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edwalker

Ballistic Parachute Repacking

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edwalker

Ok, Phoenix drivers, listen up! That ticking sound you hear from the back of your Phoenix is the countdown clock preparing you for the inevitable day you will have to ship your ballistic chute back to Stratos 07 in the Czech Republic. It's been six years, so I just liberated my parachute from the aircraft, and this is how it's done. I've attached a document that Jim assembled that has the overall process. Be sure to read it before you continue. What I'm offering here is a few additional tips and observations.

N42EW's chute was due July 2017, six years after it was manufactured. My annual was in March 2017, so the question was should I do both the Rotax rubber replacement and the chute in the same year? My A&P had a good idea: simply label the handle INOP on July 1, 2017 and you're in compliance with the FARs, and you can do the chute when it's convenient. As he pointed out, "if you really need it between then and the repack time, are you not going to pull the handle because of the placard?"  :) 

It took a few hours and at least half a dozen words I didn't learn from my mom to remove the chute. Jim's sequence is very helpful, but there are some improvisations necessary along the way. First, the small carabiner is easy to disengage, but the large one has some locktite or something in the threads so have two long wrenches to break the seal. Once you've removed the small carabiner  (which connects the rocket cable to the parachute) be very careful to stow the looped end of the rocket cable in a place where you cannot accidentally catch it on your jacket or something (since you're probably in your hangar and it's likely not the 4th of July). The parachute pack comes out fairly easily, however it is 23.5 pounds, so watch your back. Actually it comes out easily if you don't forget to unsnap the buckle under the chute box in the baggage compartment (don't ask me how I know that). 

Next pull the Kevlar bridle through the holes down to the baggage compartment. You'll see that it's looped around the two spars. In an ideal world you would now simply slip the bridle out from under the spars. Unfortunately, the bridle is trapped under the spars and you have to loosen the wings and pull them out far enough to take the tension off the bridle to get it out. That means 2 other people to help. Even with wing stands, 3 people is a good idea. The bridle is wire tied under the spar, so if you can't seem to move it despite adequate clearance, that's why. Snip and you're done. Now before you get your victory beer, enjoy putting the wings back into alignment.  

You will be without our chute for about 2-3 months. You do want to fly your plane in the meantime, right? You'll need 25-30 pounds in the chute box to keep the W&B gods happy. I used some of my wife's barbells. I taped together 2 tens and 2 fives with a lot of duct tape. Be sure to put a plywood floor in the parachute box since the bottom is pretty thin. You don't want the barbells to fall through into the baggage compartment in one of your 3 G landing flares and then roll to the back of the aircraft. Pack the sides of the of the chute box around the weights with those used microfiber cloths that Jim made you swear that you'd never use on the canopy a second time, even if they are washed. Pass a strap through the two holes in the bottom of the chute box and run it to the top of the weight packet and secure the ballast. Before you close the box take a picture of the top of the rocket with its serial number so that you can show the Stratos people that it's had a good home. Also take a picture of the handle in the cockpit. They want to see that too. Why? Got me. Don't forget to put an INOPERATIVE label on the handle in case you get ramp checked.

Now for the shock. Just for fun, go to a UPS, FedEx or DHL store and ask them how much it will cost to send it to the Czech Republic. You should hear something like $750 for this 24 pound package (including the bridle). Fortunately, the USPS is much more cost effective, and they will send it for about $150. Find an appropriate box and pack it up. There will need to be a customs form filled out. Ramana, from Stratos, recommends declaring the value at $20 or some nominal amount and stating that it is a sample, otherwise there will be a duty when it enters the Czech Republic. I'm not sure how this affects the insurance of the package. My guess is that you take your chances if you do this, but it's a choice between the remote chance of losing the shipment vs the 100% chance of paying a tax. Maybe someone else understands this better than I do and can comment. It may also be that insurance and duty are separate and don't affect each other. 

I'll send the package later this week and share the rest of the story as it evolves. Just remember, you're coming up soon. Tick, tick, tick... 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parachute repack.pdf

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mikeschumann

Is there any way you can do an exchange so you don't end up being down for 2-3 months?  That would also let you loosen the wings once rather than twice.

The other thing we might want to do is to coordinate with each other so that we can ship multiple units in for refurbishment at one time to reduce the freight costs.

Thanks for the heads up.

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edwalker

Well, the parachute is on its way to Prague, and I promised I'd follow up with the details. I've concluded there is no ideal way to do this that doesn't involve trade offs between unnecessary expense and some risk. Let me summarize what I've found. 

 

First of all, let Stratos know you are sending the package and get the latest instructions to update this note. They will likely tell you to ship it DHL, put a $20 value on the shipment and label it as a sample. When you call DHL you'll hear a figure that is about 6 or 7 hundred dollars (depending on your US address), so you'll call FedEx and UPS and find they are comparable. The next reaction will be to look at the USPS as an alternative. You will be pleased to find that the USPS cost is only about $160 for international Priority Mail, so it will, at first, seem like that's the way to go, but stand by, because it's complicated.

 

So, let's examine that part about the $20 value and the "sample" labeling. Why? It's because they are trying to help you not pay a substantial Czech VAT. If you put anything more than 22 EUR on the customs form you trigger the tax. The current VAT rate is now 22%, so on a $4000 parachute this would be a lot of money which they will bill back to you. It's clearly intended for commercial exporters and not the repair and return process that we are envisioning, but this $20 value appears to be the only way around the trigger, so I think you're stuck. 

 

This, of course, sets up the next problem which is underinsurance. Although the USPS shipping cost might be tempting, your parachute is worth more than $20, right? The USPS and the other carriers will insist on keeping the declared value on the customs form the same as the insured value. In other words they will not allow you to declare one low value to customs and then have another insured value. So if you insist on using the USPS you will have a grossly underinsured package that is tracked to the Czech border, and then you're on your own. Nobody I talked with thought that was a good idea, often with some eye rolling. If it gets lost, you lose big.

 

I thought about trying to get third-party insurance. I spoke with Pat Costello this morning and he said that if the repair work were being done within the United States this would be covered under the hull policy of the glider, but once it leaves the policy territory, which is basically North America, the policy no longer applies. He recommended searching for a floater policy, as it is called, which is an additional extra insurance policy on a personal article. He suggested I try the insurer who handles my home and auto. They were unable to do it because they’re a medium-sized Pacific Northwest company, but they suggested trying a larger group like State Farm. Unfortunately, no luck with any of the larger insurers either. Apparently the larger insurers will not write floater policies for anything having to do with aviation.

 

The final option was batching. The US representative for Stratos, Dennis Carly, operates a light aircraft business in FL (U-FLY-IT), and I talked with him this morning. He offered an option of bundling 3 or 4 chutes together in a single shipment. I ran a simulation with DHL this morning, and that brings the cost down by about $200 per person (so for me it would be $500 instead of $700), but you also have to get the chute to his location. Jim knows about this and we may or may not want to investigate it further as more and more owners have to repack.

 

So here's where I think things stand, unless any of you can come up with a better idea.

 

  1. To use the USPS priority mail, which is clearly the most cost-effective way to go, the owner must assume all of the risk. Although the shipment will be trackable while in USPS hands, once it enters the Czech postal system there is no way to know what will happen. Dennis is fearful of the reliability of that method, so he continues to use DHL. I cannot see a way to track or insure the parcel through a third-party, so, for me, that was off the table as an option.
  2. If you use Dennis's service the parcel is delivered uninsured, but he feels that DHL's logistics and tracking reduce the risk significantly. This is not perfect but probably very good. In the past he has sent over batches of three parachutes for about $1500 and billed the cost back to the owners proportionately. I could probably send in the parachute to FL to him through domestic USPS priority mail for $50. So I was looking at about  $550 to use that route.
  3. If you decide to use DHL from your home it's about $600-700, with FedEx and UPS in the same ballpark. DHL is the real international company, and according to my shipping expert, the best European logistics. We can't insure to full value, but their logistics are a kind of insurance. Once Stratos has the package it's on them to keep it safe and get it back.

 

What I conclude from this research is that, although the post office is very attractive from a cost standpoint, there is real risk in using that method for something this valuable, and no way to mitigate the risk. There also is no way to avoid VAT and also insure the full value of the package, so the only way to mitigate that loss risk is through traceable logistics. That left me with a DHL decision about sending the package to Dennis versus shipping it from Seattle and seeing this is a sunk cost. In other words, it cost $150 more to ship from Seattle on my own compared with batching. I finally decided I had spent enough time on this and just drove to the DHL store and sent it this morning. You may come to a different conclusion, but at least you know the facts. I must have spent 6 hours trying to solve this, and after a while your time becomes more important than the cost.

  

So the total cost is going to be something like $600-700 to ship it over, about $350 to repack and $400 to ship it back (their Czech carrier, but at their risk).  I guess I was hoping to reduce the shipping costs over to Prague, but there are so many adverse tradeoffs, you're just stuck. This was a classic Kubler-Ross 5-stage grieving process: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Despite my initial resistance, I'm at peace now. I've just let go and accepted it as the cost of ownership.

 

To put this in perspective, the 5-year mandatory Rotax rubber replacement I did earlier on this year's annual (another joy you all will soon encounter) was $4000....  again, the cost of ownership. I'm glad I love this glider so much.  :) 

 

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mikeschumann

What other aircraft in the US use these chutes?  If there is a large enough installed base we should investigate if it is possible to set up a repack operation in the US. 

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edwalker

Continuing the documentation.... The chute is now back at Stratos 07. It took just 3 days to get there. DHL is very reliable, and I had daily tracking updates on where it was. The insurance issue seems less important than I first thought. It's highly unlikely that DHL will lose the package given the tracking, and the only other possible loss claim I could think of was damage in transit (highly unlikely if you pack it properly) or catastrophic loss of the transport vehicle.

There are two addresses for Stratos 07 - one in downtown Prague (from where they coordinate their administrative and technical operations) and in Kamenne Zehrovice, a few miles out of town, where they do the work. Send it to the second address. If you're in the first 6-year period the rocket stays in the plane and only the chute goes back (we'll cross the rocket bridge 6 years from now). They do need rocket photos, however. Be sure to include photos of the stamped S/N on the top of the rocket, a view on each side from the top, a view of the underside with the cable attachment from inside the baggage compartment (preschedule a visit to your chiropractor for immediately afterwards or get a selfie stick), and a view of the flight deck pull handle both from the top and underside. 

By the way, the sent package was 23x11x8 inches and weighed 26 lbs. Cost from Seattle: $710 (yes, ouch!). Some of you have mentioned batching. Don't forget when you compute that cost you'll need to include getting all the chutes to one location or see if Dennis can fold you into one of his shipments. 

I'll let you know next steps when the repackers make some progress.

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mikeschumann

For that kind of freight costs, you could have purchased a round trip ticket to Prague and taken it along as baggage, and have them repack it while you wait.  How much are they charging for the repacking?  Are you going to get hit for another $700 for the return freight?  Was UPS and FEDEX the same price?

With ~20 Phoenix's in the US, we need to figure out a more cost effective way to deal with this.

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edwalker

Mike, I actually thought about doing that trip to Prague, but they don’t work that way. You will find that except for USPS all the shipping companies are roughly the same price. The overwhelming percentage of the charges are set by international tariffs, not the companies. The repacking is €350 and the trip back about €400. Like you, I found most of this somewhat outrageous, but that’s why I am documenting this whole episode.

If you can find a better way, please let us know. Right now I don’t see a lot of other options. Each owner comes due at a different time, roughly every 2-3 months, so batching among owners is not going to work. You can batch with Dennis, but the savings are not as great as you might imagine (weight is weight in air freight), and you will likely be adding a significant amount of time to the cycle with relatively modest savings. There is no authorized US repack operation going, even for the designated US Stratos 07 representative. All routes lead to Rome, and all chutes lead to Prague. 😀

I concluded that the system is just not set up for US Phoenix owner customer service. We are playing by their rules.

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edwalker

Here's a bright spot... 

I just heard from the Stratos 07 factory, and they are predicting a 2-week turnaround time for the repack. That is significantly faster than I had been led to believe earlier in the year. This may reflect a time of year issue, so I don't know how representative it is of other seasons or if their workflow varies for other reasons. It does, however, potentially reduce the total turnaround time to a little more than a month. 

All this for something I'm (hopefully) never going to use.   :)

 

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Jim Lee

I needed to send some wires to Phoenix Air, and attempted to send this box weighing 3 pounds via DHL.  $20 value, and they wanted $270 to ship it.  I shipped it USPS for $60 instead.

20171025_144554_resized.jpg

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edwalker

I just got an invoice from Stratos 07 for the repack. The good news is that they did it faster than I had anticipated, the bad news is that they want it paid by a bank transfer. The final invoice was for 420 euros (about $500 including return shipping). I went to my bank and found out that wire transfers have all sorts of hidden costs, and the total was going to be $75. Not only does the originating bank charge a fee, but also any intermediary bank along the transfer. The banker said that he felt that was way too high for such a small payment, and he advised that I ask the company for alternatives. They do not do credit cards or take checks, so we're stuck.

I decided to call Dennis Carly, owner of U-Fly-It, the Magnum US Representative in Deland FL, and ask his advice. After telling him the whole story, I was able to negotiate with him a service option whereby he agreed to be the contact point for all US Phoenix parachute repacking transfers. He is moving parachutes back and forth from Stratos frequently enough that there will be minimal delays, and he has agreed to accept our chutes to become a part of batched orders. This is probably the most cost-effective process since he has shipping and factory discounts that he will pass on to you. He also has appropriate processes for dealing with the rocket when that comes due at 12 years. Finally, he agreed to handle payments by check so that we don't have to deal with the wire transfers. I believe he will be the best option going forward both for shipping and payment.

BOTTOM LINE: Just call Dennis when you need to do this. 

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discus239

Ed, 

Thanks many times for sharing this and your other advisements, greatly appreciated.

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edwalker

Just received the parachute back from Stratos 07 this morning.  Total round trip time was a little more than a month. The chute has an updated repack label and they included a new Kevlar bridle at no extra cost. Dennis Carly stepped in to batch the payment to Stratos 07 so I didn't have to do an individual wire transfer, but the chute was delivered to my door via FedEx direct from the factory. I am just awaiting the invoice from Dennis which I can pay in USD, so things are essentially done. My plane is exceedingly happy. 

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