Gaining access to new flying sites, and most importantly maintaining that access, is dependent on good relationships with landowners - an ongoing process requiring a lot of effort from the local flying community. Presented here are a number of resources to use in establishing and maintaining strong working relationships with landowners for access to properties suitable for launches, landing zones, or other free flight functions.
If you have any questions about a new or existing site, insurance, site support, landowner or government relations, or anything please don’t hesitate to contact either the USHPA office at firstname.lastname@example.org or the chair of the Chapter and Site Development Committee at email@example.com.
Site Management Guide
To download a PDF version of this guide, please click here. Otherwise, click to expand each section of the guide below.
*Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice or guidance, or an indication of insurance coverage or liability. This guide is intended as an introduction to the potentially complex topic of managing sites and working effectively with landowners. If you have questions on the specifics of insurance coverage, liability, or legal arrangements, please contact the USHPA office or consult a lawyer.
This guide is intended to provide a starting point for discussions with a landowner whose property may be involved as a launch, LZ, or otherwise in your pursuit of free flight. A good relationship with the landowner can make all the difference when you want to gain access to a new flying site or maintain an existing one. Landowners have no reason to be accommodating to free flight enthusiasts looking to use their property or the land they manage. To improve the relationship, consider inviting them to pilot gatherings, sending them a holiday card, or offering to help with improvements to their property. Since our sports rely on having places to launch and land, making a landowner happy and comfortable with gliders at their property should be pilots’ first and last consideration.
If a landowner is hesitant about the risks or liability that they could be exposed to, there are a variety of protections that exist for them. We typically recommend starting the conversation with the basic/pre-existing protections (state recreational statutes) and then working your way up toward the more involved and time-consuming options (listing the landowner as an additional insured/site insurance), if necessary, to help make the landowner comfortable.
Overview of Potential Protections for Landowners:
State recreational use statutes
- These statutes vary from state to state, so you should familiarize yourself with the appropriate statute(s) before speaking with a landowner. In some cases, the statute(s) may not apply to your specific situation, so read them carefully before bringing them to a landowner.
- Pros – Very simple, require no extra leg work for landowner or pilots, some history of standing in courts
- Cons – No coverage for the landowner if someone does sue them (they have to pay all legal fees for defense – could be upwards of $10,000 to get a case thrown out based on these statutes, and there is no guarantee the statute will hold up). Additionally, if anything ‘for pay’ occurs (this could include free instruction then buying a wing from the same instructor), the landowner can be excluded from the recreational use statute’s protection
Require a custom waiver
- Perhaps a landowner isn’t comfortable with just the recreational use statute and would like a little more specific protection in place. You could create a custom waiver to meet their needs. You would probably consider hiring a lawyer to craft it, or possibly asking another site/chapter with similar considerations to use their waiver as a starting point.
- Pros – Still relatively simple for both parties, customizable waiver could address specific landowner concerns
- Cons – Cost of lawyer, potential unintended gaps in waiver, landowner still on the hook for any legal defense or costs, added responsibility of ensuring each visiting pilot has signed the waiver recently
Require USHPA membership (+ rating?)
- Requiring USHPA membership ensures that all pilots on the landowner’s property have signed the USHPA waiver and take full responsibility for their flying actions, and that the pilots have 3rd party liability insurance for any damage that they might cause to the property (hitting a landowner’s car, destroying crops, etc.).
- Requiring a rating can go a long way toward satisfying a landowner’s concerns about what level of pilot might be in their vicinity. These requirements can range from P2/H2 and up, to P4/H4 or P3/H3 with an instructor or experienced local pilot present.
- Pros – 3rd party liability coverage in place for all pilots, guarantee of signed USHPA waiver which has protections for the landowner included, peace of mind regarding the level of pilot on their property
- Cons – Monitoring of site, it can be more time and effort intensive for the local pilot community to ensure that pilots are current USHPA rated members, landowner still on the hook for any legal defense or costs if a case is brought
Get the landowner listed as an additional insured under USHPA's policy
- Requires that all pilots using the site be current USHPA members. This is so that the landowner has the complete and full coverage they would expect.
- Must be organized under a USHPA chapter (we can help you with starting a new chapter if there are none nearby).
- Requires a risk management plan, site guide and other documentation to be submitted to the RRG by the managing USHPA chapter.
- Must be renewed yearly.
- Pros – Provides the most coverage for a landowner, generally speaking - if a suit is brought against them, then USHPA's insurance through the RRG will fight the claim on their behalf to get the suit thrown out (based in large part on the waivers signed by USHPA members). Costs just for this step can quickly balloon, and without coverage the landowner or local pilots would be responsible for this
- Cons – More paperwork, renewals and steps to be taken, monitoring of site/pilots
This brief explanation of some of the options will give you the basics to speak with a landowner or offer an idea of what to research. The lower maintenance options are always a good starting point, but it is certainly not unreasonable for a landowner to request that they are listed as an additionally insured party. The rest of this manual will go into further detail on insurance types, waivers, regulations, community relations, and risk management to familiarize you with the topics related to site management and working with landowners. Whatever the case, USHPA will help when and where we can. As always, if you have questions, don’t know what the next step should be, want to find out what it takes to start a chapter, or anything else, please contact the USHPA office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Site Management Considerations
Different types of insurance may be useful, or required, in different situations. This section outlines some of the different options, including USHPA insurance, site/landowner insurance, and professional liability insurance for instructors.
1.1 USHPA Insurance
Detailed insurance information can be found on the Insurance page in the Members Area section of the USHPA website. All insurance forms can also be found on the USHPA website. Some State Parks require their own insurance form that must be signed by the insurance company. In these situations, please contact the USHPA office.
1.1.1 General Liability Insurance (GLI)
All USHPA members have third-party liability coverage under the USHPA GL policy as a member benefit. This covers claims made by third parties (such as spectators, bystanders, etc.) for damage or injury caused by member actions while hang gliding or paragliding. It also covers the costs and fees associated with any legal defense (for example, if the damaged party decides to sue the member).
NOTE: There is no coverage under USHPA’s GL policy for a member when the member’s hang gliding or paragliding activities are done for compensation (for example, if the member is being compensated for their flying being filmed for an advertisement). The member must purchase separate insurance to cover any activities “Conducted for Compensation.”
1.1.2 Event Insurance
Those involved with organizing and running USHPA sanctioned competitions, meets, demonstrations, or special events are eligible for coverage under USHPA's GL policy through the "Event Insurance" program. Tow devices must also be scheduled, and, if approved, event coverage extends to claims arising from the use of those tow devices during the event.
When an event is accredited (ACE) or sanctioned (competition) by USHPA, the organizers, landowners, and volunteers may be covered during their event activities as Additional Insureds. Prior approval by the USHPA office and USHPA's insurer is required before Additional Insureds are added to the policy (commonly referred to as "Event Insurance").
Coverage for those associated with an event is one of the benefits provided in return for your Event Fee (as an USHPA-approved ACE event or sanctioned competition). This is colloquially known as "event insurance." (Sanctioned competitions may defer payment of a portion of the competition event fee for cash-flow purposes up to 90 days before the start date.)
Note that a Risk Management and Mitigation Plan will be required for all ACE events and sanctioned competitions in order to be eligible for insurance coverage.
Certifications of Insurance will be issued for landowners named as Additional Insureds for the event. Endorsements will be issued naming the organizers as Additional Insureds, along with "Volunteer workers, Temporary Workers and Employees of the landowners, club, chapter and/or Event Organizer while performing tasks related to the operation of the hang gliding / paragliding Event taking place on the [specified] dates at the [specified] location."
All organizers, volunteers, and participants must sign an appropriate event waiver.
Please plan to contact the USHPA office at least 90 days in advance of special events to obtain approval for event insurance and to expedite the necessary paperwork for event coverage.
1.1.3 Landowner/Site Liability Coverage
Site – Recreation (including instruction without any sort of compensation)
Chapters may arrange for Landowner/Site Insurance in order to have owners of the launch and landing areas listed as "Additional Insureds" for the site on the USHPA GL policy. Instruction, Administration, Examination, Observation and Mentoring activities without compensation may occur at USHPA-insured sites with only Chapter provided Landowner/Site Insurance. If instruction or administration is being done for compensation or hire, it is considered a "Training Site" (see below). (Note: Examiners, Observers, and Mentors may not be compensated for their activities, per SOP 12-05 and 12-11, except for Towing Observers that are also instructors.)
Site – Training (instruction provided for compensation or hire)
If, in return for activities related to their appointment/certification, an Instructor, Administrator, or Towing Observer receives any sort of compensation whatsoever (including profit from gear sales) they are considered a "Paid Rogallo member." Landowners are not covered for these professional activities at Training Sites unless the Rogallo members present are working for a PASA-certified school with an appropriate Certificate of Insurance in place for the site.
Types of Insurance for Sites
Landowners of launch and landing areas are considered third parties in any incidents where they are the damaged party; this situation is covered by the USHPA GL policy third-party liability coverage for USHPA members.
However, if a third party - such as a spectator - is involved in an incident with a USHPA member, the landowner is not covered by the USHPA policy unless they are explicitly listed as an Additional Insured. Although naming a landowner in a lawsuit is extremely rare, a Chapter may request landowners be named as Additional Insureds by arranging for "Site Insurance." When a Chapter indicates they would like Site Insurance for a site (launch areas and landing fields), they provide the names of all landowners to be listed as Additional Insureds on the USHPA GL policy. This means the Additional Insured parties are covered for legal defense (the same as the primary insured parties - the USHPA members).
In all cases, coverage is only provided to landowners for incidents involving USHPA members. If any pilots involved in an incident are not USHPA members, then there is no coverage for anyone. Instruction without compensation may occur at USHPA-insured sites with only Chapter provided Landowner/Site insurance in place. If instruction is being done for compensation or hire, it is considered a "Training Site". More information about insurance for Training Sites can be found on the Insurance page.
NOTE: There is no coverage under USHPA’s GL policy for commercial activities (for a landowner or anyone else). For example, if the landowner is charging daily use fees to fly at the site then the hang gliding or paragliding activities would be for compensation and the landowner would not be covered. The landowner may charge for other non-flying activities associated with the land, but would receive no coverage under the USHPA GL policy for those activities. The person performing any compensated services must purchase separate insurance to cover any activities “Conducted for Compensation.” That said, the landowner may charge the chapter in conjunction with a written lease agreement and still maintain the coverage associated with chapter site insurance. Since each scenario is unique, commercial activity is reviewed on a case by case basis by the RRG.
1.1.4 Instructor Professional Liability Insurance (PLI)
Rogallo – Unpaid (providing professional activities without any sort of compensation)
USHPA Rogallo members who hold a current, valid appointment or certification (Basic, Advanced, Mini-Wing, or Tandem Instructor, Mentor, Examiner, Observer, or Administrator) have professional liability coverage under the USHPA PL policy when providing professional services within the scope of their appointment without any sort of compensation. As long as there is no compensation of any kind, these Rogallo members can also perform their professional activities at any USHPA-insured site, even if they are not working for a PASA-certified school.
Rogallo – For Hire (providing instruction for compensation or hire)
If, in return for instruction, administering, or tow observing, a Rogallo member receives any sort of compensation whatsoever (such as profit from gear sales), they are considered "For Hire." They have no professional liability coverage for their activities unless they are working for a PASA-certified school. Landowners have no coverage as additional insureds for the member’s professional activities at Training Sites unless they are working for a PASA-certified school with an appropriate Certificate of Insurance in place for the site. When working for a PASA-certified school within the scope of their appointment, For Hire Rogallo members are not only covered for professional liability coverage under the PASA school’s policy, but also the USHPA PL policy (for up to an additional $250,000). For more information on unpaid and for hire instructors, please see the Instructor FAQ (Insurance section).
2.1 USHPA Waivers
Every USHPA member signs an annual USHPA Pilot Waiver, which is a Release, Waiver and Assumption of Risk Agreement. Every pilot that flies at an USHPA-insured site must have this waiver signed either as a full member, or on a temporary 30-day membership. The USHPA membership waiver has protections for landowners built into it. You can find a copy of the waiver to share with your landowner in the USHPA Membership Application.
2.1.1 Effectiveness of Waivers
3. Rules & Regulations
Drawing up rules for a new site can include, but are not limited to:
- USHPA membership required (a must if there is Site Insurance)
- Minimum pilot ratings
- Good equipment in usable condition
- Require a site introduction and walkthrough
- Have a site overseer, with the power to shut down the site
- Abide by state park rules (if in a state park)
- Hikers have right of way
- No dogs and no smoking
- Only launch from designated areas
- Max capacity pilots on site (example: 20 pilots per day)
It is crucial to enforce the site rules by making the rules known to pilots and by preventing anyone who does not comply with them from flying. While in reality stopping a pilot may not be a viable option, it is important to try through peer pressure, repeated reminders, and possibly rating revocations. The consequence of being banned from a site has also been used effectively. Starting out strict is fine and allows rules to become more relaxed once the site develops a good reputation after a couple of years of flying. A good reputation is important because maintaining access to some sites depends on how well the site is taken care of and respected.
4. Community Relations
Acquiring new flying sites and keeping existing ones is easier if the surrounding community has a positive outlook toward hang gliding and paragliding. To create and maintain positive community relations, it is important to regularly give back to the area, to listen to and respect community members, and to work with the community. Giving back to the community helps build trust and a strong, sustainable relationship. Giving back can take many forms, from volunteering within the community (such as by picking up trash) to hosting “Flying Days,” where community members can watch hang gliders and paragliders and talk to pilots in a festive atmosphere. Listening to community members is vital because they often dictate how the community is run and what is allowed to happen within the area. By working together, a compromise can be made, further strengthening the relationship. To continue to maintain this relationship, remember to only do what you have permission for. For example, if the flying community wants two LZ’s but the community only gives permission to build one, then stick to building just one.
Additional articles on developing and maintaining sites are available in Section 8 - Additional Resources.
5. Recreational Use Statutes
Most states have laws that protect landowners from liability for giving permission to use their land for recreational purposes. Such recreational use is encouraged by State Legislatures. Many states have added the words “paragliding” and/or “hang gliding” to these statutes.
There are many details to these laws. The landowner can’t charge for your use. There may be different classes of users, licensees, and invitees, which can affect liability. You should study your own state’s recreational use statutes so you will not violate any provisions by mistake.
The relevant Statute numbers for each state are listed below. Additional articles on recreational use statutes are available in Section 8 - Additional Resources.
6. Risk and Safety
The fewer accidents or incidents that occur at your site, the fewer injuries to pilots or observers, the happier everyone – including your landowners – will be. Any site flown and managed by a chapter requires a Risk Management Plan, whether there is additional landowner coverage or not, and this simple act may help set many landowners at ease. The plan should include a map of the site, as well as a plan for each location utilized and the use of emergency equipment. Topics to examine as part of your plan:
- Minimum/maximum winds, and ratings required for the site to be flown safely
- Road/trail access, parking areas, spectator areas
- Launch and landing zones, potential hazards along the way
- Other activities that may occur in the area
- FAA recognition and communication
- Annual review of safety plan and risk assessment
- How visiting pilots are informed of the risks at your site
- Tandem or towing operations
- Glider tie-down systems
- Mini-wing/speedwing operations
- Emergency access/emergency action plan
Examples of Risk Management and Emergency Actions plans for a fictitious site are available in Section 8 - Additional Resources.
USHPA provides comprehensive Risk Management training materials through an online system. Chapter Site Managers, Safety Officers, and other officers in the risk management should contact the USHPA office for system access and login credentials.
At the end of the day, maintaining a flying site and the relationship with the landowner/manager is an ongoing process that requires sustained effort from the local flying community.
If you have any questions about a new or existing site, insurance, site support, landowner or government relations, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to contact either the USHPA office at Info@USHPA.aero or the chair of the Chapter and Site Development Committee at Chapter_Support@USHPA.aero.
8. Additional Resources
Historical Site Management Guides
Historical Site Management Guide | 2010
Some information in the 2010 Historical Guide will be outdated, but there are some really great examples of communications between landowners and chapters that can shed light on this process.
Risk Management & Safety
Sample Risk Management Plan (RMP)
Sample Emergency Action Plan (EAP)
Building Relationships with Landowners
Respecting Site Property
Working to Improve Sites
Articles on Recreational Use Statutes
By US Legal
By The Recreational Aviation Foundation
By The National Agricultural Law Center