So tell us ...Is it really dangerous?
For many moons, either through dinner party chat or occasional talk over a pint the
question from non-flyers is always...is it dangerous or how dangerous is it?
Well, unlike a politician we’ll cut to the quick. The truth is - of course it is, flying a
nylon bag, thin lines, a little seat, all from a height no-one would want to fall IS
dangerous. We see paragliders in all forms from speed flying down mountains to
competition pilots and they fly everywhere, it might be UK sites like Dunstable
downs or overseas sites like Oludeniz and the Alps. Paragliding flight has become
one of the most accessible and portable sports that everyone from walkers to
mountaineers are learning to use and get passion about.
The full picture
Of course, that’s not really the full picture though, the nylon glider has now been
knocking around in one version or another for over thirty years. From its early
clunky incarnation from parachute canopies to the sleek flying machines they are
now. All products are now extensively tried and tested and given a safety placard,
and like a snowboard, you buy and learn on the appropriate kit.
Getting the right instruction
Training has gone the same way, no one likes accidents so schools teach through
a tried and tested syllabus, with instructors who mitigate the dangers with well
thought out task setting and in the right environment on the right gear...then all of
a sudden your feet have left the ground and in a short time we’ve achieved what
the Wright brothers and their peers took years to perfect.
Is there a safety standard or can you just buy it off Ebay? Pilots test almost all
gliders to a relative level of passive safety, models are tested to destruction,
twisted into funny shapes and given an industry safety rating adhered to by all
countries. The lines, although thin, have a breaking strain of 260 kilos per line and
there’s approximately 18 lower lines plus another 200 meters of thinner upper lines
and cascades spreading your weight across the whole canopy.
The harnesses get the same treatment, most pilots fly with a second chance
reserve parachute, which statistically are hardly ever used outside social media
channels to generate some views. I’ve carried one for over 25 years, have traveled
to many countries around the world, flown in all sorts of fantastic and exotic
locations and never once has my hand floated near my reserve parachute.
Treat it like all Aviation
Sounds good but yes Paragliding is still dangerous, flying is dangerous surely. How
come we jump on planes so regularly if it really is flying....because like all forms of
aviation decisions are made, checklists are filled out and tests are done to ensure
every journey is a safe one from pilot to the mechanical on a 150 ton 747!.
Paragliding is no different, yes the weather can be a factor, we can’t really fly in
winds over 20mph, we can’t boat around thunderstorms like an F18 but even F18s
What mitigates risk is the pilot or in the beginning the instructor, then the helpful
Club Coach in the local club but post-qualification safety really starts with you.
Pilots are taught a series of checks to ensure they are mentally and physically
prepared, questions such as; is the environment right, is the wind direction right, is
the strength suitable to my level (no-one elses), am I tired, have I flown here before.
etc. Also considerations such as have I changed to many bits of equipment, is it a
new site, are the conditions different. So it’s a ‘thinking sport”, like all forms of
aviation, it pays to bring in routine and be thorough.
There is a small element of fitness, mostly during training, but not too much, you
can drive up to almost any European flying site and many Uk ones.
At FlySpain & Paragliding121, on our courses, I often remind pilots that flying is a decision-making
sport....in fact ...like every sport I’ve ever done. Everything is edged with a little
risk and it also depends on one's perspective. I love riding motorbikes either on
road or through a forest but the thought of riding a road bike powered or otherwise
on English busy roads...that sounds risky to me.
Skydiving is another potentially terrifying sport, throw yourself out of a plane...
must be kidding?! That said, they have one of the best safety records out there as
they mitigate risk with checks, checks and currency of drops etc.
You get an airline pilot with a long lay off, they go back into the simulator, rusty
pilots be it Airline or Skydivers or us paragliding pilots have to reflect and retrain to
keep our ratings and keep up our skills. Currency is of course super important to a
safe beginning and end of your flight.
We run a mix of progressive paragliding courses to help nebies keep up their airtime and progress skills.
You have to have time to fly once you’ve done your ticket, gliders don’t like being abandoned in a corner and neglected,
neither do your skills, they are physical not a mental conundrum.
If you ever have a paragliding question - we are always here to answer them