Paragliding in Switzerland is one of the most popular outdoor activities for tourists. This is not surprising as there are incredible landscapes and mountain scenery to admire from a bird’s eye view.
The hotspots for paragliding in Switzerland are Interlaken, Central Switzerland and the Engadine. But there are also great tandem flights in other places.
For whom is paragliding suitable?
As a passenger of a tandem flight you do not need any previous knowledge. You will be instructed by the pilot before the paragliding flight in the launch preparation, what you have to consider during take-off, landing and also during the flight. There are no restrictions on age from 16 years of age, the weight should be between thirty and a hundred kilograms.
Special fitness is not required, but in case of serious illness you should consult your doctor and indicate this when booking. Sturdy shoes, long trousers and a windbreaker are compulsory. For children from around seven years of age, a tandem flight is possible in most cases, but you will need permission from their guardians.
Anyone wishing to practice this sport as a pilot in Switzerland must first pass two tests for single-place paragliders. One examination concerns the theoretical training, which is divided into five sections. The practical examination is completed in a maximum of three paragliding flights. This tests the mastery of the aircraft. This takes place in three sections during take-off, during flight and during landing within a specified thirty-metre circle.
In order to be credited for the training, the take-off and landing area must have an altitude difference of at least 300 metres. You will need to pass another strict test to be able to fly tandem paragliders (also called biplace).
In German, the licence is called Ausweis (Licence de vol libre, Licenza per aliante da pendio, Hang gliding licence) and is issued by the Swiss Confederation. Anyone who has passed these examinations is allowed to fly as a paraglider pilot.
In Switzerland, only the permission of the landowner is required to take off with a paraglider. The take-off and landing sites are usually managed by flying schools, local clubs or even mountain railway operators. However, a liability insurance policy is required.
As a foreign guest pilot, you must obtain confirmation from your insurance company that your insurance also covers your flights in Swiss airspace. The guarantees and coverage for third-party damage must be sufficiently covered. As a pilot, you can also take out 30-day insurance with the Swiss Hanggliding Association.
How does paragliding work?
The pilot sits securely under the paraglider in a harness, which is connected to the harness by lines. He steers the flight using steering lines. When flying tandem, the passenger sits in a second firmly attached harness directly in front of the pilot. All the equipment fits into a rucksack and weighs between fifteen and twenty kilograms.
In the mountains, the flight is usually performed with a forward start. The paraglider is behind you and you start walking slowly until the paraglider has filled with air and is above you. If nothing is tangled up, the descent is accelerated in a few steps and at 20 km/h the paraglider lifts you up into the air.
How dangerous is paragliding?
Professionalism and safety are guaranteed when paragliding. All pilots without exception are tested by the Swiss Hanggliding Association SHV and have a brevet, the hangglider licence. Pilots who are allowed to perform tandem flights are subject to an additional strict examination.
There are also very strict regulations for paragliders. All parts of the paraglider must be able to withstand at least eight times the load.
Today, paragliding is the safest flying sport of all. Between 2000-2017 an average of 8 people died while paragliding according to the BFU. With 16,000 registered and licensed paragliding pilots, this is a comparatively low figure. This is especially true when one considers that every pilot flies several times a year.
Paragliding has been around for more than seventy years, and NASA engineer Francis Melvin Rogallo received the first patent for a predecessor paraglider in 1948. A little later David Barish also developed and tested very similar gliders.
In Switzerland, the German brothers Strasilla, who live here, together with the Swiss Andrea Kuhn, developed the world’s first paraglider from towing gliders in 1973. They registered their own paraglider patent as Skywing. Their glider already had an ingenious system of catch and steering lines at that time. Dieter and Udo Strasilla were the first people to fly together from the 3,466-metre high Jungfraujoch to Lauterbrunnen, about six kilometres away, and in this way overcame 2,676 metres in altitude. This was the birth of paragliding in Switzerland.
The world’s first paraglider, an 11-cell spinnaker can still be seen today. It is located in the Schleissheim airfield near Munich, which belongs to the Deutsches Museum. The Bernese Alps south of Interlaken are known for their triumvirate of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and offer ideal conditions for paragliding with peaks over 4,000 metres in altitude.