Some wise words from North of the border, equally applicable here. A considered approach to ensuring our sport has a future beyond the present crisis:
Are you fit and safe to fly?
As we approach the first potentially flyable days in Scotland since COVID-19 has started to have significant effects on our daily lives, we must carefully consider our individual responsibilities, both as recreational users of the sky and potential health service users, before venturing out to fly.
Many of us will have flown rarely over the last 3-6 months, some of us fly rarely throughout the year, some of us are in our first years of being pilots, and all of us are facing the start of spring conditions in Scotland. No matter who you are, if you choose to fly in the following weeks and months, you will be at higher risk of injuring yourself, potentially diverting health care from those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
No matter if we are gently soaring a grassy hill, sand dunes, or simply ground handling, we put ourselves at risk EVERY time we put our harnesses on. Our greatest skill is to judge when the potential risk does not justify the reward of flight. At the moment, the consequences of misjudging our risk are far greater than normal. Free-flight is a completely non-essential activity, therefore every first responder, search and rescue member, ambulance, helicopter, hospital bed, nurse, doctor, and surgeon utilised because of a flying incident is a completely avoidable waste of resources, and this is exactly how it will be seen by the general public, who often only know about paragliding through accidents that reach the news.
Any incident during the COVID-19 response period will carry far greater negative consequences for the entire free-flying community. One or two poor judgements could carry enough negative press, induce enough public disappointment, and attract enough interest from the authorities to result in a hard ban on free-flight for the foreseeable future. If the general public opinion of free-flight drifts towards the 'unnecessarily risky' end of the scale, this could have dire consequences for the survival of the sport in a future where use of the sky becomes increasingly regulated.
If you do head out to fly over the coming weeks and months, please, for the sake of everyone else, ask yourself some hard questions:
Have I had little or no flying in the past months?
Am I unfamiliar with the site?
Is the launch difficult, daunting, or unforgiving of mistakes?
Have others ever been concerned about my attitude, competency, or safety? (Be particularly honest with yourself on this one)
Are the forecast or actual conditions even slightly concerning to me?
Now is not the time to be doing anything fancy with your free-flying, to be pushing your limits, nor to be drawn off the hill just because others are flying and you don't want to miss out. If you answered yes to any of the above questions, don't fly.
On the other hand, if you can objectively prove to yourself that it's safe for you to fly, go for it, enjoy, and please don't sneak under the radar. Continue to let someone know your intentions, discuss conditions with other pilots (while adhering to all government advice on safe physical separation), use your SPOT or InReach, and fly with others.
Safe flights, and happy landings.
AHPC Sites Officer