Published: August 1, 2017
If you needed heart surgery, would you seek out the doctor who offered the lowest price or would you prefer someone with a reputation for success?
Pardon the rhetorical question, but we think this should be the mentality for everyone thinking about making a skydive! Just as there are bad doctors out there, the same is true for skydiving centers. Some are definitely better than others.
AREN'T ALL SKYDIVING CENTERS THE SAME?
In a word: NO.
The intent of this blog post is not to scare you into booking with us, but rather to inform every consumer what to be looking for. A great skydiving experience is far more than falling from an airplane. There are multiple elements that make up the experience and you need to be aware of what they are.
Here are a few things you should be taking into account before making a booking.
PRICE - BUYER BEWARE
Have you ever owned an expensive car like a Mercedes or BMW? If you have, you'll know everything about it is more expensive than your typical Honda Civic. The cost to insure it is more expensive. It needs 93 octane gasoline; it has racing tires that cost more, its gas mileage isn't as good... you get the idea. Now imagine the costs of owning and maintaining an airplane and expensive parachute systems... all super pricey stuff! So, wouldn't you find it strange if someone was selling a Mercedes or BMW for the price of a Honda Civic?
There's a dirty thing happening in the skydiving industry today - an oversupply of skydiving centers throughout the country. This oversupply is causing price wars in the marketplace as some skydiving centers are banking on a model of razor thin margins and running at high volume with a low price model. This increase in volume (people making skydives) equates to higher maintenance costs which usually results in the use of older gear and cost cutting in other areas. We're not suggesting that these operations are unsafe, but we are suggesting that the ultimate experience isn't as good as it can and should be.
It's not uncommon to visit a skydiving center with very run down facilities or beaten up aircraft or even old gear. It may be airworthy, but it doesn't exactly give a vote of confidence to its guests.
So what are we saying? Don't schedule your skydive based on the lowest price. We'll be up front in saying we're the highest priced skydiving center in the region and there's a reason for it. Maintaining aircraft, equipment, and facilities to the highest standards is an expensive undertaking. We know this from experience too - we once ran a Groupon and we discontinued it as we recognized we couldn't give the experience we felt our guests deserved - something had to give and we didn't want to compromise anything.
READ THE REVIEWS!
Power of the people! Read through a company's reviews online. Just like any business, you'll get a sense of their service. A great skydiving experience is more than just falling from an airplane. A major component of the thrill is hospitality. Just like eating a great meal at a French restaurant, it won't be as enjoyable if you've got a rude server.
There are many skydiving centers out there that have instructors that are burnt out and they've lost sight that your first jump is a major life experience. Instead, they may view you as jump 5 of 10 for the day or jump number 2,415 in their logbook - you're just a number.
Our belief is that skydiving is one of the top five events a person can experience in their lifetime and we've hired a staff who feel the same way. So... be sure to read reviews on Google, Facebook and TripAdvisor!
The type of aircraft offered at a skydiving center is not indicative of their professionalism, but it should be part of your research as it affects your experience greatly. As a consumer, you'll ultimately be looking for what's known as a 'turbine' aircraft. A turbine is skydiving speak for a larger than normal plane that goes to a higher altitude with more people. Specifically, the aircraft types you'll be looking for are a PAC 750XL, a Cessna Grand Caravan, a Twin Otter, a Skyvan, Casa or a King Air (Skydive Carolina flies a King Air and a Twin Otter).
The great majority of skydiving centers fly a Cessna 182 (it's what we started with 30 years ago) and there's nothing wrong with these aircraft. They're still the backbone of the skydiving industry, but they have their limitations and affect the overall skydiving experience.
A Cessna 182 limits you to an altitude to 10,000 feet as opposed to 14,000 feet (a difference of about 20 long seconds in free fall). Also, the 182 limits you if you're wishing to jump with friends as the aircraft is only able to hold a total of four jumpers and a pilot (our Twin Otter holds 22 skydivers plus a pilot). Lastly, exiting a Cessna 182 requires stepping out onto a small platform above the plane's tire as opposed to stepping out of the plane cleanly.
PHYSICAL LOCATION - BUYER BEWARE
Just as there are used car salesman who sell lemons, guess what... we have that in the skydiving industry as well!
As a consumer, be careful who you book with! There is a call center in the US that has set up hundreds of skydiving websites throughout the country that gives the appearance of being a drop zone - even with a local number! Those phone numbers all lead to a central call center that hikes up prices and then sends you to a skydiving center within their network that accepts their vouchers. It's a classic bait and switch.
You can read more about this scam here, but here's the skinny: ask for the physical address of the skydiving center before you pay. If they hesitate to give you the name of the skydiving center or the physical address then this is your first red flag. Also, if there is an address on the website be sure to cross reference it with Google Maps to confirm the address is at an actual airport! Furthermore, if you don't see published prices on the website... this is also a red flag!
UNITED STATES PARACHUTE ASSOCIATION (USPA)
In the United States, there is an association known as the United States Parachute Association. It is not a governing body but is the only professional organization for skydiving in the United States as it relates to recommended practices and guidelines for skydive training methods and safety procedures. A skydiving center can only be a USPA Group Member if it agrees to follow all of the rules set forth by the USPA (and pay an annual fee). However, it's important to note that it is not mandatory for any skydiving center to be part of the USPA and operate in the US.
This isn't saying that non-member USPA skydiving centers are less safe; it means that they operate under their own guidelines. We believe that the absolute starting point for selecting a skydiving center is identifying if it's part of the USPA thus following its safety recommendations.
Ultimately, all skydiving centers must adhere to the mandates of the FAA relating to aircraft, gear and experience of skydiving instructors.
In closing, if you're planning on making a skydive whether it be in Charlotte or anywhere around the United States be sure to do your research as the experience at one skydiving center can be vastly different from another.