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The Serial / Open Class Debate

August 12, 2011


in light of the recent tragic accidents, and the CIVL decisions that followed, we would like to officially state the thoughts of Ozone regarding the current Open / Serial Class debate.

Since the start of the company, Ozone have always been, and always will be, very pro-serial class for the obvious arguments. However, we still think that open class wings are beneficial to the paragliding world in areas of development and competition. It will be sad to see their demise due to CIVL’s recent decisions, which did not address the issues decisively, correctly, in the right manner, or at the right time.

Competitions are a high stress time for any pilot. It was unfortunate for CIVL to make fundamental changes which forced pilots to obtain different equipment at short notice. Most unfortunately, competition pilots have been forced to do this twice in the space of one season. Firstly for the Worlds, and now for a lot of National competitions. Forced change at short notice can only add to the stress of any pilot. We always remember being told by wise old pilots that you should only change one piece of equipment at a time and then allow plenty of time to get used to it before thinking of competing on it. Whatever class of pilot, that advice remains true.

We also feel CIVL have confused the paragliding world by focusing the problems at the Worlds on open class wings in the competition. I know that, as just about everyone in the Worlds was flying an open class wing, suspending open class was an easy way to stop the competition, but we believe it sent the wrong message to pilots and national bodies about the full causes of the accidents.

What we have realized at Ozone is that pilots are suffering because of the rapid changes they were obliged to make, and also because of a new hidden danger: The hidden danger of comfort.

Recently, there have been some very good developments (in all classes) that have increased the overall stability of wings, especially at speed. This has made certain paragliders a lot more comfortable to fly. We believe this has encouraged some pilots to step up a class, or cause pilots within the class to fly with less caution. Although Ozone have spoken publicly about this increased stability and comfort as plus points, and we have made those developments available to all pilots in order to keep the playing field level, perhaps we have made the wrong assumption about what pilots understand about the class of the wing they have chosen to fly. An EN D wing is still an EN D wing, no matter how good or comfortable you make it. An open class wing is still open class, EN C still EN C, etc.. Every modern wing still requires the correct level of skill and attention to fly as well and as safely as possible.

For sure, there will still be accidents whatever class people compete on, but hopefully accidents will be fewer if we can tailor the class of wing to the type of pilot in the competition. Just as there will be fewer accidents if the task setters can choose tasks that are designed to minimise risk, instead of adding to the risk by setting tasks which have the potential to put pilots in risky situations. Just as there will be fewer accidents if pilots are given the time to really get to know their wing before they put themselves in a competition environment where reason can too easily be forgotten.

We have now seen this issue of comfort hidden in several guises: in the response to the introduction of the R10.2 and 3 liner, in the R11, and also in other classes. In an age where the public is well informed via online forums, the last thing that we want to read is a pilot saying that a wing feels like an EN B when in fact it is sold as a C. It is nice to know that the pilot is enjoying the wing and feeling comfortable, but a claim like this must always be read with added caution. OK, some Cs may be nicer than other Cs, but they are all what it says on the tin!

In summary, we believe that everyone involved has a part to play in improving the safety of competitions. We believe that CIVL should not try to alter the sport’s development and should concentrate on making competitions safer for the level of the pilot they are intended for. Manufacturers, whilst being fair to ensure everyone is on a level playing field, have to ensure their products are correctly portrayed as well as accurately described. At the same time pilots really do have to focus on understanding the risks of the wing they choose to fly. And competition organisers must minimise the risk in the tasks that they set, whilst still allowing the competition spirit to hold true.

To make this work, we believe this means that open class should be supported, but with manufacturers, test houses and associations adding a new EN Class to allow for an Open Class with certain restrictions. As there is currently a WG6 group finalising the latest standards, we think it is a perfect and responsible time to add this new class – however, this will require the WG6 to act fast in order to complete this in time for the current redrafting. This may also help ensure that the EN D class is not ruined by being pushed too far. We believe that CIVL should concentrate on providing safety guidelines and rules which fit different types of competitions based on the class of pilot involved. This may mean that a competition’s wings are restricted to suit the level of pilot, so we may see competitions restricted to EN C wings, or even EN B, and not just to EN D. Perhaps, all classes of wings can be equally recognised in competition as having winners. We also believe that task setters, when setting tasks, have to take into account the class of wing and pilot in the competition. If all of this is done well, then we hope that pilots will make the right choices and enjoy flying with as much safety as possible behind a competitive event in a sport that will inevitably still have accidents but, we hope, fewer of them.

-Mike Cavanagh, Ozone Gliders Ltd.