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Fédération Française de Vol Libre (FFVL), the French Free Flight Federation, has procured SPOT Gen4 satellite GPS messengers to track and safeguard people who participate in free flight sports, from under-18 trainees, to elite athletes competing on the world stage.
Free flight activities involve an individual piloting an ultra-light plane or other non-motorised airborne apparatus. These high-risk activities, for leisure or competitions, typically involve the participant jumping off a cliff or high mountain with the aim of landing safely in a pre-designated, usually remote, location.
Julien Garcia, Sport Technical Advisor at FFVL, explains the fundamental need for satellite-enabled safety for these inherently risky sports: “Our members engage in free flying all over France, in the Alps and Pyrenees, and some elite flyers compete worldwide. The reality is that sometimes people go missing, and finding them can be extremely difficult.”
While it’s fortunately rare, Garcia shares that, occasionally, there is a tragic outcome. “We have responsibility to advise our members on safety; but moreover, in the activities where we have management authority, we absolutely must ensure safety as much as we can.”
FFVL is a French government-recognised non-profit association which represents and manages six main free flight activities and associated disciplines: hang gliding, paragliding, kite flying, land kite (snow kite and land kite), paragliding, speed riding, boomerang and kitesurfing. FFVL organises, directs and promotes the practice of free flight nationally and internationally.
FFVL encourages all its 40,000 members to carry SPOT devices, and its members can benefit from service discounts through the summer. But it has organisational, government-mandated responsibility for France’s officially sanctioned competitions and for the country’s competitors at international events, such as the Paragliding World Cup.
FFVL also oversees free flying training, having established the “French School of Free Flight” in the Pyrenees and the EFVL charter by which it certifies kite schools. Here young pilots, many under 18 years old, train three times a week. They are tasked with steering their aircraft through waypoints set by the trainer and coach and touching down in a pre-designated landing zone. “With the unpredictability of wind and weather, and constant uncertainty of GSM mobile reach, we need to provide the trainers and trainees with always-on tracking and safety,” says Garcia.
Some FFVL members had previously used live tracking systems but these were GSM-based, and so were unable to reliably deliver coverage in the most remote, and dangerous, mountainous regions.
FFVL considered other satellite-based devices in the market, but only SPOT provided the combination of ubiquitous reach at an economical price.
“Many pilots were already using SPOT Gen4’s predecessor SPOT Gen3, and we knew how much peace of mind the devices provided,” says Garcia. “Considering its satellite-enabled reach, reliability and pricing that met FFVL’s needs as a non-profit, SPOT Gen4 was the clear choice for our organisation.”