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Capital Commentary
by Chris Needels, USPA Executive Director

USPA is not a trade association; therefore, it shouldn't be involved in business practices of drop zones. On the other hand, USPA is an individual-membership association, so it should be involved in business practices of drop zones. Put another way, when drop zones endanger skydivers' lives or even endanger wallets or pocketbooks through fraudulent or deceptive
practices, then USPA and its members should be there to help.

In a fully free-market economy, customers—in this case, skydivers—will go to whomever best meets their individual needs, whether those needs be low-cost jumps, certain types of jump aircraft, a good party atmosphere or a spotless safety record. But this assumes a well-informed customer, which is not always the case.

Aspiring jumpers often go to the Yellow Pages or surf the internet.
Usually, the person just wants to make a tandem jump and simply wants to find the nearest drop zone. USPA receives many e-mails and phone calls asking for such assistance. We refer them to our online DZ directory.

Once the soon-to-be-jumper has selected a potential place to skydive, he wants to know whether the drop zone is safe. While we don't recommend one drop zone over another,
we explain that all USPA Group Members have pledged to follow our Basic Safety Requirements. Our advice is to visit local drop zones and decide whether they like what they see and to not be afraid to ask questions. A drop zone's first appearance is quite significant in the selection process.

Sadly, however, the selection process isn't always this straightforward. There are those who resort to unethical, if not illegal, advertising schemes to snare potential jumpers, mostly first-timers. USPA has heard many stories of customers, tandem coupons in hand, showing up at one of hundreds of DZs that would supposedly accept the discount coupon but would not. To make their jumps, some have had to drive hundreds of miles and bypass legitimate DZs. Many have reported that they have visited internet sites which, at first glance, appear to represent an existing DZ but are nothing more than a website.

USPA has been following such practices and is working with its legal counsel to find ways to curtail such scams, but it will take more than a summons or threat of a suit to keep up with creative con artists. Members need to get involved. Information is power. The more the word spreads about bait-and-switch and other deceptive business practices by a few bad apples, the fewer potential skydivers will be turned away from our sport. And if we become victims ourselves, we need to let law-enforcement agencies and the local Better Business Bureau know.

Legitimate drop zones need to get involved, too. If a DZO gets a marketing offer that's just too good to be true, it probably isn't true. We all recognize that there is drop zone competition, particularly around many of our major metropolitan areas, but deceiving customers is not the way to prevail. A solid, properly executed business plan is. USPA drop zones will do the right thing.

We USPA members are very lucky to have great places to jump. Our drop zones, large or small, know that there is more to a successful business than the current bottom line. It ultimately is all about the customer—the skydiver. If we're happy where we jump, then we'll stay. If we aren't, then we have other excellent choices. And as for those few who don't want to meet our safety standards, aren't customer oriented or don't really exist at all, they will dry up and go away if we all do our part.

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