Does hang-gliding need to be regulated?

Much like scuba diving, the sport of hang-gliding is largely self-regulated, meaning there are few requirements imposed by government.

The industry itself says no, it is doing a good job on its own

In Canada, hang gliding is largely self-regulated. The federal government doesn't require training for pilots, and pilots do no need to hold a licence or permit to operate the aircraft. (Urs Flueeler/Associated Press)

Much like scuba diving, the sport of hang-gliding is largely self-regulated, meaning there are few requirements imposed on it by governments.

But the recent death of a 27-year-old woman who was killed after falling from a hang-glider just outside of Agassiz, B.C., Saturday has raised questions of whether the industry needs more oversight.

Within the industry, however, some are pushing back, saying that accidents are extremely rare. They also question what improvements a government might make to a system that they believe already does a good job policing itself.

There have been five fatalities over the past 10 years, according to the Vancouver Sun. Two of those deaths involved an accident in which the pilot had a heart attack.

"It's really hard to fix something that's really not broken," Randy Rauck, an instructor at Raven Aviation in Lumby, B.C., told CBC News. "This is the first time this type of accident has happened in Canada to my knowledge, where a tandem passenger gets released from the aircraft somehow."

"I just can't see how the federal government's involvement in regulating hang-gliding  is going to improve the situation. By [creating] a whole bunch of red tape, it could force the schools, that are good schools out there, out of business."

Rauck said the investigation into the accident is still in progress, but following the probe there will be a lengthy meeting of instructors and executives to resolve any potential loopholes that may or may not be in the program.

"We have to try to stop every accident from happening, especially every fatality. It's hard to in aviation or in cars or trucks or motorcycles, even with federal regulations."

Pilot training

On its website, the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada, which certifies instructors, prides itself that "in this age of government regulations, it is significant that hang gliding and paragliding are the least regulated segments of aviation."

"This is due to the nature of these sports and the unrelenting effort of the HPAC/ACVL to keep these sports free of regulation," it says.

Transport Canada does not require hang-gliders or paragliders in Canada to be registered, nor are there airworthiness standards or requirements imposed by the Canadian Aviation Regulations, according to the association.

The federal government also doesn't require training for hang-gliding pilots, and pilots do not need to hold a licence or permit to operate the aircraft.

Transport Canada does impose some rules, which includes writing an exam and scoring at least 60 per cent; being equipped with a radio communication system, magnetic compass and altimeter; not operating a hang-glider at night; wearing a helmet and being at least 16 years of age.

But HPAC says its own industry rules to certify someone as a pilot are rigorous and that most hang-glider outfits won't allow people to hang-glide unless they are a certified pilot.

Margit Nance, executive director of HPAC, told CBC News that to get a novice pilot rating requires going through ground school, where people learn safety and different aspects of the sport.

"Then very slowly, they will start you on a training hill where you essentially run down a hill. Maybe you will get a foot off the ground as your first flight and then you progress from there," she said.

Part of the training includes classroom instruction and spending a lot of time getting to know your equipment, she said.

A minimum of 35 flights are needed before you're able to fly on your own without an instructor, Nance said, adding that even after 35 flights, someone may not be deemed ready.

"You have to be able to have the skills to fly safely before you get your first rating," she said.

From there, a novice-rated pilot can progress to intermediate and advanced levels. The instructor stage follows, which requires taking a course given by a senior instructor. The instructor will then write a letter to HPAC recommending the student become an instructor. Then, they train for their tandem certification where they learn how to take passengers in the glider.


Although there are no federally mandated rules, Rauck said he doesn't know of any hang-gliding operations working in Canada that aren't certified.

"It's not like it's a major issue with this big free-for-all, Wild West thing that the media is starting to hit on. It's just not happening."

In the recent case, the woman went up with an instructor, William Jonathan Orders, who had 16 years experience and became a certified tandem instructor three years ago. Orders has been charged with obstruction of justice in the ongoing investigation.

"He's a competent long-term experienced pilot," said Rauck, who knows Orders. "My heart goes out to the passenger and Jon as well. It's every instructor's nightmare to have something like this happen."

Although Orders was experienced and certified, Rauck said that it is up to the passenger at the end of the day to make sure that the pilot is certified and to double-check the pilot's endorsements before they fly.

"It is a buyer-beware or user-beware system that does work very well," Rauck said.