Parachute Age Limits
The following are simply my notes and thoughts on the issue of Age Limits for Personnel Parachutes. Additional references and comments welcome.
Many prominent manufacturers have stated that they will no longer service equipment, including their own, after 20 years. National and Butler both recommend a 20-year limit on their servicing of equipment. One sport manufacturer (PD) has re-certification requirements after 13 years or 25 uses for their reserve canopies.
I have gotten VERY mixed results in their responses. Part of the problem is that the aging behavior of the types of nylon being made today is very different from those made 20 years ago. Additionally stress tests show wild variations in how materials age and how material react to sun between dye lots, colors, finishing, etc.
Other countries attitudes:
Germany (and I _think_ the EU) has now placed a limit on gear of 15 years. After that, it is dust (which is why we are seeing 15+ year old gear being “repatriated”).
Caught in the middle. We are responsible for ensuring that the gear is still airworthy, but have no way of being able to test for hidden damage. We can check for wear, fading, and obvious damage. In the case of the canopy, we can (and I do) perform a pull test on the fabric. However, there is no practical way to test for hidden damage to the harness.
And if I am working on a system whose manufacturer recommends a specific age limit (or whose manufacturer is out of business) it is very hard to stomach going against such a recommendation. Some riggers in my area will work with things over 20-25 years, but more and more of us just don't think the risk is worth it. In general, my limit is 20-25.
Parachute Industry Association:
You can understand that the trade groups are having trouble coming to a consensus. No one company wants to be perceived as "less safe" or have their gear as seen as less capable. Some point out that gear left on a shelf in a climate controlled environment seems to be structurally “like new” after many years. Others ask the question of how long a normally active system should still be in use.
Please also see my related article “On Buying Used Emergency Parachutes.”
Commentary from others on this subject: