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There are several airfields nearby where parachuting activities routinely take place. How far away is considered to be a safe distance from the airfield when flying past it en-route to another destination? Are there any particular frequencies to monitor besides the airfield frequency? How would I know parachuting is happening besides any NOTAMs?

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    $\begingroup$ activity on the airfield and those big colored pieces of fabric coming down is a telltale sign :) $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Oct 11 '14 at 18:48
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak Activity on the airfield? Isn't any airfield going to have some sort of activity? And parachutes aren't as visible as you might think. $\endgroup$ – Bassinator Oct 11 '14 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ While in the Maryland Army National Guard, I accompanied a LURP Company to their drop zone (as a public affairs NCO to take pictures). They had contracted a private field (in WV) as a DZ. We were in the middle of their second drops of the day, when the field owner took off in an experimental light craft, right through the DZ. It was sheer luck that two troops came down to the left and right of him, instead of in front of... that was the scariest airport moment of my career. Afterward, the CO had a talk with the pilot, who said (basically) "my field, I take off when I want." $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Oct 12 '14 at 0:57
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    $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell: I'd love to know the legal repercussions on the owner if an incident had occurred. In Sailing it is a fundamental principle that powered vessels are legally required to stay clear of non-powered vehicles, and motorized vessels must stay clear of non-motorized vessels. The only exceptions are for commercial vessels travelling at low speeds giving them no steerageway. $\endgroup$ – Pieter Geerkens Oct 12 '14 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @PieterGeerkens I was with the command group during the discussions and it was decided that two jumps for the days was enough, mostly due to changing weather. No report was made (that I am aware) to any civil aviation authority, and the Captain decided it added more "real world uncertainties" to the drops. The troops cussed him (the owner) out and just got on to the days business. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Oct 12 '14 at 14:57
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Qualification: I worked at a busy drop zone for 10 years.

Just announce yourself on the airfield frequency about 5-10 minutes out and they'll tell you what's going on, including which runway is active and how high they are jumping from - standard altitudes are 3000ft and 12,000ft AGL. At our place it was really simple: left-hand for 34, right-hand for 16. We landed everyone on the east side, and if we are dropping at 3000 all day you can just pop up to 4000 and be completely out of the way.

Under no circumstances make a cross-field pass as that's usually right in the middle of everyone else's landing pattern, and we don't carry radios.

If you are just passing by a 2km buffer is lots - no one is likely to be in the air that far away.

No reply usually means nothing in the air.

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    $\begingroup$ What if the airfield is private and has no published frequency on the charts? That is the situation for one of the airfields nearby that are labeled as a parachute jump site. I happened to fly by it while on flight following and ATC notified me about parachuting, but if I hadn't been on flight following I wouldn't know. 2 km, I will use 2 miles, seems like a reasonable distance to remain clear. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – Eric Oct 13 '14 at 12:07
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First of all, recurring DZ's have parachute symbols on sectional charts, so look for them!

The FAA regulations have this to say:

Federal Aviation Regulation Part 105.25 requires that ATC be notified no earlier than 24
hours before or no later than one hour before the parachute operation begins in Class E 
and G airspace. Jumps in Class A, B, C and D airspace require an authorization from ATC. 

This means that if you expect chute activity in the area, ask ATC!

Controllers are required to give traffic advisories to jump aircraft before the jump,
and to issue advisories to all known aircraft that will transit the Class E airspace 
within which the jump operations will occur. When time or the number of aircraft make 
individual transmissions impractical, advisories to nonparticipating aircraft may be 
broadcast on appropriate frequencies.

And as always, check the NOTAMS!

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    $\begingroup$ That doesn't answer the question of how far. Will ATC provide separation? I assume it's not just a matter of see and avoid $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Oct 11 '14 at 21:30
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    $\begingroup$ I would say this is a judgement call. See and avoid is always a good fallback when unsure. Give them as much room as you think is safe, and them give them a little more. $\endgroup$ – Bassinator Oct 11 '14 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ The parachute symbols on sectionals can be unreliable. If often takes years to get the symbol added. Once the parachute symbol is on the chart, it seems like they never go away. The "Pig Farm" in southeast Wisconsin still has the symbol, even though there hasn't been jumping there since the 90s. $\endgroup$ – Brian Jan 6 '15 at 19:23
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Are there any particular frequencies to monitor besides the airfield frequency? How would I know parachuting is happening besides any NOTAMs?

Here in Seattle, jump aircraft are usually talking with ATC (Seattle Approach). The jump airplane will announce 5 minutes out and the when the jump occurs.

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  • $\begingroup$ The 5 minute to jump contacting of ATC is required by law! $\endgroup$ – Bassinator Oct 11 '14 at 19:19
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In Europe, it's generally a good idea to be on the Flight Information Service (FIS) frequency, where you can receive information about active drop zones and/traffic information to the airplane performing the drop, as they need to call in on the FIS frequency and announce when they start the drop.

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I'm not a pilot. I did attempt to get a parachute license, but stopped after a couple of jumps. I jumped at two different drop zones. (And I'm from Sweden) I just thought I'd offer a view from the other side.

At the DZs where I jumped, the pilot always talked to ATC before takeoff, so I would assume that ATC will know of any parachute activity.

The parachutists will fall, so if you can stay above the plane that will drop them, you'll be fine. Where I jumped, 4000 m was highest allowed altitude without oxygen, so no one jumped from higher than that.

The parachutists will want to land at or very close to their field. During the freefall part, they don't really drift with the wind. Chutes will typically be opened at about 1000 m, and from that altitude, they will drift significantly with the wind. Thus, they will be dropped upwind, and will typically not move very far downwind of the field, especially not at high altitudes.

So, in order of simplest/safest:

  1. Fly above them
  2. Fly downwind of their landing spot
  3. If you need to fly close to their field, the higher up you can be, the better.

This should perhaps be taken with a few grains of salt, but hopefully others can chime in if I've said something incredibly stupid. :)

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Aviation.SE gibson. It's always good to have a view from a different perspective. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Oct 13 '14 at 16:13

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