In this month’s Attitude for Altitude Column, Guy Leitch explores the consequences of the CAA’s latest attempts to raise fees from work that was and should be included in your annual licence fee:

I have been writing about the CAA for sixteen years and the more time passes, the less I’m able to make much sense of it.

Let me start off with the good stuff. It really is commendable that the SACAA scored 92% in its latest ICAO audit.

Under the leadership of Ms Poppy Khoza (yes really), this ICAO rating has been the prime objective, even if it is sometimes at the expense of the industry’s growth and development.

The importance of achieving this high rating must not be understated. Imagine what would happen if South Africa’s rating was going steadily backwards, like so much else in our beloved country. The industry would heap opprobrium on the government and regulator and say that the decline in aviation regulation standards is just another typical African governance failure.

Instead, we have a world-class aviation regulator. This is great comfort to those who rely on South African aviation standards. This includes international businessmen and tourists who fly into South Africa and use local airlines. It also includes all the flight schools who must have their standards internationally accepted. And it applies to every pilot who needs to have his licence recognised in another country.

I must also record that, despite my carping that the CAA all too often regulates the industry into the ground, it is also trying to develop general aviation. I specifically note the relaunch of its Civil Aviation Industry Awards (CAIA) initiative. While many may like to think that this is a smug opportunity for overpaid civil servants to flaunt their conspicuous consumption of brands, it cannot be argued that it is good to recognise and reward excellence in the industry.

That’s enough of being nice to the regulator.

Of far greater concern is the unmitigated stupidity of the CAA now squeezing a miserable R380 for paperwork (well okay, data capture) that they should be providing for free and which are essential to the basic functioning of the aviation industry.

Over time the CAA has made an increasing cock-up of the issue of recognising ‘conversions’ to different types of aircraft. In the old parlance – if you learned to fly on a Cessna 150 you needed a ‘conversion’ to fly a C172. The new language makes things far more complicated, and so you need to understand Type Ratings, Class Ratings Differences and Variants.

When I learned to fly forty five years ago, the DCA, as the then regulator, treated pilots like adults. It provided for Open Ratings for pilots with sufficient experience and skill to fly a variety of different aircraft without having to do ‘conversions’ onto each specific type.

Then, in about 1998, for whatever reason they came up with at the time, Open Ratings were abolished and pilots had to have a ‘conversion’ onto every model of aircraft they flew. The industry accepted it without much push-back.

For the past 25 years, pilots have to be qualified onto a new variant (ie model) by paying for an appropriately rated instructor registered at an Air Training Organisation (ATO). Once you have done the theoretical test and demonstrated that you can fly the plane, the instructor signed you out in your logbook – and you were good to go.

In some cases, if you were already qualified on a plane similar to the one you wanted to move to, it merely involved a ‘familiarisation’ exercise. You might not even have to fly the new variant but simply have it endorsed in your logbook, This was based on your experience and the judgement of the instructor, as well as notification of the endorsement; using Form 61.09-7. This must be sent to the SACAA within 30 days of the instructor having signed it off.

A key was that, as the variant is just part of the Class Rating (on Page 5 of your licence), you could immediately fly the new variant as soon as the instructor had signed it off in your logbook.

However, around November last year the CAA started charging R380 just for noting a new variant in a pilot’s file.

The CAA says it is treating every Variant or Differences endorsement as a new Type Rating. However, a Type Rating is for aircraft with a MAUW over 5,700kg (12,500 lbs). Above this MAUW a specific Type Rating is required, which has to be added to our License document after completion of the training onto the new type via an ATO.

What the CAA does not seem to accept is that a Variant or Differences endorsement is not a Rating – yet the CAA is insisting on charging as though it is.

For sensible operational reasons, without having to wait for CAA approval, pilots must be able to fly an aircraft once it is endorsed in their logbook:.  The Civil Aviation Regulations (CARS) state we need to submit the notification within 30 days of it being endorsed in our logbooks. A key concept is that nowhere on the endorsement form is there any reference to a Type Rating.

With the CAA now extorting fees and insisting that a piece of paper has to have been issued, instructors are naturally asking if there was a change in legislation,. The CAA must be able to show the actual changes to the CARS. Otherwise this is yet another example of the ad-hoc “tea-time’ rule making the CAA is much criticised for.

It is argued that; “The CAA cannot just decide they now want to charge for endorsements unless there was a change of legislation. And such a change to the CARS can only be made after consultation with the public, (through CARCOM).”

The situation has become a mess. A group of concerned instructors has asked the CAA to clarify the following:

  • What part of the Pilots License does the A4 “file copy” make up of the pilot license documentation ? It is noted that the wording, “This is not a licence” was recently removed from the file copy page, causing further confusion.
  • Where in the regulations does this legal change/addition appear?

The information on the A4 copy does not always match the info on the actual Pilots License, due to either failure to update the info on the CAA side, or the pilots not double-checking the A4 Sheet. This creates confusion on ramp inspections, both locally and internationally.

The situation becomes worse with the implementation of the new License Card system. The question arises: how would the “File copy” – which is the printed A4 sheet – be carried with the license card? If it is not part of the licence, must the pilot (or ramp inspector) check online if the variant has been added? And if the CAA computer is offline, how does the pilot know when he can legally fly the new variant?

It sounds complex – and is – but the devil is in the detail. This new (non-rule?) policy has serious financial implications, as hire and fly and training schools now have to allow for a 10 day waiting period for additions to be processed by the CAA. This will cost the aviation industry millions every year in lost income due to pilots having to wait in order to fly recently added variants.

This move was presumably motivated by the CAA having lost a large part of its income to the Covid lockdown and the loss of passenger tax revenue.

If you instructor has signed you out on a new ‘type’ – are you legal to fly?

I can only assume that some bureaucrat bean counter was told to find other ways to cover the regulators’ bloated budget. So they looked at all the little paperwork transactions around aircraft pilot licencing and decided a great way to earn more would be to charge for things previously done as part of the annual licence fee. I can only surmise they had no concept of what that this would do to the industry. 

One of the more significant problems is that, when a pilot becomes an instructor, she will probably have at least 25 different ‘types’ on her license (see example). She will now have to reapply to have all those types re-endorsed and must pay R380 for each. That simply means that many of the instructors are not going to renew their “type” Ratings/Variants on those aircraft as PI (Pilot Instructors) by paying for each aircraft already on their licence. Once again a vast repertoire of skills will be lost to the industry.

Even more serious is the effect on insurance. If a pilot gets a familiarisation or variation signed off in his logbook and then immediately flies that aircraft, does this mean the paperwork is not legal – because the fee to the CAA hasn’t been paid? If so, then the pilot’s insurance coverage is probably void.

The heart of the problem seems to be that the CAA has reverted to its practice of tea-time rulemaking. It is using Part 61.2. to unilaterally decide that it can charge a fee for simply noting a variance.

The CAA may have increased its revenue, but the long-term damage to the industry by yet more fees will be incalculable.