Hong Kong’s government watchdog has called for tighter regulation of paragliding, with flyers forced to register their names and equipment, so that accidents can be better investigated as the sport grows increasingly popular.

The Ombudsman Winnie Chiu announced the results of a direct investigation on the Civil Aviation Department’s regulation of paragliding activities. Photo: GovHK.

The Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday announced its report into the Civil Aviation Department (CAD)’s record in regulating paragliding.

Ombudsman Winnie Chiu told reporters the CAD has had difficulties in identifying pilots when a paragliding accident happened, “let alone taking follow-up action or enforcement action.”

In one example, a complainant was only able to submit to the CAD a photo showing the “features of a pilot and the situation when the paraglider accidentally landed on a farm” and caused damage.

The aviation department was unable to verify the pilot’s identity and could only issue advice through local paragliding organisations.

People paragliding in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

The Ombudsman said the CAD should require paragliders to register with it or join an officially approved local paragliding organisation. In addition, pilots should register their equipment and display registration numbers.

Over the past four years, there were two fatal paragliding accidents in Hong Kong and one serious incident, in which a paraglider collided with a vehicle after mistakenly landing on a road.

‘Hardly any deterrent effect’

Currently, the CAD only refers paragliding-related cases to police if they involve law violations.

The Air Accident Investigation Authority is in charge of investigating other serious incidents. The rest are probed by the Hong Kong Paragliding Association, a non-government organisation.

But the Ombudsman said these investigations were aimed at preventing a recurrence of an accident rather than holding the paraglider pilots “accountable and liable.” And probes by the HKPA were not officially authorised.

Civil Aviation Department headquarters. File photo: GovHK.

“As such, the investigations hardly carry any deterrent effect against behaviour in breach of the relevant laws,” the report said.

It asked the CAD to consider providing official authorisation and guidelines to the HKPA or other appropriate groups, as well as offering professional advice to police in paragliding cases.

HKFP has reached out to the HKPA for comment.

The CAD set up a permit system for paragliders in October 2019. But the ombudsman urged it to intensify its publicity efforts as the first permit was only granted in late 2020. At the moment, the CAD’s website shows a total of three permit holders.

A paraglider takes flight at a country park overlooking Sai Kung. File photo: GovHK.

The Ombudsman also urged the CAD to check permits at paragliding hotspots.

In response to the report, the CAD said it would review with other bureaus the feasibility of the recommendations on registration and authorisation of paragliding organisations.

It said it welcomed the other suggestions and would step up patrols, law enforcement, education and publicity, to “promote the development of paragliding activities on the one hand and to ensure public safety on the other.”

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.