|180 Days Reserve Repack Cycle in Canada|
Effective January 1, 2000 a change to the reserve inspection/repack cycle (BSR 2.2) has been approved by the Technical Safety Committee and the Board of Directors of CSPA.
This action was taken after extended discussions at committee level over the past several years. Although membership requests to extend the cycle have become more prevalent recently this was not the deciding factor in the T&SC decision.
These requests from the membership come in the wake of a number of nations in the forefront of skydiving activity having already moved to a 180 day inspection/repack cycle. The UK, one of those nations which has been on a 180 day cycle for some time, and maintains a comprehensive reporting system, says that during the time they have been on the six month cycle "none of the reports have suggested that any of the malfunctions or deployment problems were caused or influenced by extending the cycle".
Also, the Technical Committee of the Parachute Industry Association is recommending that the repack cycle be extended to at least 180 days on ram air parachutes. The PIA committee believes that the inspections and the maintenance are two different things. The best way to approach this issue is to draw a parallel to aircraft inspection and operation.
An aircraft may not be flown in the US (and presumably Canada) unless an appropriately certified individual has inspected the aircraft within the past year. However, the fact that the inspection has been signed off does not mean that the aircraft is airworthy or will continue to be airworthy. The regulations state that it is the aircraft operators sole responsibility to determine that the aircraft is airworthy, and he must do so before each and every flight. The date of the last annual inspection is only one of the items that must be checked. If the operator's preflight inspection indicates something is not airworthy, he must correct the problem if the regulations permit him to do so, or find a properly certified individual to correct the problem before he flies the aircraft.
The committee interprets the current parachute regulations in the same way. When a rigger has signed off a pack job, he is signing off that he did the inspection and pack job correctly and has completed any maintenance necessary at that time. He is not certifying that the user will not damage or destroy the parachute before the next repack is due. The sole responsibility for determining the airworthiness of the parachute system lies with the operator of that system, and a current repack sign-off is only one of the items that need to be checked.
In both the aircraft and parachute arenas, the time based inspections are a convenient time to do any maintenance, but those inspections are not the only time maintenance is appropriate. The actual need for maintenance is determined by the extent of use in between these inspections. Some parachute systems may need maintenance weekly if subjected to a high level of use or abuse, but that is separate from the need for repacking of the parachute purely based on elapsed time.
Although the CSPA T&SC does not necessarily agree with all of the theories put forth by the PIA Technical Committee, it does agree that users of parachuting equipment need to accept the responsibility that their personal parachuting equipment may require more frequent inspection and maintenance, especially if being used in a manner which would accelerate normal wear and tear to a level which could compromise the airworthiness of the system. This responsibility would also apply to scheduled maintenance of any AAD contained in that system.
Recent data from various canopy manufacturers indicates that modern parachute fabric may not be as hardy as previously thought. Parachutes made with very low porosity fabrics, (0 - 3cfm permeability) do experience some degradation in performance due to an increase in porosity caused by handling the fabric during repacking. In particular, for ram air parachutes, the change is quite noticeable, and can lead to the parachute eventually failing to meet TSO standards. Studies by both Precision Aerodynamics, Inc., makers of the Raven series of reserves, and Performance Designs, makers of PD reserves, indicate a degradation in canopy fabric which is elevated by the number of times handled during repacking.
Extensive testing has also been conducted by various military groups and they too have found that reserve parachutes do not necessarily stay "brand new" forever. For this reason the Canadian Military has moved to a 180 day cycle on some of its parachutes.
Barry McAuley - Chair CSPA Technical & Safety Committee