Right-of-Way Rules for Paragliders

by Jérôme Daoust

Revised 2011/9/20

Czech version: Rozdílná pravidla pro létání v různých zemích

 

1.      General:

a.       The pilot with right-of-way shall maintain course and speed.

b.      It is the responsibility of all pilots to take measures to avoid collision.

2.      Rules during:

a.       Launch

b.      Normal Flight

c.       Ridge Soaring

d.      Thermalling

e.       Aerobatics

f.       Landing

3.      Common Problems

4.      Reference

5.      Discussion (external link)


Launch

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·         Courtesy: Don't keep soaring in front of a pilot waiting to launch. Even if the video cameras are filming.

o   Czech: It is a Rule: Reference.

·         Courtesy: Arrive on the launch area, ready to inflate and launch. Do not make others wait for you to:

o   Sort your wing's lines, connect the risers to your harness and strap yourself in.

o   Turn ON and test your instruments.

·         Courtesy: After a failed launch or waiting more than a few minutes for conditions, move aside for others who are ready to launch.

·         In South Africa, according to Charl Stewart:

o   Every popular site had a safety officer. He had the power to confiscate your license for a time not exceeding 1 year if he felt you were irresponsible. One rule is that after 3 launch attempts you have to redo your license (even if you were national champion).


Normal Flight

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·         Rule: When 2 pilots are approaching head-on, both pilots must turn to their right.

·         Rule: To overtake (pass a slower pilot flying in the same direction) pass on the right. The pilot being overtaken has right-of-way.

o   Italy (translation by Erik van der Goot): You are not allowed to overtake a pilot below you, or above you except at such a distance that you do not limit the other pilot's room for maneuver and so do not create a risk of collision. The overtaking pilot has right of way over the pilot being overtaken: Under no circumstance should the pilot being overtaken hinder the pilot that is overtaking.

·         Rule: When 2 pilots have converging paths at about the same altitude, the pilot with the other to his right, gives way.

·         Rule: The lower pilot has right-of-way.

o   This is because the lower pilot cannot see clearly above.

o   Note: In active air, a lower pilot by a few meters can rapidly become the higher pilot. Both pilots must try to maintain a safe separation.

·         USA: Rule: Each person operating an ultralight vehicle shall maintain vigilance so as to see and avoid aircraft and shall yield the right-of-way to all aircraft. Reference.

·         USA: Recommendation: Pilots should avoid flying directly above or below another glider in close proximity. Reference.


Ridge Soaring

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·         Rule: When 2 pilots are approaching head-on, the pilot with the ridge to his right has right-of-way.

o   Italy, Spain, UK: Recommendation only. Reference.

·         Rule: To overtake (pass a slower pilot flying in the same direction) pass between the ridge and the pilot (if safe to do so).

o   This is so that the pilot being overtaken does not turn into the passing pilot, when turns are normally done away from the ridge.

o   Netherlands: It is a Rule. Reference.

o   USA: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

o   UK: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

o   Sweden: Rule: No overtaking between paragliders, but no rule for hang gliders. Reference.

o   France: Rule: It is the opposite, overtaking pilot must pass away from ridge. Reference.

o   Czech: Rule: It is the opposite, overtaking pilot must pass away from ridge. Reference.

·         Rule: Before turning the pilot has to make sure there results no danger of collision.

o   France, Italy, Netherlands, UK: Recommendation only. Reference.

o   Austria: Neither a rule or recommendation. Reference.

·         France: Rule: No overtaking when ridge soaring and the ridge is on the right; the glider approaching from behind either has to decrease its speed or turn 180°. Reference.

·         Netherlands: Rule: Never turn towards the ridge. Reference.

·         USA: Recommendation: When ridge soaring, reversing turns should be made away from the ridge and into the wind. Reference.


Thermalling

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·         Courtesy: The first pilot inside the thermal sets the turn direction.

o   Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands. It is a Rule. Reference.

o   France, Italy, UK: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

o   Sweden: Only a Recommendation for paragliders, nothing for hang gliders. Reference.

o   Some reasons why pilots end up circling in opposite directions (summary of an article of Joe Greblo):

§  New pilots may have their full concentration devoted to thermalling alone and not looking or thinking far enough ahead. Such pilots should practice away from others, until their skill and confidence provide "left-over" concentration for joining a group.

§  In a same thermal, 2 pilots are split by significant altitude difference and circling in opposite directions, thinking there is not collision risk. That second pilot may be climbing from a low save. But as more pilots join and fill the space between them, confusion of the proper turn direction will increase. It is the duty of the second pilot into the thermal, to anticipate this and match the direction of the first, to avoid confusing others, well before they will join.

§  Pilots circling in multiple cores of a thermal may initially be separated by a comfortable distance, but cores often merge and conflict occurs.

·         Courtesy: A pilot climbing faster and approaching from below has priority.

o   Germany, Netherlands. It is a Rule. Reference.

o   Czech: It is a Rule: Reference.

o   France, Italy: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

o   Sweden: Only a Recommendation for paragliders, nothing for hang gliders. Reference.

·         Courtesy: Not seeing other gliders any more: If a pilot can't see another glider previously thermalling close to him any more, he has to leave the thermal immediately.

o   Austria. It is a Rule. Reference.

o   France: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

·         Courtesy: A pilot joining another at about the same altitude, gives right-of-way to the pilot inside the thermal to continue circling.

o   Switzerland: It is a Rule. Reference.

o   France, UK: Only a Recommendation. Reference.

o   Italy: It is a Rule (reference). Lucio Mazzi: It makes no difference if a pilot is thermalling clockwise or counterclockwise: He has the right of way on any other pilot joining the thermal.

o   Germany: According to Paul van den Berg: This used to be a rule as well, but not anymore. One of reasons was that in practice, it is very hard to determine if somebody is turning in a thermal, or just turning for other reasons.

o   Czech: It is a Rule: Reference.

o   Austria, Netherlands, Sweden: In contradiction with the country's rules. Reference.

o   Note: The Normal Flight rules still apply, and the approaching pilot has right-of-way if when they meet the thermalling pilot has the other to his right. They are not nice, but they have the right-of-way. This situation is less likely to happen if the thermalling pilot circles right.

o   Discussed in "Speed to Fly" video by Jocky Sanderson, and summarized by John Walton: Technically, if the thermalling pilot is at the same altitude and on your left (you are approaching form the right), then the thermalling pilot should give way to you. As courtesy, you should not put the thermalling pilot in that position.

o   You are not considered "thermalling" because you just did a 45ş turn.

o   USA: Recommendation: Pilots entering a thermal should circle in the direction established by the first glider to begin circling in the thermal, without regard to the relative altitude of the gliders in the thermal. Reference.

·         Courtesy: A pilot joining another at about the same altitude, will enter at the tangent to the circle so that no aircraft already turning will be required to maneuver to avoid the joining aircraft.

o   Illustration by Rob McKenzie (ignore the word "rule").

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

o   Czech: It is a Rule: Reference.

·         Courtesy (from Joe Greblo): Try to maintain concentric circles even if this results in a slower climb rate.

o   Avoid sudden bank angle changes that may momentarily increase your rate of ascent. Rolling in or out in a "sudden pop" may take you up a litter quicker, but the other pilots in that thermal won't appreciate your unpredictable actions.

·         Courtesy: While sharing a thermal, pilots should adhere to the principle of “see and be seen”.

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

·         Courtesy: While sharing a thermal, when at a similar level, never turn inside, point at, or ahead of another aircraft unless you intend to overtake, and can guarantee safe separation.

o   France, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

·         Courtesy: While sharing a thermal, leave the thermal if, in your judgment, you cannot guarantee adequate separation.

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

·         Courtesy: While sharing a thermal, look for other aircraft joining or converging in height.

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

·         Courtesy: While sharing a thermal, do not maneuver sharply unless clear of all other aircraft.

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.

o   Czech: It is a Rule: Reference.

·         Courtesy: Leaving a thermal: Look outside the turn and behind before straightening.

o   France, Netherlands, UK: It is a Rule. Reference.


Aerobatics

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·         Rule: The pilot practicing aerobatic maneuvers must give right-of-way to any other aircraft.


Landing

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·         Courtesy: The lower pilot (who has right-of-way, see Normal Flight) should not cut the path of another on final approach.

·         Courtesy: If a pilot is making an emergency landing, give way to him if safely possible.

·         Courtesy: Give way to a pilot on final for top-landing.

o   Top-landings are optional. It is not a right to gain right-of-way.


Common Problems

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·         Rules may vary according to countries.

·         You can be dead right. Remember that safety is #1, staying aloft comes after.

o   Adrian Thomas: Only an idiot with a death wish would rely on rules to avoid a midair.

·         Local site rules can override international or a country's rules.

o   For example, at Torrey Pines (coastal site), the tandems have right-of-way over solo pilots when conditions are light (not high over the ridge) regardless of if the solo pilot has the ridge to his right or not. Not fun to be waked by a tandem going slow anyway.

·         Pilots not taking their right-of-way will confuse others.

·         Pilots thermalling near a ridge: In most countries (situation unclear in Italy), ridge soaring rules typically prevails over courtesy to thermalling pilots.


Reference

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·         Czech.

o   English translation of the Rules (PDF document). Chapter 4 is the right of way stuff.

·         Europe.

o   Aerial collision avoidance rules in Europe.

·         FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

o   Part 103 - Ultralight vehicles: Sec. 103.13: Operation near aircraft; right-of-way rules.

·         Germany.

o   Rules (PDF document).

·         Italy.

o   Guide for visiting pilots.

·         USA.

o   Rating System – Basic Safety Regulations – SOP 12-1: USHPA Part 100 basic safety recommendations: 100.05 Traffic and right of way recommendations.

o   Jeff Greenbaum: Paragliding and Right of Way Rules + Beyond the Standard "Right - of - Way Rules" - Some Addendums and Exceptions.