Parachute jump areas: they're not the most common area you typically fly threw unless you do a lot of low flying or are a jump pilot. We learn about them a lot during private training then don't seem to talk about it much after that. They seem pretty simple to fly around, but there's a couple extra things to know to help you avoid it and stay safer.
Last week a friend called me and asked "hey, you're a CFI. Is it illegal to fly through a parachute jump area?"
Well the simple answer is no. He was pipeline flying along his usual route and noticed he went through a parachute jump area. Because he was monitoring frequency he heard another pilot call him up and become upset at him for flying through the area. After landing this other pilot threatened to record his tail number and turn him in for careless and wreckless operation. Does this other pilot have a case? Was the pipeline pilot in the wrong? I'm sure simple things like these happen more often than you think. So let's dig into it.
In the last article we discussed ForeFlight and how great of a tool it is. Pictured above is a parachute jump area charted in Galveston, Texas from the Foreflight VFR Sectional screen. Aside from published Parachute Jump Area NOTAM's programs like ForeFlight will also display active jump areas as a caution to pilots flying through. They also include a frequency to monitor as to help find when the jump pilots are going to be releasing skydivers- ATC must legally be notified 5 minutes prior to drop. In a non-towered area ATC has to be notified no more than 24 hours and no less than 1 hour from flying time. It's always a good idea to pick up Flight Following so you can listen to these interactions when they're getting close to drop.
With all of this being said, was the pilot flying pipeline illegally operating? This is a tricky question because it depends on a lot of factors, but in this case it was not. The frequency was being monitored, the drop zone was 5 minutes out from drop and was clear at the time, and as a pipeline pilot it was part of his job to fly that route. The advice I gave was to file a NASA report from the Aviation Safety Reporting System. A lot of pilots call this the get out of jail free card. In the case of any incidents (cases where illegal crimes did not take place and no person was injured) they can help to avoid action being taken against a pilot. This is a perfect situation. Careful action was taken not to penetrate an active drop zone, but a disgruntled pilot still threatened to file a report. Now both sides of the story can be taken.
When it comes to avoiding parachute jump areas, simply know where you're flying and what will be along that route. Avoid the area if you can, if you can't then check into the appropriate listed frequency so you never accidentally fly through falling skydivers. This would be the worst case scenario.
Remember a safe pilot is one who is prepared! Questions or comments? Write to us below this article.