Landowner's guide to ultralight access

by Had Robinson
April 22, 2020

What should a municipal government or a landowner do if an ultralight pilot wants access to an area?  Here are some suggestions that should help and have had good results in keeping things safe and orderly in other public and private areas used by ultralights.  The following is largely a result of our regional soaring association working with the State of Texas to allow ultralight access to Texas State Parks.

Always consider how you can share your property with others in an easy way that, more often than not, will actually benefit all landowners.  That is, USHPA and USPPA pilots are trained to leave flying sites cleaner and more orderly than when they arrived.  Pilots can also be a big help in watching things because they are usually around when the owner is not.  The United States among advanced nations in the world is behind others in letting the public harmlessly enjoy the world around them.  Mexico, for example, welcomes hikers and ultralight pilots nearly everywhere.  After all, who really owns the matter in the universe?  Think about it....

  1. Permit   Have a permit system that requires all pilots to register.  Here is what the Texas State Park system requires: a.) copy of a driver’s license b.) proof of health insurance  c.) membership in the relevant national organization  d.) A minimum pilot rating of P3 (or PPG3) for the privilege of using the area.  These ratings are issued by USHPA and USPPA, respectively.  e.) A signed waiver releasing everybody in sight from liability for the pilot’s actions.  f.) If not a member of USHPA, 3rd party liability insurance.  The USPPA can refer its members to a commercial insurer which, for a very modest cost, will write policies for its members.  Contact the USUA for information on how this works.

    The State of Texas does not charge a registration fee but all Park users must pay a fee to use the Park.  Per liability insurance – All it takes is for some pilot to hit someone and guess who gets in a lawsuit?   Landowners must be certain that, if pilots have permission to use an area, they must have insurance.  Per health insurance – a rogue pilot was severely injured due to his own carelessness.  He had no money, no insurance.  Who paid his $500,000 hospital bill to save his sorry backside?  The county taxpayers had to take care of it and, to this day, they are furious and have a right to be.  The end result was that the sheriff was told to arrest pilots wherever they see them on public land in that county.  This careless, carefree pilot ruined it for a lot of others.

  2. Vehicle sticker   A traceable sticker or label that can be applied to the pilot’s vehicle. The pilot would have to supply his vehicle registration information. The permit could be yearly and all permits would expire at the same time – which makes things easier on a public clerk's office and on law enforcement.  There should be no proration of permit fees.

  3. Guidelines   A set of flying guidelines e.g. get up and OUT (do not hang around), hours of operation, areas of no-flying, etc.  Powered paragliders (PPG’s) are noisy.  Permits could be revoked at any time if pilots do not follow the rules.  All pilots must have the proper safety gear i.e. a helmet.  They must yield right of way to ALL other users of the park.

  4. Complaints   Local citizens need to know what is going on and a have a venue for submitting complaints.  Unfortunately, about (1) out of (10) PPG pilots are rude, careless, and a threat to the safety and comfort of others.  Other pilots detest and avoid them and will gladly help landowners.

  5. Posted area   A sign should be posted at the Park advising everyone of the activity.  Landowners should be friendly towards ultralight operations but make it clear that they will not tolerate abuse, carelessness, or disregard for the safety and comfort of others.

The above will help keep out most, but not all, of the thrill seekers and irresponsible pilots.  Our system here for the State Parks has worked well for over a decade.