New Spaceland Landing Area Policies: A Time and Place for Everything

We all know that Skydive Spaceland is a world-class dropzone with excellent facilities and aircraft. What you may not know is that when we opened our doors in early 2000, Spaceland was conducting about 5000 skydives per year. Now, 15 years later, our air traffic has increased by about 20 times; we’re up to around 100,000 skydives per year. With this increase, the risk of a canopy collision during flight, landing, and post-landing has also increased quite a bit.

A good analogy is that when we opened our doors, we were the size of a small airport. We have now grown into a major international airport in terms of air (aircraft and canopy) traffic volume. We simply have to evolve our air traffic practices along with our business volume to ensure the ongoing safety and care of our sport skydivers, customers and staff.

It is an acknowledged fact that canopy flight (collisions) and landing incidents have become leading causes of skydiving fatalities worldwide. To combat this trend, Spaceland is making changes to our landing area and airspace management to increase safety for skydivers, customers, and staff. Also, it is part of our pledge as a USPA Group Member to separate high-performance traffic from conventional pattern traffic.

Background

What is the issue with the way things are, you may ask?

Higher volume–Primarily, our previous airspace and landing plans have become outdated with the increase in volume. For example, we now have many more D-licensed skydivers than when we opened our doors. The old D license landing area just south of the hangar thus experiences the highest volume of traffic due to tandem, Skydiver Training Program (STP) instructors, videographers, and D-licensed skydivers all competing for airspace and real-estate on our smallest landing area.

Increased traffic complexity–There has also been a major increase in the complexity of this more crowded traffic. Not so long ago, a 180° hook turn to land was considered radical. These days, a 720° landing turn or more starting at 700+ feet above the ground is hardly unusual among the swoop crowd flying the fastest canopies. These canopies can be traveling well over 50 miles per hour after such turns, taking up a good deal of real estate both vertically and horizontally. Put this type of traffic in the same area as lightly loaded canopies doing standard 90° turns and flying at 20-25 mph, and you have a lot of potential for canopy collisions both from the very different ways these two types of traffic use the airspace and from the wide variance in approach speeds. By exercising strong awareness and defensive flight (and no small amount of luck), we have managed to avoid serious collisions for the most part, but luck and skill won’t save us from inherently high-risk situations forever. It’s only a matter of time, and the only way to reduce the risk of traffic complexity is to reduce the complexity by separating different types of traffic, regardless of the license the skydivers in question hold.

Increased encroachments by canopies flying over the runways and taxiways when landing, leading to more potential for conflict between aircraft and skydivers. (Guess who wins that one? Nobody.)

Increased risk of collisions between two skydivers once one is on the ground (getting “taken out” in the landing area) due to limited space and heavy traffic.

Increased risk of collisions with obstacles such as the wind arrow (yep, that’s happened) due to limited space and heavy traffic.

Increased risk of challenging canopy traffic situations, the pressure of which can result in poor reactive canopy handling and thereby landings on the taxiways, runways, or crossing the safety lines (beer line). We shouldn’t need all of our skills and luck to keep us safe during normal operations.

To ensure that we provide the safest and most enjoyable experience for you, and as part of Spaceland’s ongoing quality assurance, we have redefined the existing landing areas and procedures for your safety and enjoyment. Know that these are not off-the-cuff changes, but the result of months of discussion among Spaceland’s staff and many experienced jumpers to come up with a plan that suits our safety needs of reducing traffic complexity in any given area, while still providing areas for you to land straight in or spiral and swoop, whatever your pleasure.

New Landing Areas

Starting on Oct. 1, 2015, the following landing areas and procedures will be enacted:

Skydive Spaceland Houston Landing Areas
Click image for full size version

Note: We are working on a pick-up strategy to shuttle skydivers back to the hangar after landing in the more distant landing areas. Hey, if we’re asking you to land further away, it’s the least we can do! 

General Landing Area (Green Zone north of the runway)

The general landing area is to be used by all license holders (A-D) and Skydiver Training Program Students. You must land in the direction of the landing direction arrow, and fly a left-hand pattern turning no more than 90° under 1,000 feet. Fly and land within this landing area under 1,000 feet to avoid conflict with jumpers landing in other landing areas. We have also mowed 3.6 additional acres of short grass on the northwest corner of this area.

Alternate Landing Area (Green Zone south of the runway)

The alternate landing area is for use by all (A-D) license holders. You may land facing any direction regardless of the landing arrow direction. Fly a left-hand pattern turning no more than 90° or less under 1,000 feet. Fly and land within this landing area under 1,000 feet to avoid conflict with jumpers landing in other landing areas. When landing here, please also be aware that our aircraft will often land on the grass runway next to and just south of the paved runway (it’s easier on the tires), so it’s best to land at least 20 yards (ish) south of the pavement or to kneel down at least that distance away from the pavement if an aircraft is approaching.

High-Performance Landing Area (Yellow Zone)

The high-performance landing area has roughly 5 acres of mowed, maintained short grass area for use by authorized skydivers only. You may land facing any direction and fly either left- or right-hand patterns (left-hand preferred) as long as your planned landing turn is no less than 270° (unless participating in an organized canopy course, organized individual coaching, or competition event). Requiring planned turns of no less than 270° is intended to ensure that there is no conflict between vertical and lateral approaches to the swoop pond or surrounding areas. Turning less than 270° is permissible (and encouraged) if conditions are not safe for that turn amount at the time of landing.

When landing here, please also be aware that our aircraft will often land on the grass runway next to and just south of the paved runway (it’s easier on the tires), so it’s best to land at least 20 yards (ish) south of the pavement or to kneel down at least that distance away from the pavement if an aircraft is approaching.

To stop airspace conflict and congestion in this area, any skydiver wishing to use this area must:

  1. Complete a Spaceland Swoop Park Waiver, available from manifest;
  2. Be authorized for use by the Spaceland Canopy Subject Matter Expert (Matthew Peterson or DJ Marvin);
  3. Inform manifest every time they intend to use the high-performance landing area;
  4. Users are to declare their landing intentions to other jumpers on their load, and to other skydivers using the high-performance landing area on the same load.

Any skydiver identified as having an unsafe landing technique may have their high-performance landing area privileges revoked.

Student Support Landing Area (Red Zone)

The student support landing area is for use by Skydiver Training Program instructors, tandem instructors, and videographers directly supporting tandem and STP skydives. STP instructors and videographers are to land via left-hand pattern in the direction of the arrow, turning no more than 90° in the landing pattern. Tandem landings may be conducted into the wind regardless of the arrow.

Any instructor conducting personal (non-work) jumps must land at any of the other designated landing areas appropriate to their descent on that jump. Any staff member identified as having an unsafe landing technique, or landing in the student support landing area when not directly engaged with a student, will have their student support landing area privilege revoked.

Exceptions

We understand there will be times where individuals or groups may require to land in an area that is not in accordance with the new procedures, such as team training on back-to-back loads. We request that you speak with our Dropzone Manager in advance, and on a case-by-case basis, we will work with you to meet your requirements within our safety framework.

 

We understand that many of you have been coming to Spaceland for a long time, and are accustomed to landing in areas that may not be available for your general use any longer. We trust that you understand that the changes to the new landing areas are being made in the interests of safety and improving the way in which we enjoy our sport. The new system provides everyone, whether an experienced sports jumper, beginner, tandem customer, or customer support, a safe and practical airspace to operate in. We thank you for your ongoing support and look forward to working with you all to make our sport and dropzone even more amazing than it already is.

Fair winds and safe landings!

Skydive Spaceland Houston Landing Areas 3-D
Landing areas are 3-dimensional under 1,000 feet. Please do not fly over areas where you will not land; the goal is to separate the different types of traffic below 1,000 feet, not just on the ground. Flying outside the marked areas under 1,000 feet is fine.

14 Replies to “New Spaceland Landing Area Policies: A Time and Place for Everything”

  1. How do you learn to do turns greater than 90 degrees if your only choices are less than 90 or greater than 270. Seems you need a bunny hill or something.

    1. Hi John, thanks for asking! Anyone wishing to land outside our published policies can request an exception as noted above. In the scenario you mention, likely the manager will allow you to do turns between 90 and 270, but will ask you to work on your turns on hop and pops and/or land in the alternate area (or something like that). Please check in with us on site and we’ll work out something. 🙂

  2. I don’t see how this changes anything. Tandems usually have there own airspace already and rarely come in contact with skydivers. So your basically just moving all the normal traffic over 100 yards, and depending on wind direction, making people exhausted just trying to get back to the packing area. on a Hot summer day 🙁

    1. Hi Michael, we believe this will change things quite a bit and better use our 130 acres to spread out traffic. It may be slightly less convenient in some conditions, but not by much especially once we get a pickup strategy in place and the separation of traffic types is worth it. I hope you come out here soon to try it out!

  3. Tandems, videographers, and instructors on working jumps rarely, if ever, land in the triangle. It’s sad that you’ve taken this nice optional landing area and made it a useless piece of land. Additionally the new short grass area, being smaller than the old area and a narrow strip, now creates a greater opportunity for canopy collisions, which typically have occurred with that experience level.

    1. Hi Rich, thanks for sharing your thoughts. The triangle is a dedicated alternate landing area for student support, and it is especially useful in north winds given that landing behind the hangar is less than ideal (nixing that area in north winds) and given that the short grass area available east of the hangar for student support has been reduced from the old short grass area to provide more short grass area for the main landing area.

      Regarding your assertion that there is an increased risk of collisions in the main landing area, we respectfully disagree. Some skydivers will aim for short grass, sure. But safety trumps (or SHOULD trump) short grass on every skydive, and as you have seen we are picking up people who land far out on weekends. If someone below you is aiming for the same patch of grass, you pick another one so you can land safely; land safe, not close! There is so much more room available in the main landing area–lots of space for outs, corrections, overshoots, and undershoots before you come near an obstacle. That makes this a much safer area for large amounts of canopy traffic to use simultaneously. We have had enough of the “minor” incidents of near misses and ground collisions because (in part) the area was overcrowded and traffic was confined between the runway and hangar. I know you have seen this as well.

      To your last point about collisions being more common with some unspecified experience level–collisions can and do happen at any experience level.

      All of that said, we are listening to people’s input and considering modifications to our mowing plan. Right now the entire property is short grass (all 130 acres of it) as the hay has been cut. We want to continue to gain experience with this plan for a bit before making any changes, as we spent a lot of time and effort coming up with a plan that we felt was safest for everyone. The basic premise of separating different types of traffic in the entire pattern under 1000 feet–not just where you touch down–is an important aspect of this, and we are very happy with seeing far fewer near misses and pattern conflicts between people landing in different areas. We are also seeing more predictable (=safer) landing patterns in general, and we really appreciate everyone working with us on this. We’re happy to discuss this further with you at the drop zone.

  4. I have one hip replacement and it is hard for me to walk very far, what am hearing, is that your going to have someone that will be coming out to the landing areas to pickup person?

  5. I will gladly trade convenience for safety any day of the week 🙂
    Can we just get more clarification out on landing patterns? Now, that is an issue we had even with the old landing area but it became more noticeable when we redistributed the traffic load. Should we all start at the same downwind and determine the base and final based on the descent rate which may be different than the traffic before and after us? When we had northern wind I have notice that some lightly loaded canopies try to make the base leg as short as possible (almost a 180 instead of 2 90s) to land closer to the hanger or even on the new short grass. That may be doing exactly what we are trying to prevent.
    Your guidance is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hey Majed, thanks for asking and I’m glad you see safety as a higher priority than convenience (so do I)! We should all fly a landing pattern with 90 degree turns (contained within our designated landing area) and time for the canopy to recover to full flight between turns if we are landing north of the runway. Your observations are spot on and not surprising, and I hope that when we have a pickup plan in place for more distant landings, this will make landing further away more comfortable and practiced. Thank you for your polite comments!

  6. Rich Delgado nailed it on the VERY minimal short grass area near the hangar. That will be the location of your next landing incident.

    Next – Why a left pattern in the Alternate landing area. You are setting up an altitude conflict with your runway??? A right pattern has canopies facing the runway and other canopies in other areas for the prevailing winds.

    This plan needs more thought and or skydiver input.

    1. Hi George,

      Thank you for input with regards to the new landing policy. Please see responses to your points below.

      “Rich Delgado nailed it on the VERY minimal short grass area near the hangar. That will be the location of your next landing incident.”

      The original 3.6 acres of short grass to which you refer is being expanded by management (and may be relocated) and other enhancements are being considered, such as an increase in drained/cultivated landing zones in both the general and alternate landing areas. Taller grass is not an obstacle that warrants avoidance to the point of safety risks, and I think we all know that. That said, we do recognize that a short grass area is more desirable, and there are now 4 additional mowed landing targets centered in the main area that are each just under 500 square feet (25-meter circles in a compass point configuration). These targets are located so that there is at least one suitable landing point available for all wind directions when using a left-hand pattern. The general landing area is 43 acres in size now after subsuming part of the old D license area. The goal in all landing areas is for everyone to fly a safe pattern with other airspace users, and land safely somewhere in or near the center of the landing area (just like we teach STP students to do). By landing at the edges of any landing zone, you reduce your options to deal with traffic, obstacles, and meteorological conditions (winds/turbulence). This is not smart airmanship, but you are right that this behavior occurs along the beer line on pretty much all drop zones around the world. This prioritization of landing close over landing safe is a behavior we are trying to change for the safety of all (and we recognize that change in mentality, especially on this scale, is tough and slow). “Better a longer walk than a shorter carry.”

      As to our next landing incident, it has already happened and it was not in the main landing area; it was a low runway encroachment in front of an aircraft from another landing area. A second incident since the policy change was a ground collision between two highly experienced jumpers landing close together in the former D license area in front of the hangar (they were permitted to land here by exemption for a back-to-back set of jumps), reinforcing the concept that when we crowd together in a small area surrounded by obstacles, risk is increased. All of the jumpers involved in these incidents were current, experienced D license holders; license type and experience are no guarantee of safety. Good airmanship, which includes following established policies for safety/predictability and making sound decisions both in freefall and under canopy, are what we all need to exercise to increase safety no matter what license we hold.

      “Next – Why a left pattern in the Alternate landing area. You are setting up an altitude conflict with your runway??? A right pattern has canopies facing the runway and other canopies in other areas for the prevailing winds”.

      Unlike the general landing area, the alternate landing area (also left-hand pattern) has the option of landing into the prevailing winds even if the landing direction arrow is off the wind line. The left-hand pattern is for uniformity across the DZ landing areas. At some point during most patterns, you will have to face the runway, and with a runway in the center of the property, skydivers in one area or another will often land facing it. The general and alternate landing areas are large enough (roughly 43 and 23 acres) that jumpers can fly within the confines of the landing area under 1000 feet (remember this is about spreading out traffic in the entire landing pattern airspace, not just where you touch down) with enough room to safely take an out if required to avoid airspace or landing conflicts.

      “This plan needs more thought and or skydiver input.”

      The new policy was created due to a number of (mostly) minor incidents that we witnessed here over a period of time, and observing incident and fatality reports from other drop zones. The new policy was discussed for many months by a diverse group of subject matter experts (30+ people ranging from instructor-examiners to experienced sport jumpers) prior to implementation. No one likes getting spread out around the DZ, but all were in agreement that the new policy was the best way forward to reduce risk to all jumpers (and 30+ skydivers agreeing on anything, let alone a policy change, is no small feat!). USPA has even shared our new policy with all group member drop zones, reinforcing that we are on the right track. We understand that not everyone is happy with the new policy, but we hope everyone can see it is for the greater good of the group, and everyone’s safety.

      Thank you for your comments. If you have any further questions, please come and speak to Jason, DJ, Ben, Christy, or Ken. They will be more than happy to talk to you.

  7. I’m a safety over convenience guy. I always land in the weeds. I totally understand the traffic separation. I would rather walk further than ride to the hospital. I learned to skydive here in 2008 and yes the traffic has gotten more congested and so warrant the new rules. Thanks SS for having the foresight to enact these new landing areas. You guys always have my back!

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