by Chris Needels, USPA Executive
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,
customersin this case, skydiverswill 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
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 customerthe 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
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