CIVL Plenary focus on competition safety

The dominant theme of the 2009 CIVL Plenary meeting was how to improve competition safety. With an increasing number of accidents and incidents at recent international competitions, both the FAI board and CIVL delegates are strongly motivated to address safety issues swiftly and effectively. FAI Secretary General, Max Bishop addressed the Plenary with an unequivocal message. “Safety is the most important topic on FAI and CIVL agenda. The level of accidents in recent competitions is totally unacceptable." He continued: "The responsibility for these accidents is shared between pilots, equipment manufacturers, organisers, FAI officials, and the people who make the rules,” he said. “CIVL can and must make the sport a great deal safer. If not, there is a strong probability that the FAI Executive Board might reluctantly intervene to cancel future events. CIVL delegates carry a weighty responsibility and must exercise it firmly and swiftly to achieve change. Now is the time for serious action,” he added. In fact, two days of subcommittee meetings prior to the Plenary session had primarily focused on improving safety. A wide range of initiatives were discussed and a significant number of actions were noted, recommendations for rule changes agreed and guidelines for organisers, officials and pilots were outlined. It is understood that some pilots take risks, putting themselves and others in danger, in the heat of a competition environment. But what can be done to ensure they maintain a better sense of self-preservation? Certainly, those proven to be flying in cloud or flying aggressively must be penalised. Officials and organisers too, must overcome their reluctance to impose severe penalties. Other measures include introducing more stringent rules on equipment. To this end, a Glider Safety Working Group has been established to consider issues such as whether to regulate or encourage certification of high-performance wings, and to mandate minimum standards of protective equipment such as helmets and harnesses. Specifically related to hang gliding, the Pitch Stability Working Group is to dramatically step up its activity concerning measuring sprog settings. HG sprog settings that are set too low below manufacturers specifications are considered to be a major factor in accidents involving tumbling. The issues are complex, however, in how to take the measurements, within what tolerances are acceptable, who will make the measurements, and how to limit liability. Then there is the matter of setting and imposing penalties. The WG includes representatives from the pilot, manufacturer and organiser communities, as well as FAI officials. Importantly, the WG must report back, hopefully with workable solutions, at least one month before the World HG Championships in June this year. Further initiatives are in progress through the Safety & Training subcommittee, with rules to ensure all incidents are officially reported, a revised incident report form, and an online incident database. There are many issues still to resolve, especially how to categorically prove cloud flying. Short of insisting that all pilots fly with a video camera, it seems that it is difficult to amass real proof using flight instrumentation. Penalties for cloud flying are extremely harsh, which, some say, discourages pilots from reporting cases, and organisers from imposing penalties. There is a view that introducing a lesser penalty for a first offence may overcome this reluctance, thereby establishing more firmly in pilots’ minds that cloud flying will be penalised. The opposing view is that any leniency on such a serious matter sends the wrong signals to pilots. Certainly the safety message has been received loud and clear to all those attending the CIVL Plenary in Austria this year.