If you are new to paragliding, or just new to Taiwan, you probably have a few questions on how safe it is to fly here. This article will try to answer some concerns without whitewashing the facts or blowing them out of proportion. There are many posts in the category ‘safety’ to give you an idea.
Taiwan’s sites are fairly simple in terms of the movement of air. There are no complex effects on sites of valley winds, seasonal winds, convergences etc. A basic knowledge of micrometeorology is quite sufficient to understand any of Taiwan’s sites. Note that Taiwan is quite humid most of the year round and the air always feels a little soft. Launching can require a bit more work than at your home site, and your glider may feel a bit limp in turbulence.
Taiwan is a subtropical island in the Pacific and thus liable to the usual excesses of afternoon thundershowers in the summer and also typhoons through much of the year. Summer thunderstorms can develop very quickly so pilots should be careful. Having said that, clouds that would scare the Alpine pilot are usually quite safe in Taiwan. Winter brings very reliable weather to south Taiwan but an eye on the weather is still important as cold fronts can arrive quickly and bring strong wind with them.
Paragliding is tacitly allowed in Taiwan but not exactly encouraged. There are laws which state that ultralight aircraft are not permitted to fly more than 100m above the ground but whether or not paragliders are considered ultralights is not clear.
Of course there are airspace restrictions around all of Taiwan’s international, domestic and military airports. Note that General Aviation is in it’s absolute infancy in Taiwan. Therefore NOTAMs, sectional charts etc. are not issued at the airports, but they are available here.
The Civil Aviation Authority does not require paraglider or hangglider pilots to have licenses or third-party insurance since they are not directly permitted to be flown. Certain sites may themselves impose restrictions from time to time. Check each site’s page for details.
There is a Hanggliding Federation in Taiwan but they do not appear to have a mandate to control either sites or individual pilots.
Training and licensing environment
Taiwan is somewhat different than the rest of the developed world in terms of training and licensing. Training standards vary a great deal islandwide. There are many very talented pilots who are quite safety conscious. There are many who are self-taught or went through only rudimentary or non-professional instruction. Be aware that there are no formal mechanisms in place for training pilots in flying tandem gliders or coaching students. While there are licensed instructors there are many offering courses who are not licensed. There is no formal tandem rating at all and many tandem pilots offering pleasure flights may themselves only have very limited experience. The drive out to the flying site will give you some idea of the sort of traffic situation to expect in the air.
The accident rate amongst paraglider pilots is sadly rather high in Taiwan. On average over the last ten years one pilot has died every two years. There are only a few hundred active pilots. There are many more accidents than even that number suggests. Luckily the sites themselves are quite forgiving. Since most sites are treed, few of those who crash sustain serious injury.
Most, if not all sites in Taiwan have a surplus of pilots with tandem gliders willing to take you for a ride, quite literally. While there are a great many with long experience, there are many who have poor safety standards and care much more about money than safety. A great many pilots operate a tandem with no license of any kind. A great many will show you a business card that calls them ‘instructor’ but have no certification to back that up.
Ask yourself if you’d fly on a commercial airliner if you knew the ‘pilot’ had no formal qualifications, or let a ‘doctor’ operate on you who had experience but who hadn’t been to medical school. Do yourself a favor and ask to see the license of your potential pilot. If it wasn’t issue by an internationally accredited body, think about this decision very carefully.
It is not a legal requirement to possess 3rd party liability insurance to fly in Taiwan, nor medical insurance. It is probably not possible to buy 3rd party liability insurance anyway. If you are resident in Taiwan it is possible to buy accident insurance effective in the country. AIT has policies. If you are visiting then you should buy travel insurance before arrival and make sure it covers you specifically for paragliding.
While the Taiwanese are in general very keen to help out in an emergency situation, very few people are formally trained in first aid. In an emergency you may need to take control of the situation yourself and be sure that emergency services have been called. Ambulances in Taiwan are in general used for transporting patients to hospitals only and the crews usually are not able to act as paramedics. If it’s safe to move an accident victim to a hospital by your own transportation, then do so.
There are a great many hospitals in Taiwan and most of them are good. Experience says the best are the missionary (Christian) hospitals followed closely by the new private hospitals.
Have cash or credit cards handy when you get to the emergency room. If you have insurance that’s valid here also have that ready. It’s not unusual to find that treatment is delayed until it’s established who will pay.
Taiwan’s industrial development does have the benefit that most of the island has cellular reception. There are however some mountain areas with very low population and almost no access by road. If you are planning a big XC you might want to research into current cell coverage.
Ham radio is still illegal in Taiwan, though unlicensed use is widespread and popular. Most pilots have a 2m transceiver and use them without legal problems. A lot of other people also use them however, so it can get busy on the airwaves, especially at higher altitudes. There is no dedicated emergency channel or frequency.