A video gone viral of late showing a corporate jet maneuvering among open parachutes has drawn lots of online views and more than a few uninformed comments. Filmed and provided here with permission by Michael Chico Tomaselli (thanks, Chico!), the encounter took place at about 2,300 feet over the busy Sebastian, Florida drop zone as the jumpers were completing a series of canopy formations. The jet did not originate at the airport, nor did it subsequently land there. Online responses ranged from “what were skydivers doing over a public airport” to “what was a jet doing flying over a drop zone?” The answer to both, “they were aviating in Class E airspace.” Time to clear up any misconceptions.
Airport approval is required for any skydiving to occur onto an airport (§ 105.23). Advanced notification must be given to ATC when jumping in Class E airspace (§ 105.25). And the jump pilot must be in radio communication with ATC prior to each drop (§ 105.13). Most DZs also file a Notice to Air Mission (formerly Notice to Airmen), so pilots are advised of jump activity by NOTAM. Skydive Sebastian has done all these things. So non-participating aircraft (meaning aircraft not involved in the parachute activity) are required to avoid the airspace, right? Well, no. Airspace above a DZ is not closed to other air traffic, though it would be a great idea to avoid overflying an active DZ.
The requirements cited above usually result in ATC notifying approaching aircraft of jump activity; ATC will often offer a vector to ensure separation. Similarly, ATC advises the jump pilot of aircraft in the area, and might even ask a jump pilot to hold the jumpers and go around. But none of this is fool-proof which is why everyone from the skydivers to jet jocks must also practice see-and-avoid, which after all is the primary method of separation in VFR conditions. Skydivers are taught to look out, down and below the jump plane for any non-participating aircraft before exiting and to watch for aircraft while under canopy.
We can only speculate that the jet pilot wasn’t advised of the jump activity. Was he switching frequencies? Was an ATC call stepped on? Or did he simply miss the ATC call? We’ll never know. If nothing else, the video is a visceral reminder of the importance of good flight planning and radio procedures, and of see-and-avoid in the event that all else fails.