Dropzone life during a global pandemic is… What is it actually? And what is it like to be a dropzone owner? To find out we caught up with Peter Mather, one of the owners of Sky High – Peterlee DZ. What is it like being a dropzone owner during a global pandemic, and what is the future of sports skydiving?
Support Your Local
All of us miss dropzone life and being in blue skies. Many or most dropzones worldwide have had to seize operations due to the Covid-19 virus. And no matter whether you’re a sport jumper, an AFF instructor, a dropzone owner – we’re all eager to get back up there! But the reality is… We don’t know exactly when and how that’s going to happen. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, and we’re all in it together.
We wanted to hear from the people who make skydiving possible. These are the people who bought the plane you jump from. The ones who invested not only their money but their hearts to run a dropzone that prepared you for your first AFF jump. These are the people who are at the heart of our sport. They take the risks to keep a weather-dependent business alive and maintain expensive aircraft and equipment. They create jobs for instructors, riggers, packers, videographers, and more. To dropzones, each day of no jumping is a risk. It doesn’t take much to imagine what kind of financial impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is causing dropzones globally.
Peter’s Story: How did you become a dropzone owner?
It’s a story! And actually it’s not just me, it’s me and three other lads! About 1.5 yrs ago I was speaking to my mate Nicky about setting up a dropzone in Anglesey. For a while, I had thought that skydiving was on the decline in the UK. What I thought was missing was a DZ owned by a skydiver. A place from skydivers to skydivers, the dropzone life. As a result of that conversation with Nicky, we starting looking for a location in the region. I had been working with a guy called Bryn, and by chance, we ended up on a 3-week-trip to Kenya to do some AFF (and that’s another story!). On the way down to Heathrow Airport, we started speaking about life and where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. I was telling Bryn about my idea of a dropzone being run by skydivers. I mentioned I was already looking to find something in Anglesey.
Bryn then mentioned Peterlee Parachute Centre (the place we now own) being for sale for three years. And it all unfolded from that moment! Bryn and I spoke about what kind of dropzone would we want to run, and we noticed we had a lot in common. Eventually, as we got back to the UK, Bryn introduced me to Mike Evans. He is now the fourth person owning our dropzone. At the time Mike was based in Spain, so I flew out there to meet him and discuss business – and was pleased to have him come aboard! And then, all we had to do was to get the owner of Peterlee DZ, Ian, to sell the dropzone to us. The process of reaching a mutual agreement was long, but we got there! And in short, that’s how Nicky, Bryn, Mike, and I became dropzone owners and started Sky High Skydiving at Peterlee DZ: through sharing dreams, ideas, and networks.
What is it like to be a dropzone owner during these times?
We took over the dropzone only 4 days before we had to stop operations due to the government lock-down. It’s been a big learning curve. But it has given us time to get the things we needed to do done on the DZ. We’ve made it look and feel the way we want it to. Now we’re just waiting to get jumping again. We can’t wait to show the world how good a thing this DZ is going to be. I believe this is the right thing to do, and I still stand by my original thought of offering a dropzone from skydivers to skydivers.
The foundation left by the previous owner is easy to progress from. Our 3-year-plan promises the delivery of all we hope and dream about. Our dream is to have a place where people go to jump, socialise, and have a great time. We are passionate about growing the sport in all disciplines and areas of instruction. We want to introduce more people to the sport, to dropzone life and encourage those at the start of their journey. And we’ve got the experience and passion to deliver all that and more! We want to showcase the sport to those interested and engage with the local community. Our logo represents the “colliery wheel” at Shottong Colliery, and reinforces our links to the local area.
What steps have you taken as a company to survive?
We’ve been working hard to keep all costs down. For example, we’ve put the plane on ground insurance. We’ve offset the plane payment till later in the year, and all staff on the government pay of 80% of their wage. None of the managing directors are getting paid while “we are in it”. In addition, I’ve put my own money into doing the changes we wanted to make to the DZ. We’ve also made some offers to skydivers. For example, if they put £250 worth of credit on their account we will top that up with 25% for free. We dropped our tandem prices to £200. On top of all that, we are looking at how we can use the government loans to pay off some old loans we have, and hence save us some money in the long run.
What can people do to support their local DZ in these times?
The big thing skydivers can do for DZs is to stay positive! This way you’ll feel ready to get back into jumping right when we get the go-ahead to start operating again. Staying positive also means having compassion and understanding that we are doing the absolute best we can to get everyone back in the skies. And when we do, come and jump! And if you want to, just ask us if we need any help. The small things really are the big things… Help with getting the plane out, driving the DZ bus, or get us a surprise coffee on the way to the DZ. The good old things about dropzone life. These little acts can make the world of a difference to your DZ family!
What do the future of sport skydiving and dropzone life look like?
Well, “this” is one big weatherhold! But I see it’s an opportunity for all of us to come closer and work through it together. In the UK all the DZs have started working together to better the sport. I don’t know how or when the world will open back up, but I do know we have to think outside of the box and make it better. There is no way we’re going straight back to where we were before. I think a lot will change! And I believe in the UK it will be all about everyone in the industry working together to make the sport bigger. But one thing will certainly stay the same: how much we all love this sport, dropzone life and the love of the sky family we have – it’s the biggest family in the world!
In life, you never know what is going to happen. But there is one thing we can do: to try and make a difference by doing what we love. This is how we make a difference in our own lives, and for the loved ones around us. Here at Sky High – Peterlee DZ, we want to put smiles on people’s faces and celebrate the life that skydiving has given us. We are looking forward to the future and many more years in the sport. So I’d like to say “cheers everyone”; here’s to Skydiving, for giving us the most amazing thing we have in our lives!
Watch “We’re in it Together” from NZ Aerosports
Read more about this topic
Information on activity and Covid-19 from FAI
The FAI has put together documents that may be useful to you and your dropzone in deciding if and when to commence operating.
Marketing your Dropzone
Marketing ideas or expertise for your Dropzone? Check out Dropzone Marketing’s blog here.