British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association
The BHPA is recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the Royal Aero Club and the Civil Aviation Authority. The association has approved and registered schools/clubs across the country where initial hang gliding or paragliding training must be undertaken.
The association was formed in 1992 by the coming together of the British Hang Gliding Association and the British Association of Paragliding Clubs. Since then the sport has grown considerably and now has over 60 clubs that are affiliated to the association with around 7,000 individual members. The association exists primarily to promote safety within the sport.
Each month the association publishes a magazine 'Skywings'.
The BHPA is not a 'governing body' and has no authority from the Civil Aviation Administration although many of the club pilots that come from the school system believe otherwise. It is not unlawful to teach yourself this hobby sport nor is it unlawful to fly a paraglider without a BHPA CP badge. A breakaway organisation was formed in Scotland as an alternative club system to the BHPA and they fly paragliders which are actually registered on the UK CAA civil aviation register (i.e. a five-letter identiy starting with G-).
The BHPA have an effective monopoly on paragliding third-party insurance in the UK at present which leaves many paraglider pilots effectively having to pay BHPA dues every year. This lack of alternative sports insurance for UK paragliding compares badly with other comparative 'high-risk' sports for which third-party insurance can be purchased.
The BHPA club system runs on a 'badge' competency system similar to the British Gliding Association. Training is a two-stage process with each stage costing about £600 sterling.
EP - Elementary Pilot training and badge takes a complete beginner and gives them canopy ground-handing training and first flights from the top to the bottom of a gentle hill.
CP - Club Pilot training and badge takes the EP pilot to the final level of training. The CP training will take the EP pilot and give him/her tuition in flying along the ridge among other more advanced practical areas of paragliding. The trainee pilot will also have to pass rudimentary examinations in Air Law and some Air Navigation (i.e. rights of way in the air) knowledge. Once the CP is gained the pilot can join a paragliding club and fly outside of the school system.
P - Pilot badge is the next aim of the club pilot who will have to show, within a club hill environment, that he/she has gained a certain level of ability and can pass examinations on Air Law among other subjects. The aim of the Pilot badge is to allow the club pilot to leave the hill and fly cross-country using thermal lift. For this he/she clearly needs a higher level of understanding on Air Law and how airspace works in order to avoid causing dangers to mainstream airspace users like the military, airlines and general aviation pilots. Flying 'xc' is not approved until the Pilot badge is gained.
AP - Advanced Pilot is the highest pilot badge and requires a high level of understanding and ability.
Club Coach badge - this is gained by going on a weekend training course to learn how to 'coach' and advise those new pilots just out of school.
Senior Club Coach badge - this is usually a very experienced club pilot who can oversee certain types of post-school coaching.
Other Badges are...
Tandem - which requires a short training course to learn how to fly a tandem (pilot and passenger) paraglider.
However, none of these badges are legally required for a person to fly a paraglider in the UK. Nor is it mandatory to have third-party insurance when paragliding.
The Club System The BHPA Club system in the UK is important as it is these local clubs which negotiate with local landowners to open flying sites. As most land in the UK is privately owned and there are very few public access flying sites clubs often pay landowners to allow their members to operate from nearby hill sites. Many of these Clubs are defensive about their sites and do not allow non-members to fly them. Some clubs assiociate with each other to widen the sites available to the club/s and thus allow 'associate members' to have flying rights. Most flying sites in England have rules to their operation, usually agreed after hard negotiations with the land-owners or tenant farmers. So it is important to know a site's rules before flying there.
Open Sites There are some hill sites that are defined as open. This means they are open to other clubs' members. Where a site is defined as a 'public place' the club may not have any control over who flies there or if they are or are not a BHPA member. This is right and proper as we live in a free society within the UK. However, it is still important for any pilot who intends to fly an open site to make sure they understand and follow the site's rules. Often the hill may be a public place but the local club will have negotiated bottom-field landing rights from a local farmer and a pilot who ignores the rules may risk losing the site for everyone.