Most established launch sites in South Africa have a pilot’s rating of basic or sports (and a corresponding international IPPI level). Once you’re in the air however, restrictions apply as to where you’re allowed (or not allowed) to fly or to land. See further down for resources where to find and review restricted airspace on Google Maps, Google Earth, and other places.
For now, crack your knuckles and get ready for some acronyms...
FAD, FAP, FAR, TMA
Airspace is globally divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Specifically for South Africa, paragliders should take note of airspace classified by SACAA —the SA Civil Aviation Authority— as follow:
- FAD (Flight Area Dangerous)
- FAP (Flight Area Prohibited)
- FAR (Flight Area Restricted)
- TMA (Terminal Maneuvre Area)
These areas and descriptions are primarily drawn up with fixed wing aircraft in mind, not paragliders, but the rules apply to us all the same. Violating them could mean putting your or other people's life at risk or the banning of paragliding in the area (for all pilots), getting your gear confiscated or even potential arrest and jail time.
You can find the CAA's definition of these and more (source: CAA PDF). Below are quoted excerpts (emphasis mine).
Flight Area Dangerous: FAD
"An airspace of defined dimensions within which activities dangerous to the flight of aircraft may exist at specified times. This term is used only when the potential danger to aircraft has not led to the designation of the airspace as restricted or prohibited. The effect of the danger area is to caution operators or pilots of aircraft that it is necessary for them to assess the dangers in relation to their responsibility for the safety of their aircraft."
In other words: be alert and on the lookout.
Notable FAD in the Western Cape, South Africa
FAD69 A & B (Stellenbosch)
The southern area (A) is drawn from ground level to 4000ft AGL (1219m above ground level). The northern area (B) goes from ground level to 8000ft AGL (2438m). This covers most of the Porterville valley. Be on the lookout for light aircraft like saiplanes, crop-dusters, and Cessnas.
FAD159 (Ysterplaat) is the Ysterplaat Military Helicopter Mountain Flying Area, drawn from ground level to 1000ft AGL (305m above ground level) around the Dutoitskloof (DTK) launch site. Military helicopters (infrequently) use this area: be on the lookout and obviously steer clear if you see or hear them. A helicopter can create a deadly disturbance to the air in it's wake and downwash, which can get blown outside their flight path, even when they're hundreds of metres away and moving slowly .
Flight Area Prohibited: FAP
"An airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of a State, within which the flight of civil aircraft within the designated airspace is not permitted at any time under any circumstances."
Meaning: don't even think about it and stay out.
Notable FAP in the Western Cape, South Africa
FAP38 (Krantzkop), north of Du Toit's Kloof, is an explosives test site. It has a prohibited area of 2000 feet (609 metres) AGL (above ground level). The measured area covers a section of the ridge; meaning the ground level goes up by more than 500 metres at some points in the prohibited space. This means that even if you are flying at a safe height ASL (above sea level) you might run out of altitude above ground level. The only way to be safe would be to ensure you've got enough altitude above the ground or to fly around the area.
Flight Area Restricted: FAR
An airspace of defined dimensions, above the land areas or territorial waters of a State, within which the flight of aircraft is restricted in accordance with certain specified conditions. This term is used whenever the flight of civil aircraft within the designated airspace is not absolutely prohibited but may be made only if specified conditions are complied with.
Meaning: make sure you have permission.
Notable FAR in the Western Cape, South Africa
FAR45 covers mostmost of the Porterville valley (see the map above, northwestern corner), but not all of the Porterville ridge. You are not allowed to fly here without military clearance. The paragliding community in the Western Cape has a good relationship and efficient communication channel with the airbase. You will have to get permission through someone authorised (i.e. don't directly try to communicate with the military, the numbers and communication are restricted), and do so a day in advance of flying. Permission is granted for a specific time, date, and area / flight plan, not necessarily the entire restricted area.
(You can also ask on the Glen Paragliding Whatsapp groups)
FAR147 (Overberg) GND - FL195
This area starts right at Stanford (on the popular Hermanus-Stanford run); meaning most landings in Stanford will breach this line.
FAR that need review
I am unclear about how to get permission for the following restricted Western Cape areas. I will update as I get verifiable information, but leaving it here for completeness' sake:
- FAR39 (Simonstown). GND - 1500FT ALT. Pilots have flown through this airspace in the Southern Peninsula, but it's a restricted military area. No go.
- FAR43 (Table Bay). GND - 500FT ALT. This area covers parts of Sea Point, the Waterfront, City Bowl etc. and tandem/sport pilots certainly fly in some of this area in Sea Point right after launch. Unsure.
- FAR149 (Vals Bay) GND - 2500FT ALT. As with FAR39, this seems to go over some Southern Peninsula flying/landing sites at Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay etc. Unsure.
Terminal Manoeuvre Area: TMA
Terminal Control Areas (in North America) or Terminal Manoeuvre Area (Europe) or a inconsistently mixed use between the two (SACAA in South Africa). Where some of the other airspaces might be mere annoyances, this is a very important one: the "big bird stuff" where the Boeings and Airbuses fly.
A TMA is an area of controlled airspace surrounding major airports with a high volume of traffic. Aircraft in this area need to communicate with a radio control tower to prevent collision (and often fly on their radar maps).
Since paragliders wings are neither registered to fly here, nor paragliding pilots equipped with the right radios to communicate, this is an absolute no-go area.
Notable TMA in the Western Cape, South Africa
The FACT TMA is used for the approach to Cape Town International Airport.
FACT TMA A
This is the TMA closest to the airport, and therefore is the lowest. Take note when flying west of Sir Lowry's Pass (towards Somerset West / Strand); over or near Stellenbosch; southwest of Du Toitskloof (towards Simonsberg); east of the edges of Table Mountain/Devil's Peak and Muizenberg.
FACT TMA B
FACT TMA B starts at 4500ft ALT (1372 metres altitude above sea level) and has a ceiling of FL085 (flight level 085 - pressure altitude of 8500ft / 2591 metres, which will change according to air pressure). Pilots on cross-country flights, especially those launching/landing/flying past Dutoitskloof (DTK) takeoff should take note, since takeoff is a few hundred metres below the TMA (and goes for some distance north and south of there).
In short: stay below 4500ft / 1372m ASL when in this area:
FACT TMA F
FACT TMA F starts at the same altitude as FACT TMA B, above, so stay below 1372 metres in this area.
Airspace resources and route planning
South Africa airspace (2D) map
This website has an exellent map feature with all relevant airspace: https://www.airports.clreis.co.za/.
Useful to review on desktop or mobile, without the need to download files or maps.
South Africa 3D Map
This might be a better solution if you want to do XC route planning.
You can use Google Earth to see a 3D map of all South African airspace via the Air Traffic and Navigation Services website. (Click on "RSA Airspaces in 3D" in the sidebar. Once you've opened the KMZ file, you can disable all fields except for FAD, FAP, FAR, and TMA under your Temporary places on the left sidebar.
Airspace when travelling
Talk to pilots and clubs that often paraglide in the areas you're planning on flying in. Study the airspace and restrictions through maps and available online resources. I'm not sure what will happen if you fly into a restricted military area in some countries, but I also don't want to be the one to find out.
Xcontest has an airspace map feature, but I'm not sure how often it is updated: https://airspace.xcontest.org/app/overview.
The main two paragliding apps for iOS and Android (Flyskyhy and XCtrack) also have airspace maps, features, or extensions which could help you see (and stay out of) the relevant areas.
Many varios also have warning systems that alert you when you are approaching restricted airspace, like when you are thermalling up underneath and getting close to a TMA, or when you are gliding and heading into a FAD, FAP, or FAR. Mine is set to warn me when I get to 100 metres below the airspace floor (when thermalling, for instance, and heading into a TMA) and 500 metres before flying into it horizontally, so that I can take action.
Some areas fall outside of officially restricted airspace, but are definitely worth mentioning.
Some landowners (like farms or private residential estates) object to us flying over and landing on their property. Some feel like it is an invasion of their privacy, others might have easily frightened (and very frightening) wildlife and should also be avoided. Some have petitioned local authorities to close down certain launch sites, get official airspace restrictions added, filed complaints with SAHPA or SACAA, others threatened with legal action or contacting the police if found trespassing on their property.
Here is a public map project I'm working on: Friends and Foes (open the link and select "Foes" in the sidebar)
The goal is to have something user-friendly (a link they can view on their phone), something that is collaborative (that other pilots can add places to the list), something that can be used with the main smartphone apps (FlySkyHy and XCTrack) and also be used on hiking and planning apps (like Organic Maps, Alltrails, Google Earth).
If you have feedback or want to help out with this map in any way, please go here.