Automatic activation devices are proven life savers, but they are designed to be a last-resort backup system and are not foolproof. You should never rely on your AAD to save you. You should always be prepared to deploy your main parachute at the appropriate altitude and to initiate your emergency procedures, if needed.
AADs are extremely reliable, but malfunctions, misfires and failures to fire still happen, usually due to user error or failure to understand how the device operates. There are different types of AADs on the market, but they all work by measuring changes in barometric pressure and calculating altitude and descent rate. An AAD will cut your reserve closing loop when you reach these predetermined parameters.
Environmental factors such as temperature, humidity or air density can affect your AAD. So can your body position. You can forget to turn it on, accidentally turn it off or set it incorrectly. Your AAD may not fire following a cutaway until you reach freefall speeds that meet its firing parameters. You should thoroughly read your owner’s manual to see how various situations may affect your unit; check your AAD before each jump and make sure it is on, calibrated and set correctly; and follow the manufacturer's instructions and recommendations for maintenance and service.
When you have an AAD activation, you should:
- Report the incident to drop zone staff and fill out an incident report form.
- Have your equipment inspected by a rigger and replace any damaged or expended components, such as the reserve closing loop, the reserve pilot chute or the AAD cutter.
- Review the circumstances that led to the AAD activation and identify any possible causes or contributing factors such as loss of altitude awareness, medical issues, equipment malfunction or human error.
- Seek feedback and guidance from a Safety and Training Advisor or instructor on preventing future AAD activations and improving skills and safety awareness.
- Follow the S&TA, drop zone staff or instructor’s recommendations or requirements regarding further training, supervision or restrictions before resuming jumping.
An AAD activation is a severe event that indicates a failure of standard procedures and should not be taken lightly or ignored. A jumper who has experienced an AAD activation should treat it as a learning opportunity and a chance to improve their skydiving safety and performance.
An AAD is a valuable safety device that has saved many lives over the years. However, it is not a magic bullet that will guarantee your survival. It is only a backup system that may or may not work in an emergency. The best way to ensure your safety is to be a competent and responsible skydiver who knows how to handle any situation that may arise.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training