How to fly in paragliding traffic

Flying in paragliding traffic can be intimidating. There’s a lot to watch out for. It’s not easy because it’s a skill that you cannot practice until you get to a really crowded paragliding site. So let’s talk through some of the basics and look at some of the techniques to stay out of trouble when flying in traffic.

1. Turn right to avoid collision

This rule applies everywhere. Avoid any aircraft by turning to the right. When pilots are approaching me, I must try to turn to the right to avoid them.

When there’s an obstacle like a mountain ridge (or paraglider) to my right, my ability to follow the rule is limited, so use your discretion. It also means that when I’m flying with the ridge on my left, I need to stay off the ridge, well enough away that there’s space for the guys to pass me on the inside.

Sometimes there’s a large gap between the approaching wings. Although it makes sense to go through very wide gaps (thus passing to the left of one pilot), it’s better to avoid splitting the traffic lanes because it can quickly build up and become complex. So if you can comfortably go to the right of both wings, do so, because it gives the separated pilots a chance to return to one lane.

2. Look before you turn

By turning your head, you can see if there’s someone flying in the space you want to turn into, but more importantly, the other pilot can see you intend to turn. If you check well before you start your turn, the traffic can respond and move behind you or to the outside of your turn, which gives you more space.

How to fly in paragliding traffic: look first

3. Ridge to your right, keep close

If you keep close to the ridge when it’s on your right, other pilots don’t feel ‘pushed out of the lift’ by your approach. When you fly too far off the ridge, some pilots will choose to sneak inside of your line, and that’s where the traffic split (and ensuing chaos) begins. So get comfortably close, and hold your line.

4. Plan your escape route

Think ahead, what are you planning to do if the approaching pilots get too close? Can you turn right, will that need to be a slope landing? Can you turn left fast, or is there a pilot blocking your escape route? Shouting at other pilots is not going to be effective, because at that point it’s probably too late.

5. Correct your course early

By responding to the approaching traffic early and then flying in a straight line, it makes it obvious to the other pilots what you are doing. Try and anticipate far ahead, and you’ll find you start making a smooth traffic pattern just by the way you are flying.

How to fly in paragliding traffic: look ahead

6. Allow space for sink and mistakes

Everyone needs space to react to unexpected air currents and traffic complications. Don’t trap pilots against the ridge, don’t pass over or under other pilots without at least 20m of clearance.

7. Use the whole ridge

When it’s soarable it doesn’t make much difference when you turn. If you make your beats long then there’s less turning and less chaos in the traffic.

8. ‘Right of way’ is just a guide

When you’ve got the ridge on your right you have ‘right of way’ but this doesn’t mean you can fly straight into others and cause a midair collision. It is just a way of defining a rule to make the traffic pattern predictable. Your only responsibility is to avoid other pilots. In the image below, the only solution here was for me to move further right. The approaching pilot has been boxed in by a turning glider who left him little room to shift out to avoid me.

How to fly in paragliding traffic: eek

9. Fly behind not beside

Paragliders fly at very similar speeds, so when you fly in an overtaking position you’ll be taking up space for a long time, and blocking the pilot from turning. Try to follow behind the pilot so you create only one lane of traffic.

10. Create space by changing speed

If you just fly along the ridge with your hands up all the time (trim speed), you’ll start catching up to pilots, especially if you are heavily loaded, or flying a higher class glider. It is not the other pilot’s responsibility to fly faster; you have created the traffic problem. It’s the same as driving a car – keep a safe following distance. Don’t be afraid to fly with brakes on, you’re not going to stall your wing with just quarter brakes.

Flying in traffic: summary

So remember to avoid others by turning to the right, look before you turn, and follow established traffic patterns. Create space by using the whole ridge, thinking ahead and slowing down when necessary.  If someone seems to be a problem in the air have a chat to them later. Often it’s just that you can’t see what they are seeing. You think that they are flying badly, but behind you there was somebody that was blocking them from moving to where they needed to be.

Have fun sharing the air!

For more information on aerial collision avoidance rules in the UK and more, see the BHPA training guide 

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Flying in traffic: video