PAUL J. YOUNG
City News Service
PERRIS (CNS) – A world famous Perris-based skydiving operation is grounded for an undetermined period because of coronavirus exposure risks, and the business is taking a major hit to its bottom line, with no training or services for thousands of would-be clients during peak parachuting season, the manager said today.
“People all over the world, including military personnel from all over the world, come here,” Skydive Perris General Manager Dan Brodsky-Chenfeld told City News Service. “We are finishing up with a small (foreign) special forces group on Wednesday, but after that, we have nothing scheduled.”
According to Brodsky-Chenfeld, before Riverside County Public Health Officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s March 17 directive limiting groups to less than 10 people anywhere at anytime in the county to mitigate potential COVID-19 transmission, Skydive Perris was taking numerous precautions to eliminate germs.
“We were sanitizing airplanes before and after flights. We had hand sanitizer everywhere around the drop zone. We were even considering taking people’s temperature before putting them aboard a plane,” the veteran skydiving instructor said. “But the government’s guidelines were changing so rapidly. First you had the county health officer’s order, then the governor told people to stay home. It became clear this was a fight not worth fighting, and we decided to shut down and hold out.”
Brodsky-Chenfeld said he and other instructors considered a social-distancing method that would cap the number of parachutists to five on each flight, but the move was untenable.
“It was not economical for us, and anyway we have to function in a very close environment,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “Ours is a very close community. As much as we love the sport, we love the community. If anyplace represents a place where there’s a chance of spreading a virus, we’d be spreading it. Even if this whole thing is overestimated, the risks far exceed the benefits.”
He described the March-May period as the “busiest time of year” for the skydiving center, which has been in operation four decades. During the three-month span, there are typically 50 flights per day, with 20 amateur and seasoned parachutists taking leaps from one of the facility’s eight aircraft, seven days a week, according to Brodsky-Chenfeld.
“It adds up to 1,000 jumps a day,” he said. “People travel from all over to do this. Just like people go to all corners of the globe for a vacation, people come here for skydiving vacations. But not now. They’re not coming.”
Jump prices range from $29 to $1,000, depending on the size of each group, whether the jumps will involve tandem drops from 13,000 feet and other conditions.
Brodsky-Chenfeld estimated that 50% of the operation’s business is tied to jump training and parachuting in the March-May period. Most of Skydive Perris’ clients are not required to pay in advance, so the business only had to provide refunds to about 100 customers who had reserved space, he said.
The veteran skydiver had little to which to compare the current operational shutdown.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never gone through anything like this,” he told CNS. “After 9/11, aviation was down for a short while, but even that didn’t have the same impact as this. It was a different situation obviously, but it was not on this magnitude.”
Instructors, pilots, ground crews, facility supervisors and receptionists, as well as cooks and servers at the on-site cafe — the Bombshelter Bar & Grill — have been thrown out of work, according to Brodsky-Chenfeld. He acknowledged that about half the staff is comprised of contract employees, but they also depend on flight operations at Perris Valley Airport for their income. He said that, altogether, the shutdown is affecting the livelihoods of 130 people.
“It breaks our hearts to be separated and locked up right now,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said. “But we’ll be open as soon as it’s safe to do so. We love what we do and sharing it with everybody.”
He said there are “very tentative” plans for a limited re-opening on April 18, but “confidence is low” that will happen, mainly because
management is not optimistic that any health directives will be rescinded by
then. In the county, it would require the Board of Supervisors to annul the
local emergency proclamation that empowered Kaiser to implement public health
orders.
“Hopefully we’ll come through this, and when we do, we’ll be ready to go,” Brodsky-Chenfeld said.