Buying a Glider or Harness and other equipment ? read on ...
When purchasing paragliding equipment as a newcomer to the sport you usually need to rely on your reputable instructor/school for advice as they know your skill level and needs the best AFTER or towards the end of a license course.
NEVER buy equipment before attaining your license or by way of a pre-paid license and equipment "package" deal. It might seem "cheap" to do so but it is NOT in your best interests, rather it's in the commercial interests of the operator. Steer clear of operators offering package deals - learning to fly is not a holiday and if you regard it as such you increase your risk of accidents and will potentially miss out on a lifetime of enjoyable confident flying.
No one knows at the beginning of a course how much they will like the sport or indeed if they are suited to it, and thus what their budget might be. There is great pressure of having paid for the gear already and this is also reflected on the school to "finish" the license no matter what and often to a lower or minimum standard just to get them "out the door". This can push the new pilot into a sport he/she may not otherwise carry on with and worse still leave with "all the gear and no idea" as the saying goes. You would be surprised at how often this occurs and sadly there are many new students who were super keen and passionate about their new sport in the beginning who are left with low skills and experiencing small and serious accidents resulting in the "getting out of the sport" gear sale.
In addition to the standard issues relating to size's, suitability for your skill level, intended flying frequency and that fashion issue of colour etc, you should consider the following when confronted with the usual price vs quality situation - remember, quality matters long after price is forgotten !
How long has the brand been around for, and how many times has it changed ownership/location ?
Some brands come and go with no support for previous business incarnations. Most of the small handful of reputable brands have been around and in stable business for 10 years or more (the sport started in the late 1980's). Nearly 70% of all gliders are manufactured in the same factory in China, on different production lines, to different quality standards, on contract for the brand/design company. Only a few have their own facility.
How long has the importer/school been a dealer for the brand ?
This will effect the re-sale value, service, repairs etc. In many cases the importer disappears overnight and the seller moves in and out of brands regularly leaving the purchaser with no after sales support. This will effect re-sale value, trade-ability and potential local service. Also is the brand being imported/sold by a reputable dealer ?, and not just a fly-by-night privateers out to make a few quick $'s or an e-bay style operator. NEVER buy a glider from e-Bay or an internet seller/broker overseas.
Do I buy a new or used glider ?
It's always a case of budget. Generally the glider will devalue based on hours flown (and in the sun), damage, generation/design age and brand repute. New gliders come with a warranty but most that relate to hours/years flown are only marketing mechanisms as everyone in the industry knows that gliders will last at least 300hrs (for the lower quality ones).
There is a well known difference between brands in terms of glider longevity. Most B grade brands will last for approx 300hrs in average mixed use. The three A grade brands will do 400hrs and one particular brand will last for 500hrs easily.
Gliders also decay over time even if packed properly and stored correctly in a dry place. In our extensive glider testing experience (for the leading material manufacturer Porcher Marine), early 90's vintage gliders are virtually un-airworthy now in 2010 even if never taken out of the bag ! Glider material decays for various reasons - UV, water/moisture, mechanical wear and tear, exposure to heat, chemicals etc etc, resulting in porosity and tear strength issues.
I have been offered a cheap glider from a pilot what should I do ?
It's rare to find "real" cheap gliders unless someone is getting out of the sport and desperately needs to sell up. If it were worth something then it wouldn't be sold "cheap" or it would have received a decent trade in value from a school/dealer ! You can imagine if the pilot selling the glider already has a new glider and didn't receive a trade-in from the dealer, that the used glider is not worth much at all or in the opinion of the expert (the school or dealer) its unsaleable ! Why would you then buy such a lemon ?? Only those who are gullible (read "uninformed") would do so.
What you may save at the buying end you will almost always lose much more so at the selling end, and during the use of the wing in lack of performance, safety and other design features. Cheap wings are usually no-name or "B" grade brands or dodgey models with little re-sale value. They may do the job, but ask how much you value your safety, fun and recreation time, and, is it worth saving a few $100's, when looking at it over a period of years and then losing perhaps $1000 or more when selling ?
Don't forget that the private seller has no need to furnish you with accurate glider history - a proper check is always a prerequisite.
Will I get a trade in later ?
If you purchase a no-name brand/model from a private seller there is usually no trade in option later as you are not supporting the dealers/schools trade-in system. Thus such gliders should be much lower in price than one from a school which has the ability to trade in later. Note that some schools don't offer trade in's and some that do, don't offer very good value on trade-ins due to commercial reasons (ie: they are not financially solid enough to hold stock).
Glider and harness quality
The equipment may look the same but is definitely not the same in terms material used, construction method & tolerances, design currency etc.
Glider material for example uses special coatings to resist UV and wear and tear. Though its all Rip-Stop nylon and optically looks similar - some are cheap and some are expensive, and the end longevity is vastly different. Line material and sewing standards are not equal either. Cheap C and B grade brands always use cheap material, cheap fittings, lower quality manufacturing levels, up to 20mm sewing tolerances (yes 20mm !! and not forgetting cheap uncomfortable rucksacks and low quality accessories such as speed bars, glider manuals etc etc. With these budget brands you really barely get what you pay for and they are worth very little to trade in or sell later (if they are saleable at all). That is always significantly less than the few hundred $'s difference to a A grade brand in the first instance.
Design currency for example also effects the value in both new and used cases. Only a few main leading brands actually produce "current" or new generation designs. It's very expensive to trial and test prototypes so most B grade brands tend to "follow" and copy or purchase older designs. This leaves them half or in some cases a whole generation behind in design, performance, and passive safety. One generation usually lasts for 3-4 years. Quite often even some A grade brands will have trouble with their new design or are too busy with Competition gliders and miss the timing on releasing the beginner new wing. They often are released a year or 2 late yet the unsuspecting buyer thinks its a newer/more modern/better performing design than others. This is very often not the case and pilots have bought such "late" release gliders only to find out later that it the same or worse in many respects to the ones released a year earlier. In other words - BEWARE : the release date of a design does NOT necessarily reflect how modern or up to date it is !
When you buy a wing the end cost to you is measured in $'s per hour flown as opposed to the actual $'s of the initial price. A glider that costs $4000 and lasts for 400 hours costs $10/hr to fly. Saving $300 on a lower quality brand of equivalent rating level bought at $3700 for example may only last 300hrs (this is quite realistic !)..or $12.33 per hour and its re-sale value reflects this. Also a cheaper B grade or untrade-able/sell-able glider will cost more as well. Obviously the cheaper glider is actually much more expensive - and this is the classic false economy in being optically "tricked" by the cheaper initial purchase price tag !
Some pilots look at the DHV's (German Federation) "LTF" or "CEN" (european) certification but don't understand the meaning of what they read. A full explanation of this is contained in the Understanding Glider Certification section or in the HGFA's Soaring Australia Special Training Edition - page 18 (email us for a copy)...or in the "Right Glider" article - to read it online.... click here !