FAA Relaxes Parachute Packing Rule
New reliability data from the parachute industry have persuaded the Federal Aviation Administration that a packed parachute is safe for emergency use longer than previously believed, so the agency published a final rule Wednesday relaxing its regulation. Beginning Dec. 19, emergency parachutes may be carried on aircraft if they were packed as much as 180 days previously -- not 120 days as currently required. The agency chose not to make the repack limit even longer.
FAA's 120-day rule requiring main and most reserve parachutes to be packed every 120 days was issued in 1978; before then, FAA required parachutes to be packed every 60 days. What had changed by 1978 was the common use of synthetic parachute materials such as nylon and Dacron, and parachutists' discovery they were just as reliable after being packed for 120 days as after 60 days. The 1978 rule still required a 60-day packing interval for reserve and emergency chutes made of any amount of silk, pongee, or other natural fiber or a material that is not nylon, rayon, or similar synthetic fiber.
"Recently acquired data from the U.S. military, foreign aviation authorities, and parachute industry representatives suggest that the current 120-day packing interval is too short," the final rule stated. "Numerous experts asserted that modern parachute materials last longer when the packing interval is longer than 120 days and that too-frequent packing shortens the life of the materials. Those experts found the parachutes' porosity was affected by handling and manipulation of the parachute while being packed. Therefore, the FAA proposed 180 days as a more suitable packing interval for modern parachute systems."
The agency said Simula, Inc., a parachute manufacturer, and the U.S. Navy tested the repack cycle of Darachute parachutes that had been vacuum-sealed for more than seven years. Laboratory, environmental, dummy, and live airdrops were conducted. "Results strongly supported that the reliability of the vacuum-sealed parachute under the tested conditions would not decrease after being packed for more than 5 years. In the rule at hand, we are only extending the repack cycle from 120 days to 180 days, which is a much shorter interval than 5 years. This study supports our view that the 180-day repack cycle would not adversely affect parachutes' safety," according to the rule, which notes that the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (the U.S. Navy's Technical Agent for personnel parachuting) supports a longer repack cycle than the current 120 days. The Navy's current repack interval for certain parachutes made of synthetic fibers is 182 days for both main and reserve chutes.
Some commenters suggested a 365-day repack rule, but FAA disagreed. And some parachute riggers and instructors opposed the 180-day change in their comments, saying it was being made for cost rather than safety reasons.