Most established launch sites in South Africa have a pilot’s rating of basic or sports (or 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.
Crack your knuckles and get ready for some acronyms...
Airspace is globally divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Specifically for South Africa, paragliders should take note of airspace classified by SACAA —the national aviation authority— as follow:
- FAD (Flight Area Dangerous)
- FAP (Flight Area Prohibited)
- FAR (Flight Area Restricted)
- TMA (Terminal Maneuvre Area)
FAD, FAP, FAR, TMA
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 possible banning of paragliding in the area of infringement by the authorities. You can find the CAA's definition of these areas (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.
FAD159 (Ysterplaat) is the Ysterplaat Military Helicopter Mountain Flying Area, drawn from ground level to 1000ft AGL (305m above ground level) around the Dutoitskloof launch site. Military helicopters (infrequently) use this area: be on the lookout and obviously steer clear if you see or hear them.
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: 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
I am unclear about how to get permission for the following restricted areas. I will update as I get verifiable information, but leaving it here for completeness' sake:
- FAR39 (Simonstown). GND - 1500FT ALT. Pilots have flown here 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.
- FAR147 (Overberg) GND - FL195. This area seems to cover a huge area from Stanford (near Hermanus) to Vleesbaai (near Mossel Bay). Many launches and landings in parts of this area, like Hermanus-Stanfor run. 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.
FAR45 covers mostmost of the Porterville valley (see the map above, northwestern corner). 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 is restricted), ideally a day in advance of flying. Permission is granted for a specific time, date, and area / flight plan, not necessarily the entire restricted area.
- Birdmen Paragliding (birdmen.co.za)
- Flyer's Lodge (http://porterville.co.za/)
- FlyPorterville (www.flyporterville.info)
Terminal Manoeuvre Area: TMA
Terminal Control Areas (in North America) or Terminal Manoeuvre Area (Europe) or a constant mixed use between the two (CAA in South Africa) . Where (some) of the other airspaces might be annoyances, this is a very important one: the "big bird stuff" where 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 a no-go area.
Notable FAR in the Western Cape, South Africa
FACT TMA B
FACT TMA B is used for the approach to Cape Town International Airport and lies between 4500FT ALT (1372 metres altitude above sea level) and FL085 (flight level 085 - pressure altitude of 8500ft / 2591 metres, which will change according to air pressure). Pilots on cross-country flights, or those launching/landing at Dutoitskloof (DTK) should take note.
In short: stay below 1372m ASL when in this area.
Airspace resources and route planning
For South Africa
You can use Google Earth to see a 3D map of all South African airspace via the Air Traffic and Navigation Services website. Once you open the KMZ file, you disable all fields except for FAD, FAP, FAR, and TMA under your Temporary places on the left sidebar. If you don't have Google Earth, this website has a map feature with the same information: https://www.airports.clreis.co.za/.
You can also get PDF maps on the SACAA website (good luck navigating through it).
Talk to pilots and clubs that often paraglide in the areas you're planning on flying. 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.
Most modern flight instruments also have airspace maps and features (including Flyskyhy and XCtrack), which will 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.