Wednesday, April 24, 2024

iFLY helps the adventurous find their wings

Ever since Peter Pan said we could get to Neverland by flying, every little kid has dreamed of soaring effortlessly through the sky.

Luckily, the iFLY indoor skydiving park in Concord doesn’t require any magic pixie dust. It has been fully booked each weekend since it opened in March because people of all ages are still searching for that ability to take flight, says general manager Kati McCallister.

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“It’s just fun,” she says. “It’s unlike anything that most people have ever done before.”

iFLY is a chain of indoor skydiving parks found across the world in major cities and on cruise ships. Some of the 77 locations open or under construction, including the North Carolina site, are owned by SkyVenture LLC, a privately owned company founded by an amusement park ride designer and acquired by former lawyer Alan Metni in 2004. Others operate as franchises. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, SkyVenture is partly owned by Denver-based KSL Capital Partners LLC, a private-equity company specializing in travel and leisure investments.

iFLY offers three different kinds of flying packages ranging from $70 to $300 depending on the number of flights, with discounts for repeat visitors, McCallister says. All require flyers to take an orientation, wear a special flight suit and helmet, and sign a waiver acknowledging few risks.

First-time flyers require introductory flights and a training class, according to the website. Each experience lasts more than an hour, but flights themselves last about 60 seconds, slightly longer than the 45 seconds of most skydiving opportunities.

Trevor Thompson, a SkyVenture vice president who is in charge of tunnel openings, says the experience is safe. Of the more than 9 million people who have flown in iFLY tunnels, fewer than a 10th of 1% suffered an injury. The biggest problems have involved flyers with previous back and shoulder issues, which can be exacerbated in the wind tunnel.

“We do have a waiver people sign saying they understand they’re doing a sport activity,” Thompson says. “We have a very robust safety program and even fly kids as young as 3 years old.”

Charlotte made sense as a new location because it’s midway between iFLY locations in Virginia Beach and Atlanta, McCallister says. The stars further aligned when a location was found in a highly trafficked area near Concord Mills Mall and Charlotte Motor Speedway, two of North Carolina’s biggest tourist attractions.

In addition to its three flying packages, iFLY hosts STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) events for students of all ages to learn more about the science behind the wind tunnels. An “All Abilities” night is hosted at least once a quarter to encourage people with physical disabilities to fly.

“Everybody dreams of flying. Our mission statement is to deliver the dream of flight to everybody,” Thompson says. “It’s just being able to achieve something that’s not normal but desirable.”

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