Putting Our Heads Together — The 2023 USPA DZO Conference
Industry News | Mar 23, 2023
Putting Our Heads Together — The 2023 USPA DZO Conference

USPA Staff

The USPA Drop Zone Operators’ Conference, an opportunity for drop zone owners and operators and industry professionals to gather to exchange information and ideas, took place in late February this year for the first time since 2019. More than 40 Group Member drop zones participated, in addition to three International Affiliates, the majority of the USPA Board of Directors and a plethora of additional attendees. The event was a day full of professional speakers, good food and—most importantly—discussion between DZOs covering all things related to running a skydiving center.

The conference kicked off with a cocktail reception and the presentation of the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award, which was presented this year to former USPA Director of Safety and Training Jim Crouch. Over hors d’oeuvres and drinks, those in attendance enjoyed renewing cross-country friendships and celebrating Crouch for his achievements.

Early the next morning, the DZO Conference attendees kicked off the event with a tandem expert panel comprised of USPA and United Parachute Technologies Tandem Instructor Examiners Angie Aragon and Greg Upper, UPT Tandem Instructor Examiner Course Director Noah Watts and USPA Director of Safety and Training Ron Bell. They discussed tandem-related information such as proper harness fit, retention of instructors and implementing safe policies at drop zones.

Next, Flite-1 Canopy Coach Maxine Tate gave a presentation of safe and intelligent canopy progression. With input from the group, she discussed ways to encourage education and exploration of canopy flight, as well as identifying the responsible parties at each drop zone tasked with promoting this to skydivers. Altogether, the presentation gave insight to DZOs on how to create a safe culture regarding canopy downsizing and progression.

Those in the room took a quick re-caffeination break before Sharon Har-Noy Pilcher, founding member of The Modern Skydiving Concepts school, took the floor to discuss movement jumps at the drop zone and how to manage them. With the increasing popularity of tracking and angle jumps, as well as wingsuit flying, she reviewed the potential dangers and difficulties that skydiving centers face while trying to accommodate these groups.

Next at the podium was Parachutist Managing Editor Luke Jones, who gave a rundown of USPA Group Member drop zone benefits. Jones covered the Airport Access and Defense Fund, the 24/7 online credential check system, print and digital advertising discounts and several new developments such as PR assistance with regard to crisis management. He also introduced the newest benefit: the Parachutist Starter Magazine, which USPA is offering to its Group Member DZs for free (and $3 per magazine for non-Group Members). The publication, aimed at first-time skydivers with the intent to retain them in the sport and aid in the student-licensing process, is available throughout this year (or while supplies last). Group members can order the publication in quantities of 75 for just the cost of shipping and handling by going to uspa.org/startermag. The majority of conference participants left with as many copies as they could carry.

The morning concluded with a presentation from British Skydiving board member Kate Lindsley, who presented her findings on visual marketing in the skydiving industry. Her talk highlighted some interesting observations on representations in the sport’s mainstream media, as well as how drop zones can showcase under-represented groups when marketing our sport to the general public.

After a much-deserved luncheon, the conference reconvened to James La Barrie, founder of Beyond Marketing, who presented information on crisis management and handling media when incidents or fatalities occur. The valuable information struck a chord with those in the room, specifically La Barrie’s availability to DZOs should an unfortunate incident take place. USPA has entered a collaboration with La Barrie to provide support to Group Members in these situations at no charge to them, which USPA encourages DZs to take advantage of before an incident occurs. Group Members may contact USPA at any time to learn more about writing a press release or schedule a consultation with La Barrie so that steps are in place in advance of any unfortunate situation.

The final key speaker of the event was world champion skydiver and leadership coach Shannon Pilcher, who led the room through several communication exercises that demonstrated methods of building teamwork. This was done with the goal of building a strong, cohesive drop zone staff who work well together to run a successful business at every level of management and execution.

USPA Executive Director and part-time emcee Albert Berchtold took the stage to close out the afternoon with several exercises. First was a round-table discussion of topics such as student retention, canopy progression safety, fun-jumper engagement and building a support network as a DZO. Federal Aviation Administration Designated Parachute Rigger Examiners Kevin Gibson and Kirk Smith then joined him onstage to give a quick Q&A over the proposed FAA Main Parachute Packer Rating, which was a hot topic at the neighboring PIA Symposium.

At the conclusion of the event, DZOs walked away with valuable information to take back to each of their drop zones, as well as new, beneficial relationships established with skydivers across the country and world. USPA is reviewing results and feedback from this year’s gathering in order to make the 2025 DZO Conference even more rewarding for those who attend.

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