Since I’ve been around the flying scene in Taiwan license cards have been adorned with the logo of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. Back in 1998 I was cajoled into stumping up a membership fee for the Nantou branch of the Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association, a portion of which (about NT$400) was an affiliation fee to the FAI. I never did get a membership card or even a receipt for the money, but at least I got to fly and the cajoling stopped.
Taiwan had joined the FAI as a full member under the name Chinese Taipei back in the early days of hang gliding in this country. Back in those it was customary for budding pilots to travel to Europe or the USA for training, and come back to teach the next generation of pilots. The Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association had set up a hang gliding committee and that in turn had set standards and exams for pilots in three levels using a mixture of the British (BHPA) and US (USHGA) systems. Taiwan enjoyed it’s status as an FAI member and (as was it’s right) sent teams to participate in the Hang Gliding World Championships, and then later the PWC (Paragliding World Cup).
So what went wrong?
The PWC trips started to go badly when first one pilot was killed after flying into power lines, and then another sustained serious injuries, leaving her a paraplegic. Eventually the FAI’s competition organizer the CIVL finally revised the registration rules for the PWC to include requirements for the pilots to gain points in other international level competitions in an effort to ensure the competitors were to a standard where they could compete safely.
In 2000 the Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association was struck from the FAI’s member roster. I wrote to Max Bishop, the Secretary General of the FAI and was informed that Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association had not paid it’s membership dues since 1998. Max explained that the payment of the 1998 fee had been postponed until 1999’s fee was due, and then the two years fee had again not been paid at the beginning of 2000. Finally FAI lost patience with Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association and removed it from the membership list.
Now, you would think that it would be simple enough to get a collection going, or get some branch of the government to sponsor the effort, and simply pay the membership dues in order to reactivate the membership. Unfortunately there is a hitch. The FAI’s constitution states that membership is granted on two different levels. First is for a NAC (National Aerosports Council) which requires that the member group represent all disciplines under the FAI, from aero modeling through to sailplanes, and is the only such group existent in the member country. The second membership level is open to associations of pilots in a single discipline or a limited number of. For example, the hang glider and paraglider pilots could form an association (and many do exist) but they could only join the FAI as associate members, not as a full member.
Here is the crux of the problem. During the absence of the Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association, two new groups have joined FAI as associate members. They are the Chinese Taipei Microlight Association and the Chinese Taipei Aeromodeling Association.
In the FAI constitution it is stated clearly that one country may have either one full member (and it must be a NAC) or two associate members. It is clear therefore that the Chinese Taipei Aerosports Association cannot now join as either a full or associate member unless one or both of the two existing members back out.
The question is, why on earth would they do that? Neither the modelers nor the ultralight pilots have enough in common with the free-flight community to band together, and there isn’t any advantage that I can see to them coming in under the umbrella of a single body. They both have their own systems set up, and they enjoy the benefits of FAI membership without diluting their presence with other sports they have little or no knowledge of, or interest in.
Another issue that’s being raised in various circles in the flying community is that of the FAI’s annual fee. It’s claimed by some that the reason Taiwan is not represented is the actual membership fee itself. It’s widely believed that the figure involved is the region of NT$750,000 (about EUR17,500 at today’s exchange rates). After raising this point, I received an email from Max Bishop explaining the fee structure that applies for 2005 for both full and associate members. Note that the associate member fee is fixed, while the full member fee is based on a base sum plus an amount for each pilot from each discipline who is flying in that country.
FAI Associate Member fee for 2005: EUR 2,000 (NT$85,730)
Hmm. That’s a bit of difference, so maybe the NT$750,000 was referring to the full membership? The pilot population in Taiwan is reported at about 2,000, though the number of active pilots is in fact only about 200 to 250. The number of ultralight aircraft being flown here has increased rapidly in the past few years, but I would still estimate the number of machines operational at about 200 or 300 at the very most. Perhaps CTMA has a total membership of 1,000. The aeromodelers are a little more difficult to count as they operate in places less obvious to us, but again I’d be very surprised if the total membership exceeded 1,000.
So, being generous let’s suppose we have 2,000 hang gliding and paragliding association members. Let’s say we have 1,000 CTMA members and 1,000 CTAA members for a total of 4,000. Let’s be generous again and add another 1,000 for good measure, giving us a 5,000 pilot membership base for a new National Aerosports Council, if such a thing could be formed and the whole sport aviation community could get behind it.
Max Bishop provides the following full membership for 2005 based on a number of sport pilots of 5,000.
FAI Full Member fee for 2005: EUR 3,000 (NT$128,490)
That’s still a far cry from NT$750,000. In fact, if the associate fee were collected solely from active paraglider pilots, they would each have to pay less than NT$400 per year for the privilege. If the full membership fee were collected from the estimated number of registered pilots it would come out to as little as NT$26 each!
Why would anyone want to rejoin the FAI anyway?
One issue that local pilots complain about is the lack of an IPPI (International Pilot Proficiency) card which allows easy free transfer of pilots between different member countries. Think of it as an international drivers license for sport pilots, but it’s a system that’s limited to member countries only. Flying sites in many countries require that visiting pilots are either members of internationally recognized paragliding associations such as the DHV or BHPA, or that they hold IPPI cards.
It’s frustrating and embarrassing to go overseas only to find you cannot fly, have to hire an instructor to supervise you, or to demonstrate skills to obtain a temporary local rating.
A second issue is that the FAI sanctioned competitions are only open to pilots holding FAI Sporting Licences. Entry to Category 1 international competitions is restricted to pilots with sufficient points in the WPRS, or World Pilot Ranking System. Of course, only holders of FAI Sporting Licences may be scored in the
ranking system. I think that there is a group of local pilots keen to break into the international comp scene and they would need Taiwan to rejoin FAI in order to do so.
The third and most important reason I can think of is the support and assistance that FAI provides to it’s members in developing or improving training and examination standards, which I think all will agree are in need of urgent attention in this country. Sadly, this is the one that no one else talks about.