If you’ve ever wanted to go paramotoring, you’ve likely found the countless articles online that suggest that you go on a “Tandem Flight”, or a flight where it is both you and another person on the machine. It’s highly suggested by all proponents of the paramotor community, but how legal is it?
Can you take someone up with you in a paramotor? You can legally fly a tandem paramotor after you acquire a pilot’s or sports pilot’s license, and only use it for training purposes. This is because tandem-equipped paramotors do not meet all of the qualifications for being an “ultralight.” They are classified as a “Light Sports Aircraft” by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
Perhaps something that appealed to you about paramotoring was the “license-free” aspect of it. Paramotoring is a self-regulating sport. The government usually stays out of paramotorists’ business. Why did they make a change for tandem flights?
The Difference Between an Ultralight and a Sports Aircraft
To understand why this is a relevant question, you’ve got to understand a thing or two about the nature of ultralights, as well as the nature of sports aircraft.
Ultralights are a classification of aircraft made by the FAA. You do not need a license to fly an ultralight of any kind so long as it falls under certain specifications. These specifications are laid out in lawyers language in the “FAR Part 103 Preamble- Ultralight Vehicles“.
The language is a bit difficult to understand, so I’ve broken it down for you just down to a few of the qualifications as a summary.
In order to qualify as an ultralight, the machine must:
- Be intended to be manned by a single occupant
- Only be used for recreation or sports only
- Does not have any US or foreign airworthiness certificate
- If un-powered it must weigh less than 155 lbs
- If powered it must weigh less than 254 lbs (excluding emergency gear)
- If powered, it is only capable of a max speed of 55 knots
- If powered have a max fuel capacity of 5 gallons
- If powered, have a power-off stall speed of which the speed does not exceed 24 knots of calibrated airspeed
Most paramotors meet all of these qualifications. When qualified as an ultralight, paramotorists do not need a license to fly their paramotor.
However, if these qualifications are not met, or are broken somehow by any modifications that the pilots have put in place on their paramotors, they no longer qualify as ultralights.
If a paramotor does not qualify as an ultralight, the said paramotor would be shifted into the category of “Light Sports Aircraft”, and require a license.
I’m going to hone in on one specific part of the qualifications for a machine to be an ultralight, namely, the part where it says that an ultralight must be intended for only one occupant.
“An Ultralight Must be Intended for Only One Occupant”
Like the rule states, paramotors must be designed so that they can only carry one person. Why is this? What purpose does this serve?
The reasoning of the FAA behind the decision to limit paramotors to one person when in flight is actually quite simple. When you are a pilot, and in charge of your aircraft, you can make the conscious choice to go up into the sky trusting in your own skills and abilities.
Just like any other dangerous sport, those who pilot ultralights know the amount of training and skill that they themselves have, and can accurately gauge the risk to themselves when they decide to go flying.
However, when you decide to go up into the sky with someone else, you are taking your life out of your own hands and putting it firmly into the pilot’s.
This is fine if the pilot has proper training, but if a pilot were to lie about their actual skill and training, they could easily trick the general populous into thinking they were qualified without ever having to show any proof. This kind of trickery isn’t appreciated by the FAA.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) doesn’t care all that much about you and what dangerous things you choose to do with your own paramotor. It is the endangerment of others, those who did not agree to the danger because they did not know the potential danger levels, that the FAA is concerned with.
When the FAA was creating the classification of “Ultralight”, they were intending for them to be unlicensed. However, due to the nature of ultralights being unlicensed, the FAA also knew that there would be pilots who had no training attempting to fly with a passenger.
Passengers would be quick to assume that an ultralight pilot had the proper training, and would unwittingly put themselves in danger by flying with them.
To avoid this, the FAA decided that it would be better if ultralights were limited to one person only. They figured that it would be better for everyone if those people who want to fly tandem can trust the pilots that they fly tandem with.
Because of this relatively safe way to get into paramotoring, many people have entered into and have loved the sport for many years.
So, what do you do if you want to take people on tandem flights? What exactly are these sports pilots licenses that allow you to fly tandem, and what else do they allow you to do?
The Sports Pilot’s License
Sports Pilot’s Licenses were made by the FAA in order to provide that extra bit of training needed to be trusted with carrying a passenger on Light Sport Aircraft (specifically tandem paramotor flights).
Sports Pilot’s Licenses are not full pilots licenses but are a lesser license that can be earned in a shorter amount of time, for less money, and gives fewer permissions than the full pilot’s license.
The Sports Pilot’s license helps people who are not pilots themselves, and who could be susceptible to the danger that comes from not knowing the skill and experience of the person they are flying with.
A Sports Pilot’s License helps these people feel more comfortable with the skills of tandem flight instructors by having the assurance of safety that comes with a government credential.
With the Sports Pilot License, you can fly machines that are classified above ultralight, titled “Light Sport Aircraft”.
For instance, you can become a “Tandem Flight Instructor”, meaning that you are permitted to fly paramotors that can seat two people for the purpose of training. These paramotors don’t fit into the Ultralight category but instead fit into the Light Sports Aircraft Category.
This is just fine because with a Sports Pilot License, you can legally fly them.
Different rules apply to people who have a Sports Pilot License. They have greater freedom in the different machines they can fly, machines that don’t quite fit into the standard ultralight classification.
With the Sports Pilot License comes a greater responsibility though. Getting one doesn’t take as much time as a full pilot’s license, but there is still a significant amount of training and time that goes into receiving a Sports Pilot License.
Keep in mind, this is not a “paramotoring license”, but something that gives a government seal of approval to trainers and others who should be trusted in their skill and ability.
Recreational VS Training
There is a specific clause that says that you are not allowed to fly tandem paramotors for recreational purposes, but that you should be flying them for the purpose of training. What does this mean?
Flying for the purpose of recreation would mean flying outside of professional teaching capacity. Saying that you can’t fly recreationally doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the flight, just that officially, as the passenger, you are training to become a better pilot through means of a qualified and certified instructor, and as the pilot, it means that you are flying to teach about paramotoring.
If you do get a sports pilots license for tandem flying, just realize that currently, there is no way to legally fly recreationally.
What is Flying Tandem Like?
Flying tandem on a paramotor has two different points of view. There are the pilot and the passenger. The pilot is certainly placed in a position of power, but also a position of great responsibility. It’s his job to make sure that the passenger feels safe, secure, and if it is an instructional flight (which it should be), then the pilot is also charged with making sure the passenger is learning all that they need to learn.
This can seem like it would be a daunting task for some pilots, but after having gone through the training to become qualified to fly a tandem paramotor, pilots are likely to be very relaxed with the whole process.
If they are doing tandem flights for a job, they make this same flight several times a day, practically every day. For the pilot, it’s just another flight.
For the passenger, however, it can be a bit different. Those who are going to fly tandem are flying to see a few things. Whether or not they can handle the heights, gaining first-hand experience and knowledge/understanding about how paramotor’s work, and trying to decide whether or not to invest their hard earned money, potentially 7k dollars in a paramotor, all of it from this one flight.
Needless to say, this can be stressful for some passengers. Expectations are high on the passengers part, of both their own ability to handle the heights and of the flight itself. However, the wonder of flying is still there with the passenger.
They have the stress, but they also have the satisfaction. The pilot will likely be working hard at making the flight stellar for the passenger, but likely is so used to flying that it’s second nature at that point.
The pilot will likely want to talk. What the pilot talks about is up to the pilot themselves, but they may ask a few different types of questions. Pilots of tandem paramotoring know that possibly the worst thing that could happen in a situation where two people are 3,000 ft above the ground is that one of them starts to have a panic attack.
Sometimes, the pilot may feel the need to distract the person they are flying with.
Other times though, if the pilot is getting good vibes from you, they may feel inclined to share information about the flight. They may talk about wind direction, or where they are planning on taking you next. They’ll likely explain the controls at some point during the flight, and maybe let you help them turn a bit.
Make no mistake, though your pilot may look like they are relaxed, tandem flying is a task that takes a bit of concentration at times. Enjoy your flight if you are the passenger. The pilot is working hard to give you a good experience, and you are very safe on these flights.
Getting caught up in your own fears will only make the experience non-educational, not nearly as fun for the pilot, and not nearly as fun for yourself.
Some advice I have for anyone who is planning on going on a tandem flight at some point soon is this. Just be sure that you’re flying with someone who you are ready to spend a bit of quality time with. You’re putting your trust in this pilot.
Don’t go flying with someone you are uncomfortable with on the ground, because once you are in the air, there’s kind of no escape.
Enforcement of the Rules
Paramotoring is a self-contained sport. We are self-regulated, and the community keeps itself accountable. If paramotors become a nuisance, or if the few laws that have been given to paramotorists by the government are not followed, then there are going to be serious issues, and heavier restrictions placed on this currently free, open, and innovative sport.
Someone who is being unsafe, flying where they are not allowed, or is otherwise causing trouble should be reported to the FAA. However, it’s also important to realize that sometimes, reporting someone for something without knowing the details of the laws can make you look foolish.
The paramotor community is not entirely self-contained, and violators of airspace law, as well as paramotorists who participate in public events can be caught making mistakes and conducting illegal activities by the FAA as well. The FAA’s job is to make sure that the skies are safe. If we won’t patrol ourselves, they’ll crack the whip.
If there is someone who is flying a tandem paramotor, and you think they may not have a sports pilots license, it’s up to you what you want to do. You can report it to the FAA if you think it might be dangerous, and if not, it’s still your choice.
Where paramotoring goes over the next few years will be up to us, the community, on whether or not certain laws will be enforced. The consequences of those laws either being enforced or not being enforced will be on our heads.
Is paragliding safer than paramotoring? Paramotoring is safer than paragliding for several reasons. Paramotors can be launched in zero wind, with no thermal activity. This means that paramotors don’t need to time their launches right, and therefore have zero penalties for launching them whenever they feel like.
Also, due to paramotors constant forward momentum, the wing is less likely to collapse. If launching in strong enough conditions though, Paramotors and Paragliders are about the same danger level.
How long does paramotoring take to learn? Paramotoring school lasts only about 1-2 weeks, but by the end of it you should be able to maintain a wing, maintain a motor, control the wing on the ground, and go for a short flight. Any additional training would just be re-affirmation of these skills.
What are the primary causes of accidents on paramotors?The most common cause of accidents is pilot error (meaning that there were no equipment failures accompanying the pilot error). The second most common cause of paramotoring accidents is mechanical failure. The third most common cause of paramotoring accidents is bad weather.
In order to stay safe as a paramotor pilot, we need to train to become better paramotor pilots, take care of our gear and check it regularly, as well as flying in ideal or non-risky weather conditions. You can read more about safety statistics for paramotors here.