Primer for Journalists

Dear Journalist,

You have been referred to this page because you are writing an article about a paragliding or hang-gliding-related accident. We aim to provide you with enough facts and industry insight to write an accurate and meaningful article. We urge you to read this in conjunction with the corresponding Press Release.


SAHPA is the national body that represents the interests of recreational pilots that fly Paragliders, Hang-gliders, Paramotors and Paratrikes. SAHPA is a non-profit, membership-based organisation with an approval from the Civil Aviation Authority to oversee the operations of SAHPA members.

This excludes parachuting (jumping out of a plane), parasailing (being towed behind a boat) and kite-boarding (surfing in the waves with a kite).

It also excludes oversight of schools and commercial operations.

Membership is a legal requirement

Part 94 of the Civil Aviation Regulations requires all pilots (including visiting foreign pilots) to be members of a suitable Aviation Recreation Organisation (ARO). SAHPA also provides 3rd Party Liability Aviation Insurance which is a mandatory requirement as described by Section 8(2) of the Civil Aviation Act. In addition, SAHPA also has land-use agreements with certain land-owners which then bestows permission on SAHPA members.

SAHPA has approximately 760 member pilots who reside in South Africa. SAHPA also provides temporary membership to visiting foreign pilots.

Safety Management System

Paragliding and hang-gliding are generally considered high risk sports, however the community of pilots are largely conservative and pay close attention to risks and safety. SAHPA has a comprehensive Safety Management System whereby the volunteer SAHPA National Safety Officer collects, collates and analyses all Accident and Incident data to identify trends, and a detailed Accident Register is maintained.

SAHPA also has regular safety reviews where recommendations are proposed and debated. These recommendations may result in changes to SAHPA operating procedures or proposed changes to the Civil Aviation Regulations or Civil Aviation Standards.

Training and Licensing

All prospective paragliding and hang-gliding pilots in South Africa are required to complete a comprehensive training programme with a CAA-approved school before applying for a National Pilot’s Licence (NPL). The NPL is issued by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Approved Schools

All CAA-approved schools operate under the provisions of Part 141 of the Civil Aviation Regulations. A school must submit an application and undergo a stringent verification before the CAA issues the school with a DTO approval certificate. This approval allows the school instructors to conduct training based on a pre-defined training syllabus.

Each school will have an Accountable Manager (AM) (typically the owner) and a Chief Flight Instructor (CFI). SAHPA has no jurisdiction over school operations, however all instructors in a school are required to be SAHPA members. Schools are also required to obtain approval from the Director of Civil Aviation to operate from a specific launch site. Every school has their own safety protocols and operating procedures. You may find a list of all PG & HG schools here.

Code of Conduct

SAHPA has a Code of Conduct which is incorporated into the SAHPA Manual of Procedures. If a complaint is made against a pilot, the pilot may undergo a disciplinary process which may include corrective and/or punitive action. If the complaint includes evidence of gross negligence or an infringement of the Civil Aviation Act or associated regulations, the matter is immediately handed to the Civil Aviation Authority for further enforcement action. The pilot then faces the potential of a hefty fine, suspension or revocation of licence, and even criminal charges.

Sponsorships and Branding

Some of our pilots are sponsored by well-known commercial brands. These brands enjoy significant media exposure on social media, however in the event of an accident there is the risk of negative exposure. The sponsors play no role in the operation of the aircraft and are thus not responsible for the accident. We therefore request that you avoid making a connection between the sponsoring commercial brand and the accident.

Search & Rescue

SAHPA has an Emergency Response Plan which refers all aviation-related Search And Rescue (SAR) to the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) which is a division of Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) and funded by the Department of Transport (DoT). The ARCC co-ordinates the appropriate emergency teams for the duration of the SAR initiative.

Post-trauma counselling is provided by volunteers at Mayday-SA.

Accident and Incident Investigation

The Accident, Incident Investigation Division (AIID) which straddles the Civil Aviation Authority and Department of Transport, is mandated to conduct accident investigations. SAHPA has a formal working agreement with the AIID to provide expertise and assist with accident investigations.

Where we fly

SAHPA has approximately 300 launch and landing sites which are registered and published under the AIP ENR 5.5. This is also reflected in the SAHPA Site Register. Guidance for pilots is typically captured on the SAHPA Site Guide.

In terms of the Civil Aviation Regulations Part 94.06.2:

"the pilot in-command of a paraglider may use any suitable area to launch the paraglider: Provided permission has been obtained from the owner of the site or the local authority having jurisdiction; and provided further that in the case of flight training or tandem operations, only launch sites approved by the Director or by the organisation designated for the purpose in terms of part 149, as the case may be, shall be used.

There are two high-profile areas for the Introductory Flight Experience which is where members of the public come into contact with our pilots:

  • Signal Hill & Lion’s Head (Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality)
  • Map-of-Africa & Sedgeview (Garden Route District Municipality)

Causes of Accidents

A common question is, ‘What was the cause of this accident?” SAHPA cannot speculate on the specific accident that you are querying, however the most common causes that are identified in the field of Accident Investigations are typically:

  • Human error
  • Equipment failure
  • Issues related to flight manoeuvres, including loss of control and loss of awareness.
  • Take-off and landing stages are also most commonly associated with accidents.

The purpose of a comprehensive accident investigation is to make sense of all the contributing factors that led to an accident, and then make recommendations to operating procedures, regulations or even equipment design.

Publishing information about accidents

SAHPA is bound by the Civil Aviation Act and Civil Aviation Regulations and is therefore only permitted to publish limited information about an accident:

  • Gender
  • Date and Time
  • Location

In addition:

  • SAHPA may not discuss or disclose technical facts relating to the accident.
  • SAHPA may not disclose the identity of the pilot or witnesses.
  • SAHPA may not discuss the nature of injuries.
  • SAHPA may not speculate on the cause of an accident.
  • SAHPA may not provide contact details of the pilot, or the next-of-kin.

The only personnel who are authorised to issue a press release on behalf of SAHPA, are the chairperson of the SAHPA committee, or the National Safety Officer. In addition, the Civil Aviation Authority may also issue a press-release on the matter.

Boilerplate Quotes

“Paragliding can be a safe and very rewarding recreational activity, but it does have inherent risks which pilots must train and prepare for. Prospective pilots are encouraged to engage with reputable schools to ensure that they learn the necessary skills to fly safely.” – Louis Stanford

“Paragliding and Hang-gliding is governed by a robust regulatory framework and technical standards. Within SAHPA, we also have a system of checks and balances which ensures that every accident is taken seriously, and findings are acted upon.” – Louis Stanford

“Safety is our top priority. We have a system of checks and balances which regulates pilots to ensure that they operate within a clear set of parameters. When an accident happens, we analyse the causes, and take appropriate action.” – Louis Stanford

“I cannot comment on the details of what happened on Monday because there is now an investigation underway. Until the investigation is complete and we have a full view of all the facts, I am unable to comment on the cause of the accident.” – Louis Stanford

“We have a robust reporting process whereby pilots and witnesses may report the details of an accident on our website. Every accident is recorded and analysed so that we can identify and act on safety trends.” – Louis Stanford

“SAHPA is appealing to the eye-witnesses to report information about the accident to the SAHPA office.” – Louis Stanford

Avoid these rookie mistakes

  • Journalists often confuse Paragliders and Parachutes because they appear to be very similar. However, skydivers jump out of aircraft and rely on parachutes to get them to the ground, whereas paraglider pilots launch off hills and mountains to get airborne and stay aloft by means of thermals or dynamic wind. There are indeed superficial similarities with equipment, but these are very different sports requiring very different skills. Please make a point of clarifying which air sport you are writing about, and check with someone knowledgable that you have used the correct terminology.
  • There is no such thing as a “freak accident”. Accident investigations reveal a number of contributing causes, with each cause having a greater or lesser impact. These findings are reviewed and often make their way back into regulations, operating procedures or updated equipment designs. Anyone using the term “freak accident” is therefore unfamiliar with the the principles of accident investigation.
  • Paraglider and hang-glider pilots are largely conservative and not reckless thrill-seekers as typically portrayed in the media or by uninformed bystanders. This is an unforgiving, high-risk sport which require training, specialised equipment and focused self-discipline to succeed.

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