In 1999 the Serial Class debate was raging around the world of competition paragliding. ‘Come on CIVL, make your mind up,’ said this impassioned plea from the editorial pages of Cross Country magazine at the time
Since July 1999, when 79 pilots signed in favour of the concept at the Europeans in Piedrahita, the Serial Class movement has gained momentum around the world.
In Japan, the serial-only ‘F1 League’ has huge waiting lists, whilst open class comps struggle to make up the numbers. Spain and Italy have Serial Class National events, as does Great Britain.
In the Americas, Brazil is switching to Serial Class only next year, and the majority of US comp fliers are now serial classers. Meanwhile, many countries have been left wondering which direction to go with their own national events at home.
Craig Collings, Competitions Chairman of the New Zealand Association, said: “We haven’t had a word back from CIVL on their stance. We’d like to go Serial Class here in New Zealand, but can’t make an official decision till the FAI gets off the fence.”
But the FAI is not prepared to take a decision yet. Noel Whittall, Secretary of the FAI’s CIVL committee, said: “In our March 1999 meeting, the committee members decided to wait and see how things progressed in the PWC before altering our competitions.”
Noel does not have a vote in the committee, but says he is frustrated by the apathy of the committee members.
What the FAI doesn’t seem to understand is that the attitudes and abilities of those who fly PWCs contrasts hugely with those of many of the pilots selected to fly in FAI World and European championships.
PWC pilots are selected to fly world cups purely on their ability, having notched up ranking points in the previous season’s competitions. They are at the pinnacle of the sport, and their desire to win often outweighs all other considerations, including personal safety.
Toni Bender, a highly ranked PWC pilot and member of various PWC sub-committees, said “safety does not concern me anyway”. Toni has been hospitalised several times in his competition career.
In contrast to the PWC set-up, FAI competitions consist of national teams, but many of the pilots do not regularly fly PWCs. Teams arrive from countries like Macedonia, Chile, New Zealand, Russia and China, where pilot ability is well below that of the major nations like France and Switzerland.
There is little doubt that many of the pilots flying in the last two world championships were flying gliders beyond their ability in an effort to remain competitive. In Castejon de Sos in 1997, over 25% of the pilots deployed their reserves or were injured.
The differences between PWCs and FAI events mean that the PWC is a highly unsuitable proving ground for FAI decision making.
PWC Chairman and French team manager Yves Gouselain states that “Serial Class pilots are putting themselves in more danger because they fly in dangerous places in order to keep up with Open class pilots”.
It seems absurd that Yves can come up with generalised statements like this when every other Serial Class pilot in the PWC disagreed with him.
Andrew Smith (SA), who flies a Serial Apco Bagheera, commented, “How can he come up with something like that? I am competitive right up to top speed, and am competing in a different class anyhow!”
PWC open class pilots want to win at any cost, whether it be by better flying or faster gliders. Perhaps many PWC pilots are capable of flying prototypes. But few are capable of seeing beyond their desire to win at any cost, and can’t recognise the benefits a Serial-Class only competition circuit might lend our sport” improved safety, a more level playing field, and a resurgence in interest from the grass-roots.
PWC pilots shouldn’t be the ones shaping the future of our sport. Come on CIVL, make your own mind up.
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