your observations. I just think the origins may go deeper.

As you state, the growth in the 90's was an "anomaly." I have always felt that it had its roots with Baby Boomer Yuppies who made a lot of money in the '80's, and were now looking for new places to spend it. I recall seeing some scuba industry literature in the late 80's that identified this market which had a large amount of disposable income and suggested ways of going after it. A lot of the marketing revolved around giving these folks a "cool" experience with which to impress friends and co-workers.

This demographic brought a lot of cash into the sport. Instead of slowly working their way up the ladder via static line instruction and hanging out at the DZ to learn, these folks had the ability to buy their way into the sport quickly through Tandem, AFF, paid coaches, and paying top dollar for custom made, color coordinated gear. They didn't need to learn to pack since they could afford packers. DZ's and gear manufacturers went out of their way to meet this new demand.

By the mid-90's I noticed a big shift in the type of person you saw skydiving. Instead of primarily military, former military, and college students, I was seeing a lot more doctors, lawyers, and other high end professions. Prices went up and the younger kids got squeezed out.

Given that the average time in the sport is about 5 years (I am told), I think that a lot of what we are seeing is the Baby Boom Yuppie demographic getting out of the sport and turning to other interests. At the same time, I believe we have hurt our ability to replenish our own talent pool for the reasons you state about instructional ratings. I certainly see it in RW where almost every load I am on these days seems like a P.O.P.S. load.

If you look at scuba, and motorcycling, similar things have happened. Worst thing that ever happened to the true bikers was when Malcom Forbes got a Harley.

So the question is: will we adjust, as a sport, or keep chasing after the quick buck?

CDR

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I think that to reverse the loss of new people in skydiving is that all skydivers should become ambassadors for the sport. Looking back to when I was a sky god(in the early seventy's) I and the other sky gods at our field chased many (hundreds)of would be skydivers away because of our attitudes. Rather than fostering inclusiveness we had exclusiveness. We took their static line money and if they weren't cool we ignored them till they went away, Wuffo's were completely ignored. Needless to say after a few years we had a core group of people that weren't enough to support our operation and it folded. Now looking at it hindsight I'm ashamed of how we (I) treated these people, those that wanted to join our sport, to help it grow.
In reading some posts in this forum I see some of my old attitudes still exist. So maybe next time you see that student or wuffo standing there take the time to engage that person by saying "Hi you going up on the next lift" "Wanna try a tandem jump?" "Nice rig (even if to you its a POS)" Make your self approachable, humble yourself a little and remember that person was you once upon a time. And he may someday be the person to fill that load, be the base or be the next sky god.
Be an ambassador !
D-2626, SCR1999, SCS641, NSCR2350, GW6909

Blue Skies!!!!!!

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Scroadload, Bravo!! on everything you just said. At my first DZ back in the 70's, that's exactly how it was - lots of college students (myself included) and recent college grads who took a well-attended FJC and eagerly started getting through the SL-to-freefall progression, but many eventually getting chased away from the DZ (and often the sport) by the unwelcoming, sometimes hostile, attitudes of the DZO and a core group of (sorry, but I have to say it) largely redneck self-styled skygods. I got my A license there; but after I had about 50 or so jumps, this BS led a couple friends and I to start taking our business to another DZ. I won't say which one we left, and which one we moved to; but let's just say we found ourselves a frontier of welcoming attitudes that kept us in the sport. In the meantime, however, lots of eager faces in the novice ranks just said "fuck it" and went away altogether. It was a pity. (PS - the DZ we left is long gone now, and the one we moved to is still going strong. I wonder why.)

Oh, well - that was then, and this is now. I took a long hiatus from the sport while our kids were growing up; but now that I'm back, any time I see some 22 year old snot with 600 jumps in 2 years copping an attitude with a newbie, I'm old enough to take him down a peg and get away with it, and I usually do. Instead, I often invite newbies on 2 and 3-ways to help them get dialed in, and feel good about themselves. And I've never accepted a coach fee or even my slot for it. When they offer, I just tell them to pay it forward. Now you know why.

PS - symbolically speaking, I accept your apology. :P

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While most of the points you make seem to be valid to me, I do have to pipe in and say:

From what I've seen, the single most-common reason for the decline has been COST. Particularly training and equipment costs.

I see it nearly everyday....

Tandem passenger comes in.
TI gives instruction and includes some basic training, pulling, canopy flight, etc.
Student loves the experience, gets all pumped up and asks about doing more.
Training programs are discussed and a frown appears on the students face.
Student asks about gear costs and a bigger frown appears.
Student finally says, "I loved it! I'll be back soon."

...and you rarely see them again.


Side note:
Then, the ones who DO come back get involved with all the attitude issues you list and many simply drop out...it's just not fun anymore.
My reality and yours are quite different.
I think we're all Bozos on this bus.
Falcon5232, SCS8170, SCSA353, POPS9398, DS239

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This kind of debate is necessary. In the UK, I haven't seen gear snobbery be an issue, perhaps because it expensive compared with the average skydiver's income. Clichey behaviour is always a risk when small groups form for the weekend. We just have to make an effort to be inclusive.

The biggest conflict seems to me to be the balance between the commercial tandem operation and the fun jumpers. On the one hand the tandems help pay for the club, and justify a big plane. On the other, only getting 3 jumps on a sunny day because the plane is full of one time jumpers is frustrating. Tandems are seen as a fairground ride, AFF takes a big initial commitment and static line jumpers are lucky to get 2 jumps a day. We do need to promote the sport element of skydiving and the fun the new disciplines now give us. Perhaps this is more of a problem with unpredictable British weather unlike you lucky guys who live in the sun!

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An interesting read, there is more than 300 dz's in north america so this is probably true for the states.

The skydiving industry is changing.

you said you could only make a living if you are working at a dropzone with either of the 3 following conditions


>Stop trying to make a living on skydiving! This is impossible to do in a professional manner except in areas:

1. where the weather is extremely good most of the time.
2. where there is a very large population base nearby.
3. that have absolutely no other drop zones nearby.

I bagan skydiving nearly 5 years ago and I could do it without paying a cent to begin with!

My govornment subsidised a $15000 course by 50% and loaned me the remainder. so that I could fill a slot in the rapidly grown skydiving industry in my country.

yes the tandem factory of new zealand. taupo tandems does the most tandems in the world per year(dunno the fugure but), during the high season 200+ per day is not uncommon. next door is freefall skydive they can do 150+ per day and on the same airfield again is another dropzone that can be doing 90+ in a day!

Taupo is a very small town(only a few thousand people live there), the weather is shit alot of the time and there are 3 very busy dropzones on one small airfield. with many employees making very good money and doing over 1000 jumps per year!
"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then the world will see peace." - 'Jimi' Hendrix

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Very nice article... I sent this to a friend of mine who planned to quit jumping for every reason you listed. He has 9 years experience, 5000 jumps, and lost his heart for the sport because the downturn is causing other skydivers to quit who are good, experienced, willing to teach, and who dont' have the "snob" element within them. Thank you for your article as I am hoping to change his mind with it.

Does anyone else find it funny that we made a SPORT out of an EMERGENCY PROCEDURE?!?!

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...In the UK, I haven't seen gear snobbery be an issue...
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Um... If I have my facts straight, I believe gear snobbery is enforced by law in your country. If I show up with my old Wonderhog (complete with belly band) I will be told I may not jump this rig because others (more likely than not people who have much less experience than I do) will tell me it's dangerous to use this gear. When I ask why it's dangerous, I will be told some version of the fact that better gear has since been invented.

In fact, you will probably not allow me to jump my new rig because it does not have an AAD. Again, I will be speaking with people who have spent much less time in the sport than I have.

Nice work, Gary. Perhaps the reason SKYDIVING did not use your article is because they recently addressed the issue with a lengthy piece of work by Robin Heid.

I began jumping in 1982 and have been jumping my W'hog for over 20 years. At first this was not unusual, but as time went on I received an increasing array of raised eyebrows, curious comments, etc. Mostly good natured fun, but sprinkled with those occasional snotty comments from people who had recently joined the sport and were able to spend much time at the DZ, accruing many jumps in a short amount of time. This was especially noticeable when visiting other DZ's.

This did not deter me, but I can see how some poeple would be intimidated by such attitudes. As skydivers, we are the only people who understand what we do. If we can't fit in and be accepted at the DZ we are doubly isolated.

This goes for currency as well. I've spent my share of soapbox time arguing that there is nothing inherently dangerous about being an occasional jumper. Sure, the learning curve is not very dramatic, but you can safely make a few jumps per year as long as you use your head and stay within your comfort zone. This does not necessarily require any extra training or expense, but it does require dealing with a growing mind-set among the skydiver population that worships at the altar of currency, without regard for other considerations.

I've always been the guy who will jump with the recent graduates. However, we are sliding into a culture where I have fewer opportunities to do so because I have not purchased a "coach" rating. The fact that I have been "coaching" newbies for years is irrelevant.

Thanks again.

Cheers,
Jon S.

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Thanks for posting Gary, an interesting article which makes some good points.

I do think some of your 'suggestions for dealing with the reality of skydiving in the 21st century' are a little on the negative side...There seems to be a lot of 'don't do this' and not so much 'why don't we do this?'

If Point Break et al created an upturn in the skydiving market, doesn't that suggest that it is possible to favorably influence how the public see the sport? If we made more of en effort to actually promote what we do (there are so many things that could be done here) we would be likely to see a positive effect, I'm sure.

Was it Robin Heid's article that mentioned how we could improve retention? I can't remember where I read it now, but some basic marketing strategies could change things for invididual dropzones, the professional skydivers who work at them (sorry, I do think it is possible to be a 'pro' :P - just take the right attitude) and the rest of us who love to jump. I agree we need to make the sport more accessible and less exclusive (snotty, in some parts) - and we also need to do a lot of work on our PR.

I also don't buy that no-one is interested in skydiving except skydivers. As participants I think we are very bad (are we lazy or have we just given up?) at counteracting negative (i.e. fatality-related) press. We have ourselves to blame on that - skydiving is a sport which fascinates the public on a level far beyond the morbid. If you don't believe me please have a look at what 2 weeks of PR activity generated for only one team.

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Overall I agree with what you wrote. I do have a couple of comments...

Quote


Nit: PDF would be more portable and less likely to harbor a virus.

Quote

The "downturn" in skydiving (at least in the US) in the early 2000's was caused by a number of things, including the economy, the problems in aviation caused by the terrorist attack on the US, insurance prices, and fuel prices.



9/11 gave me the clap! I think 9/11 gets blamed for lots more things than it should. My understanding is that jumping was shut down for one weekend in September 2001. Maybe what you are talking about is either airport access issues at smaller airports, or the fact that taking a commercial flight to a boogie or far-away dropzone became much more of a PITA than it was before. I think both of those are possibilities, but just throwing out 9/11 as a justification without further explanation isn't a good idea.

Quote

Drop zone owners: [....] Your "competition" is not your neighboring drop zone, but is other recreational activities. Skydiving is just another "extreme" sport now, and is not special. You must help your fellow drop zone owner in order to survive.



I think this is a good idea but might be a "hard sell" to many DZOs. I'm not a DZO, nor do I work at a DZ, but I get the idea that many DZOs treat skydiving as a zero sum game. They don't want to spend money on advertising or other promotion that won't bring jumpers to _their_ dropzone. Ford doesn't pay to run ads for Chevrolets, either, but Ford and GM and all the rest _do_ work together to promote building roads and passing laws that will favor motorists. If you want to know where the really good restaurants are in France, ask... a tire company? Yep - they figure that people might drive more to get a good meal, and hey, that means they can sell more tires! From what I see, this kind of thinking is not common among DZOs.

Quote

The suggestions for dealing with this downturn are mine, but the reasons for the downturn have been items of discussion among many people for a number of years.



You've probably seen it, but a couple of months ago, this thread had some relevant data.

Eule
PLF does not stand for Please Land on Face.

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