Hong Kong’s civil aviation agency will face a watchdog inquiry over apparent gaps in its regulation of paragliding activities, amid an increase in both the sport’s popularity and concerns over the rising number of worrying incidents, the Office for the Ombudsman has announced.
Commercial paragliding activities are regulated by the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), but the ombudsman revealed on Thursday that between 2017 and 2019 no permit applications were made, and only four were made last year. Two licences remained valid as of the end of February.
However, the watchdog’s chief, Winnie Chiu Wai-yin, pointed out the internet was awash with paragliding providers offering experiences at cost, which did require a permit.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
“It is incumbent upon the CAD to ensure proper regulation of paragliding activities and to follow up on suspected improper or illegal paragliding activities to help ensure public safety,” Chiu said in a statement announcing the inquiry.
“In this connection, I have decided to initiate this direct investigation to probe whether the CAD has effectively regulated paragliding activities and taken adequate follow-up actions.”
Paragliding is a sport in which riders launch themselves into the air, usually from high ground, and are able to travel long distances suspended under a parachute-like “wing”.
While the pilot does have control over the glider, there have been multiple paragliding accidents in Hong Kong in recent years.
One paraglider cheated death last year after slamming into the side of a truck while performing an emergency landing. In 2018, paraglider Patrick Chung Yuk-wah died after a fatal excursion.
Paragliding is regulated by the Air Navigation (Hong Kong) Order 1995, under which participants can be prosecuted should they endanger another person or property. It is also an offence under the Air Transport (Licensing of Air Services) Regulations to offer air services for hire or reward without a permit from the civil aviation authority.
Social paragliding activities, however, do not fall under some of the current regulations.
Paul Zimmerman, chairman of the Hong Kong Paragliding Association, said he welcomed the inquiry and the opportunity to strengthen the legal framework for paragliding activities across the city.
With more cameras capturing paragliding outings than ever before, Zimmerman said the exposure “puts it into the public eye, and with that [comes] a strong obligation to improve the oversight”.
“We are in a situation where the sport is transitioning, where more work would be required by the government. The CAD has acknowledged it has a role to play,” said Zimmerman, who has been deeply involved in the high-flying sport since the early 1990s, and helped create its first safety manual.
Zimmerman, a district councillor, suggested registering each paragliding wing with the aviation regulator, as boats do with the Marine Department.
He said that would be the most practical way to effectively supervise the sport and enforce the law, and it would be helpful during rescues.
The Air Accident Investigation Authority is still investigating the paragliding incident involving the collision with a truck last April, which happened to be captured on a vehicle’s dashboard camera. The body has rated the incident “serious”.
Chiu on Thursday elaborated on why a inquiry of the sport was needed, saying the “activities entail a certain level of safety risk”.
“Improper operation of paragliders may not only impact on the safety of airspace in Hong Kong, but may also pose a danger to the public on the ground,” she said.
The Ombudsman said it would welcome views on the matter from members of the public until April 18.
More from South China Morning Post: