The HGFA proves that the USHPA has no monopoly on parasitic organizations leeching their namesake sports to death.
I'm going to have to call you on that one.
First up, a qualification: I'm just starting out. I've been lurking on and off here and on my local AU list for a very long time. This summer I'll finally be getting in the air (for reasons I'll go into). Maybe that means my opinion won't hold much weight with you- if so, fine, but for what it's worth, as a "newbie" to the sport, I don't agree with what you're saying about HGFA. As far as USHPA is concerned, I've no comment, positive or negative. I've not taken any notice of them.
Sure, we all probably don't like the overhead of "governing bodies" or "management committees" and the like in any walk of life. They often seem to act as a drag when we just want to "get things done". Petty politics, personality clashes, skewed priorities, jobs not done (or worse, not done properly) and so it goes. Comes with the territory of human organisations. Occasionally we get get it right and "club management" or whatever does a brilliant job. Even then though, many of us find a way to complain. Nature of humanity. None of that however causes the death of sport except in very rare cases.
I've seen a few complaints about the way HGFA has handled things over the last few years. Mostly (as far as I could see from lurking) they've been resolved reasonably one way or another. Non of the issues have been existential for the sport of hang gliding in Australia. Not even close. Plenty of it has been whinging about the costs involved (and the supposed return on those costs). The reality (as far as I can see) is a lot of that is driven by insurance requirements and local government site restrictions. That's not something the HGFA has much control over except perhaps to negotiate premiums or conditions with any insurance company that is willing to quote on it (assuming they can find more than one).
To put this on a more personal level, I have to say there is *nothing* HGFA has done that has made it harder for me to get into the sport. There is no shortage of instructors; or more precisely, no shortage of places in courses- a lack of students has ensured there is not an over abundance of instructors, but there are enough here in Australia as far as I can see. The cost of training is not particularly onerous (given the hours required). I can get two weeks of solid training (broken up if required) for about the same cost as a decent second hand entry level glider. Yes, it would be nice if it was cheaper, but realistically, the cost of training and glider is not out of whack with the level of commitment needed to become a competent pilot. The annual HGFA & club fees are a hell of a lot less than belonging to even a second tier golf club. Cheaper than crew membership at my local sailing club. It's not really a cost thing (as much as we all like to moan and groan about having to put our hand in our pockets all the time).
So what has stopped me before this? Short answer, time. And family. Mortgage, kids education, kids sport, family holidays, work commitments and so on. They all take precedence over my own desire to disappear for a couple of weeks for training then ongoing trips to (mostly) distant flying sites. I'd love to be able to slip away for a day or two at a time and do my training piecemeal, but the reality is, there are no suitable training locations close to home to make that possible. The "local" training site is a good couple of hours away. It's a case of staying on site for a week or so at a time to make the most it. Either that or travel interstate for training.
Now my kids are old enough that I can take some of my time back. I'm financially secure enough that I can splash some cash around on myself occasionally. I can take a bit of time out without the family suffering. Result: Game on!
So what impact has the the HGFA had on my ability to take up HG this coming summer? In short, I'd not even be considering it without them. It's a training thing. I'm not interested in "flying by the seat of my pants" so to speak. I want to know that my instructor is qualified to instruct. Just because you can fly doesn't mean you can teach. And it certainly doesn't mean you do everything properly. Just reading some of the incident reports here make that patently clear. I'm not interested in picking up bad habits from someone that thinks they know how to fly just because they haven't yet killed themselves. Sure, being a certified trainer doesn't make you perfect; not by a long shot. And it doesn't mean you won't make mistakes. Even the best can royally screw up. That's part of being human. But I'd rather lay the odds as much in my favour as I can, and that means certified instructors. I'm happy to pay a little extra for that. The minor cost imposition is not a barrier. I'm also unwilling to be trained by someone that doesn't have insurance. Sorry, but my risk appetite doesn't go there.
There is a big difference between being able to do something and being able to teach. A professional trainer has willingly taken on that role of a teacher. A "mate" who offers to teach you is something else again. I've seen it plenty in my main sporting activity; snow skiing. Mates take mates to the snow, offer to teach them, then quickly run out of patience when baby sitting their first time mate. It means they miss out on the good stuff they went to the snow for. Rarely does that make for a good result in my experience. Palm your mate off to professional lessons for the morning and meet them up afterwards. Everyone has a better time of it. I'm taking the same attitude to HG. I'll take the professional trainer every time thanks.
I get that some people prefer a "wild west", go your own way and do your own thing approach to life. That's great if that works for you. But from what I can see hang gliding is no longer that sport. The Bill Moyes and Wills brothers (and many others) were pioneers in that "write your own rules" spirit of hang gliding development. Many of them seem to still contribute here today thankfully. So why did things change? From all the reading I've done here and elsewhere, it became pretty clear that those early pioneers got sick of burying their mates. They learned a lot, and wanted to pass those lessons on to those coming fresh to the sport so there would be less funerals and more success in the air. That's how we end up with regulations, insurance cover, site ratings and all the stuff that goes with it such as HGFA and USHPA. If they seem like a drag, I view them as a more like the "drag" of a keel on a boat. They add extra weight, and require more energy to get moving, but imho they add a certain stability and predictability.
So where are the current generation equivalent of the Moyes' and Wills' who fly by the seat of their pants and write their own rules? They're BASE jumping and wing suiting. Hang gliding is old hat and isn't pushing new frontiers. But they're starting to have the same sort of discussions that were happening in the hang gliding community in the 70's and 80's. They're getting sick of burying their mates. They're starting to ask themselves the same sorts of questions about how to manage risk. I wonder how long before they introduce the sorts of regulations that HG & PG have? The "wild west" never stays wild forever. The frontier always keeps moving.