Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kahana Permit Reminder

We have a great group of pilots, all of whom I am proud to represent as president. Sometimes part of that job is to remind us that we need to step up and do the right thing. Like now: I don't need to single anyone out, but I've noticed that pilots have been flying occasional paid tandems at Kahana. It has to stop now: it's not just our club rule, it's the State Parks rule, and even more important, it's the explicit requirement of the community that supported our permit 11 years ago. They made it clear that tours and rides would not be part of our permit. The fact that we've kept this permit 11 years is a testament to the fact that we're doing things right out there. Please don't take that for granted!

Our club members have repeatedly voted to encourage experienced students pilots to take their early high flights at Kahana because (a) pilot instruction is a very indirect kind of commercial enterprise that takes place over a long period and is spread out all over the island, and (b) we believe the possible slight risk to our permit is worth growing our numbers.

But we have repeatedly voted not to tolerate pilots sneaking in paid tandems there, because (a) it's a very direct and obvious commercial enterprise, and (b) we don't believe the risk to everyone's permit is worth a joyride for a non-pilot and a little side money for a few pilots. There's no upside for the whole group, only a downside.

Every few years, as a reminder to all of our pilots, we vote in a meeting to reaffirm our commitment to protecting our permit from the risk of sneaking in paid tandems. At our upcoming meeting in August we will do so again.

This year we have two additional issues that should make our resolve even stronger. First, an illegitimate and very determined scam artist from the Big Island has been attempting to hold group lessons at Kahana, and elsewhere on the island, and he also told us he wants to sell tandems out there, and elsewhere on the island. We need to hold the line with him on commercial activity at Kahana. Both his activities and paid tandems by our own pilots are directly threatening our permit. Second, recent developments with our national insurance program have enlightened us regarding special issues here in Hawaii for our tandem pilots - we don't want those issues to affect our permit or our excellent insurance program.

Our association has nothing against legitimate commercial activity. But our recreational pilots do not owe anyone the privilege of making money at the risk of their hard won permits. An honest business person would not take advantage of the only permitted site our recreational pilots have with the State. Any serious commercial pilot should invest some time, energy and/or money, and set up a specific flying site for paid tandems. Several pilots could team up on such a project. Work with landowners, do the paperwork for leases, licenses and permits. That's what our club had to do for our recreational pilots at Kahana. Yes, it's a lot of work, but we've proved it can be done by anyone who wants it bad enough. Pete and Nalu did a lot of work to set up a successful flight park at Kualoa many years ago, which lasted at least a year until they ran into insurance issues.

I'm definitely not going to walk up to any of our pilots and jab my finger in their face about this issue. None of us should have to do that. And I know most of us realize what kind of slippery slope this is for our permit. Please, step up and give the rest of us your honest effort to protect the best thing going for paragliding in Hawaii. Thanks.

If anyone is curious about what the next steps would be if paid tandems continue to happen out there: our permit with the state specifies that tandem pilots may only fly at Kahana with the approval of our board of directors. If a tandem pilot is abusing the privilege to fly tandems there by taking paid passengers, the easiest thing for us to do is just take them off the list, and ask our friends at DLNR for help with enforcement. Of course, they might find it easiest to just prohibit all tandems, or even all paraglider pilots. We've never had to ask for their help and hopefully we never will.

Please contact me directly if you want to offer any feedback. I look forward to our meeting (and party!) in August where we can revisit this issue as a group.

Your long suffering President
(Not for life, seriously, but I'll finish out this year at least)