The Problem of Unlicensed Pilots

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) recently issued a General Notice regarding non-compliance by pilots, predominantly aimed at the Speedflying and BASE-jumping communities, but which also included unlicensed pilots in the paragliding (PG, hang-gliding (HG) and powered-paragliding (PPG) community.

Unlicensed pilots introduce a number of additional risks to the flying community and are a cause for concern. The term “unlicensed pilots” broadly refers to those who are not SAHPA members, or those with expired memberships, who continue to fly.

SAHPA understands that pilots are typically not wilfully non-compliant, and we encourage pilots with expired SAHPA membership to engage constructively with the SAHPA Office, with a view to renewing membership.

This is a complex issue, with several regulatory constraints and increasing pressure on SAHPA from the authorities to take action. The SAHPA committee has met to discuss the issue and develop an action plan.

What follows is a summary of the factors under consideration:

3rd party insurance

  • It is illegal to fly PG, HG and PPG in South Africa without SAHPA membership, and 3rd-party insurance.
  • SAHPA’s 3rd-party insurance does not provide cover for non-SAHPA members, nor does it cover pilots with expired SAHPA membership.
  • Any damage caused by an unlicensed pilot would need to be recovered directly from the pilot, and not 3rd-party insurance.

Safety and Misconduct

  • SAHPA cannot hold unlicensed pilots accountable for misconduct. Instead, the only option is to report these pilots to SACAA for prosecution.
  • SAHPA is obliged to report non-compliance to SACAA.
  • Instructors and club officials are obliged to protect the safety of pilots, passengers and spectators by ensuring that all pilots comply with the required and relevant safety controls.
  • Club officials are obliged to protect the interests of landowners by ensuring that all pilots have a valid SAHPA membership or appropriate 3rd-party insurance.

Search and Rescue

  • Search and Rescue operations are funded through the public purse, at an approximate cost of of R1.4m per rescue. In the event of an accident, legitimate pilots will be provided with Search and Rescue services at no cost to themselves.
  • Rogue pilots, on the other hand, could be faced with an enormous bill. In 2021, there have been 3 Search and Rescue operations for rogue pilots.
  • The SAHPA Committee is under pressure from SACAA to take action.

Process for Rogue Pilots

The SAHPA committee has decided to implement the following approach:

  • Rogue pilots may be reported by anyone using using the online Complaint Form.
  • The SAHPA Office will evaluate the complaint by checking the system for SAHPA membership status. There will be no feedback to the complainant.
  • If the pilot does not have a valid SAHPA membership, SAHPA will issue a warning letter (without prejudice) to the rogue pilot. This will include an instruction to stop flying until the required documentation has been processed. A copy of this letter will also be sent to SACAA (and in the case of foreign pilots, to the SAHPA counterpart in the pilot’s country of origin).
  • Should the unlicensed pilot refuse to comply, the unlicensed pilot’s name will be added to the Register of Rogue Pilots, which will communicated to Instructors and Club Officials. The case will also be escalated to SACAA for enforcement action.
  • Once the pilot has remedied the non-compliance, the pilot’s details will be removed from the Register of Rogue Pilots and will be permitted to fly again.

The SAHPA Committee is committed to effective administration, protecting SAHPA member interests and promoting the sport.

The SAHPA Committee