As Powered Paragliding is a relatively new form of sport aviation, no specific regulations have existed for it in the past. The existing aviation regulations were interpreted differently by various persons. This led to a state of confusion as to our legality in the air.
At this point in time, the entire set of aviation regulations in South Africa are being reviewed and revised, and many changes are being introduced. We shall explore the history, background and various proposals as relating to powered paragliding in South Africa.
Let us look at the situation in other countriesDifferent countries have different regulations (or lack thereof) regarding Powered Paragliders.
Generally, countries are divided into two categories;
(1) those where any flying machine not expressly authorised is forbidden, and
(2) those countries where anything not expressly forbidden, is allowed.
In the USA as in some other Countries, there is a clear distinction between Ultralight aircraft and Microlight aircraft. In this case, powered paragliders generally fall into the Ultralight category. Usually no license is required to fly any form of Ultralight in those countries.
In South Africa, we do not have this diferrentiation. All these aircraft usually fall in the Microlight category.
For many years, Powered Paragliding had been absolutely illegal anywhere in the United Kingdom. However, on 14 June 1996, it was legalised in the U.K., on a totally deregulated basis. The British CAA have decided to legalise Powered Paragliding and, in a surprise move, have chosen not to regulate this sport. That implied that no training or licensing is required to fly a PPG in the UK, however there were restrictions on where PPG flight make occur.
Essentially, the British authorities issued a 12 month excemption to the Air Navigation Order, lifting the ban on PPG flying. This has subsequently been renewed twice already, each time for a further 12 months, and it is expected to become a permanent situation.
A Full Report is available from the BMAA at their Web Page at http://www.avnet.co.uk/bmaa/ppgbmaa.htm, including a copy of the Air Navigation Excemption Order
Even though legally speaking, you do not need any training or licensing to fly powered paragliders in the UK, the BHPA (British Hanggliding and Paragliding Association), and the BMAA (British Microlight Aircraft Association) joined forces to introduce minimum standards, including a training syllabus. These are purely voluntary and not enforcable, however almost all the schools, dealers and instructors in the UK have adopted these guidelines.
Some countries, such as Switzerland, still forbid any form of Powered Paragliding activity, except for a very few licensed Factory Test-Pilots.
Other countries, such as Japan, France, Malaysia, Italy and Spain, actively encourage and promote all forms of sport powered flight and, powered paragliding has gained much popularity. They enjoy much government support, commercial development and sponsorship, including professional, full time PPG pilots and some professional PPG flight teams.
The South African Scene
Until recently, we in South Africa have been flying powered paragliders without knowing where we stand legally. Every person of authority had a different view of this sport. The problem was largely ignored, due to the very small number of paramotors in service.
Around April 1996, the first shipment of the new generation lightweight motors arrived and suddenly the sport took off. (forgive the pun?) It was not long before many paraglider pilots and microlight pilots converted to powered paragliding and the growth rate as been increasing ever since.
Some years ago, SAHPA (South African Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association) appointed a committee to investigate this new form of flight, under the chairmanship of Steve McCurrach. The brief was to propose options for control and regulation of powered paragliding to ensure safety and survival of powered paragliding as a sport.
After much effort and consultation, the proposal was for PPG (Powered Paragliding) to fall under the control of SAHPA, as every PPG pilot would inevitably need to undergo Paragliding Training before converting to the powered version.
Unfortunately, the SAHPA committee rejected this proposal, in spite of strong support from the PPG pilots themselves, whom were all members of SAHPA. Reasons quoted included admin overload, loaded insurance premiums, as well as ignorance of motors, props and fuel matters.
The South African Microlight Association (MISASA) was approached and they were only too keen to bring PPG pilots on board. Though no microlight instructor could teach PPG, there were real benefits to mingling with pilots already familiar with aviation engines, propellers, etc. Furthermore, we could make use of their airfieds, radio courses, etc.
It was at this time that South Africa was preparing to host the 6th Microlight World Championships in July/August 1996, at Cato Ridge in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The previous World Champs had been held in Poland and for the first time ever, had included Powered Paragliding. Unfortunately too few countries sent PPG teams to validate the 1994 PPG Worlds in Poland.
However, the World Champs held in South Africa 1996 was a roaring success for the PPG section. The French team took first place, but a lot of knowledge and experience was gained by everyone else.
The seeds were planted and a good relationship has been developing between the Microlight fraternity and the PPG pilots ever since.
Some very real problems need to be resolved, but these are being addressed actively. Some of these problems include :-
- Paramotors must not be seen as Microlights. We are foot launched, require very little landing space and do not necessarily require an airfield runway to takeoff or land.
- Our noise level is much less and this should afford us greater privileges over urban areas.
- Microlights require Type-Approval for each model. This is impractical and unnecessary for paramotors.
- Each Microlight requires an annual Authority to Fly certificate, issued after inspection by an FAI approved person. This is also impractical and unnecessary for paramotors.
- Each Microlight must be registered and the Registration must be printed in certain minimum size letters on the wing. A Paramotor may be flown with different wings, depending on the wind, terrain, flight objective and pilot's preferences. Wings are routinely replaced on a regular basis.
- Microlight Pilots require an annual medical examination. A paramotor has no undercarriage and the pilot must run with this weight on his back to get airborne. If he can take off successfully, this in itself proves he is fit enough to fly.
- Paramotors are the safest, easiest form of powered aviation. Due to the relatively low airspeed and almost zero runway required to land, the likelihood of injury or third party damage is negligible.
As powered paragliding grew and more pilots started flying in and around urban areas, complaints started rolling in from the public and from local authorities.
The Civil Aviation Authority started clamping down on powered paragliders and at one stage the CAA grounded all powered paragliders countrywide. This was eventually resolved after much effort from the PPG community, only to receive another blanket Grounding Order a few months later as a result of a few irresponsible pilots flying in an irresponsible manor.
It was decided to set up an Interim Powered Paragliding Association to address the problems and to attempt to fully legalise powered paragliding in South Africa. A committee was elected and Keith Pickersgill was voted as initial Chairman of this committee.
A Training Syllabus was drawn up and put into place, as well as the rudimentary start of a theoretical knowledge exam paper. Applications for PPG licenses were distributed and the Aero Club of South Africa issued three license grades: PPG Student, PPG Pilot and PPG Instructor.
The CAA insisted on registration of each motor, and that the registration be visible on the wing in flight, to enable the public and local authorities to identify nuisance pilots. The Aero Club initiated a Register, and allocated each paramotor a Registration consisting of PPG- followed by 3 unique letters (e.g. PPG-ABC)
The CAA also insisted that each PPG pilot have Third Party Liability Insurance. As a result, the PPG committee arranged to be covered by the SAHPA policy.
The PPG fraternity was canvassed for their suggestions and feedback on a permanent solution and the general feeling was that SAHPA should adopt PPG into their fold. SAHPA was approached with various proposals on a number of occasions, but each was rejected by the SAHPA committee.
In January 1998, the PPG pilots were also booted off the SAHPA insurance policy with no warning. Since then we have been operating essentially illegally, having no insurance. There was growing support for PPG to fall under SAHPA's control and much effort was put into overcomming SAHPA's objections, but every approach to SAHPA was rejected.
Towards the end of 1998, it was decided to set up a PPG Steering Committee to replace the now flagging Interim PPG committee. The new PPG Steering Committee's sole mandate was to bring about whatever changes we required and to convince SAHPA to adopt powered paragliding.
The new PPG Steering committee was chaired by Tony Gibson in Pretoria, with Adri van der Veer (Pretoria) as Treasurer, Laura Nelson (Jhb) as PPG Licensing and Safety, and the following Liason Personnel: Keith Pickersgill (Cape Town), Roger Thomas (PE), Steve McCurrach (KZN), and Jonathan Low (KZN).
By this time, SAHPA had undergone annual elections and a new committee was in place, under the chairmanship of Ulf Arndt in Jhb. Ulf is a no-nonsense guy and known to be capable of objectivity without getting emotionally caught in major issues. He agreed to review our proposal, and to submit it to the new SAHPA committee for serious consideration.
On 18th January 1999, Tony Gibson successfully presented our new proposal to SAHPA, with Laura Nelson's support. This was accepted, subject to the PPG fraternity meeting a few deadlines and fulfilling certain conditions as stipulated in the submitted proposal. (The most pressing of these is to complete a PPG Operations and Procedures Manual by end February.)
The PPG Steering Committee imediately became the PPG Sub-committee of SAHPA.
Hoorah! Powered Paraglider pilots in South Africa finally found a permanent home, and could now breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that we now had an infrastructure into which we could develop the necessary controls and regulations to fully legalise PPG operations in SA.
Read a copy of the PPG Proposal as presented to SAHPA here.
Now the real work begins. The PPG Ops & Procedures Manual must urgently be completed. The PPG pilot's licencing files, and the motor Registration files must be transferred to SAHPA. Renewal notices must go out to all existing PPG license holders. A comprehensive database must be drawn up of all persons participating in PPG flying, and a concerted effort made to get unlicensed PPG pilots licensed.
We are now appealing to volunteers to assist in this process.
Please contact either of:
- Keith Pickersgill, at email@example.com (Cape Town) 082-414-8448
- Tony Gibson, at firstname.lastname@example.org (Pretoria) 082-490-2431