ST. PAUL, MINN. — The issue is growth in hang gliding (or the lack of same). This month’s edition of "Product Lines" looks at a few ideas that may affect the future of hang gliding. ••• In my April ’94 column, I referenced a Dennis Pagen report from FAI. That international aerosport organization sees a worldwide decline in hang gliding. Pagen was quick to add that America did not seem to be experiencing decline as was Europe. ••• Recently, however, new USHGA Executive Director, Phil Bachman, sent all directors a set of graphs depicting member trends over the last 15 months. Today’s USHGA serves a blend of hang gliding and paragliding members, a subject that a few years ago caused considerable anxiety among many HG members. Some predicted that PG pilots would overwhelm HG pilots in a couple years. That didn’t happen, but some interesting changes have occurred since that risky forecast was made. ••• Compared to April ’93, HG membership is indeed down. The decline is extremely modest, a mere 50 HG members (0.6%). In the same period, however, PG pilots have increased by 44%. The current ratio is 79% HG pilots to 21% PG pilots. Raw numbers are 7,974 HG pilots to 2,141 PG pilots (as of June ’94). Except for a very gentle increase in the spring of ’94, HG member numbers have slid slowly but steadily from a peak in September ’93, while paragliding has added 30-50 members every month. ••• Based on these trends, Bachman has speculated that PG pilots will equal HG pilots in 2005. It doesn’t matter whether this delights or disturbs you. It is the trend. Of course, 15 months is too short a time to make sweeping judgments but the movements are worth watching. ••• So, how to make HG grow? (…assuming you want growth.) ••• Wills Wing has a plan. They’ve embellished a long term policy which aims to "support those dealers that are teaching new pilots how to fly, and thus helping the sport grow." Earlier this year, Wills bravely canceled 21 dealerships "to focus our support on active schools who are promoting growth in our sport." With that move, they also built a creative discount structure strongly rewarding sales of their beginner gliders (Spectrum or Falcon). Wills is further encouraging all dealerships to get involved with teaching. They say, "There are a number of qualified instructors out there that would love to make their living in the sport of hang gliding. …if you don’t teach …consider hiring an instructor." A worthy plan. ••• The long awaited official USHGA National Site Guide is available. This mainly helps current pilots find new places to fly, but more soaring activity leads to more public interest which leads to new pilots and members. USHGA calls the new release "the only complete site guide on the market." A thick volume (250 pages), it carries a hefty price ($48.50 delivered). Sold with a promise of regular updates, the cost is justifiable. The guide covers 150 sites in the new NAFTA territory from Alaska to Mexico. Buy it and fly often. Your enjoyment may bring someone into hang gliding. ••• A unique promo idea comes from Murray Rose of England: Speed Gliding! Former Solar Wings director Rose aims to create a Grand Prix-style series of downhill racing competitions with heavy media coverage and substantial prize money. Rose’s company, Airsport Associates, has already found some $40,000 of prize money ($15,000 to the winning pilot). Though only qualified pilots should enter due to the nature of the flying, BHGA is establishing safety standards for this type of competition. "Such a new event will raise the profile of hang gliding with the general public and the media in a spectacular and positive manner," says Britain’s Skywings magazine. Offering "the promise of white-knuckle action," this idea may have real merit as a spectator event — and one that TV crews can expect to cover in a professional manner. Rose says, in a Skywings interview, "We are under threat from other excellent activity sports. Ultimately, they may not offer the total experience we can but they are much more accessible and, what is more the point, they market themselves professionally." Rose has come up with Speed Gliding as a way to break into more media. "The format has been designed to take place in a defined area in order to allow extensive camera coverage at a cost affordable by TV production companies," explains Rose. "If we can get a large audience then we can get more people wanting to participate." He compares it to downhill ski racing. Analysis: more newcomers means more sales, which will give manufacturers more capital to generate even better gear for the rest of us to buy and fly. ••• In closing this theme column, I’d like to make an observation. Given the burden of legal liability in this country paired with the difficulty of making it financially in the HG business, we pilots are very fortunate to be able to buy such well-designed gliders (and gear) …at any price and with any level of customer service. Suppliers in this sport deserve your appreciation and support. ••• Next month: flying Brightstar’s Swift… and other fun stuff. So, got news or opinions? Send ’em to: 8 Dorset, St. Paul MN 55118. Fax or V-mail to: 612/450-0930. THANKS!
Published in Hang Gliding Magazine