Paragliding is an extreme (or adventure) sport in which participants fly soft-bodied aircraft while sitting in harness; paragliders are launched on foot from a mountain, cliff or other suitable high place. Gliders are kept aloft by a single, ovoid fabric wing attached to the harness by a cone-shaped arrangement of ropes and tethers. Paragliding is similar to hang gliding in many ways, most notably the lack of engines and reliance upon a huge fabric wing for lift. Paragliding equipment, however, is much lighter and more portable than a hang gliding setup because there are no large rigid parts; everything needed for paragliding can be folded and packed into a large backpack. To steer the craft, pilots use a system of hand-operated brakes; many also use changes of body position and shifts in weight to change the course of their paraglider. Seasoned paragliders may stay aloft for hours and travel dozens of miles by responding to ambient wind conditions.
Paragliding in the United Kingdom
Paragliding in the United Kingdom is governed by the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (BHPA). This organisation trains and certifies pilots, supports a network of paragliding clubs and publishes a monthly magazine called “Skywings.” The BHPA also offers sports insurance through Airports Insurance Bureau Ltd.; policies are available for both members and non-members. The Association’s senior staff are all experienced paragliders; most are major contributing authors to the standard texts used to train new pilots.
Safety and Aviation Regulations
Because skilled paragliders may soar as high as certain aircraft, participants are responsible for filing flight plans with the applicable aviation authorities. Pilots must research local flight regulations and restrictions and file a Notice To Airmen (NOTAM) before launch. Although this is usually a simple task for short recreational flights, paragliders who want to cover large distances often need to file multiple NOTAMs; the process grows even more complicated if the flight path crosses any heavily used military or civilian air lanes. Reputable paragliding clubs publish guidebooks that help members anticipate potential traffic concerns and clear their planned route with air authorities. Pilots should file their NOTAMs at least four hours before their intended departure; if the military are involved, it’s prudent to file the plan on the evening before launch.
Paragliders flying in groups must follow additional safety precautions to protect themselves, nearby aircraft and those on the ground below the flight path. If a trip involves five or more gliders, the pilots must use the Civil Aviation Notification Procedure (CNAP), which alerts the military that there will be a large number of gliders flying nearby. CNAPS can be filed over the telephone or via email; they must list the anticipated number of paragliders, the flight date, the estimated launch and landing times, telephone contact information and the type of flying (i.e. paragliding or hang gliding) taking place. The British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association provides more information about this on their website; pilots should also check with seasoned members of their club if they have any questions about NOTAM or CNAP. The process is fairly simple and after a few flights will become almost automatic.