It’s not often that our Civil Aviation Authority provides us with South African aviation statistics, yet statistics are a cornerstone of aviation safety. 

Analysis of pilots, aircraft, accidents, hours flown, level of qualifications, types of operations and licence types can yield valuable statistical clustering which may help identify safety issues that need attention and rectification. But years of begging and complaining have yielded little material from CAA that would be useful for developing safety strategies, particularly for general aviation.

However, a little bonus was hiding in CAA’s 2017/2018 Annual Report: some statistics regarding licensing of pilots and aircraft. As regards aircraft, growth in the 2016/2017/2018 years was very flat, with small increases in the numbers of turboprop aircraft (3.3%) and helicopters (3%) from 2017 to 2018. 

There was nevertheless a large growth (54%) in the numbers of drones registered during this period, but that is to be expected with these devices being a relative newcomer to the regulatory environment.

One of the most significant factors for GA is the ratio between certified piston aeroplanes and recreational aircraft showing that there are now nearly as many non-type-certified aircraft (6,332) as type-certified piston aircraft (3,823). That makes NTCA aircraft nearly half of the full total (13,381) of all aircraft registered in South Africa, including drones.

Since most piston aircraft fall into the GA category, it can be assumed that between NTCA and TCA, general aviation aircraft (10 155) make up about 76% of the aircraft on the SA register.

When it comes to personnel licences, however, there are notable discrepancies between males, females and racial groups in the pilot demographics.

The first figure that shows a major imbalance is that, of the total number of pilots licensed in SA (20,782), excluding drones, the majority are white males (16,761) or 81 %.

Secondly, the ratio between male (19,120) and female pilots places women at a mere 8% of the pilot population in SA.

Thirdly, and a matter of greatest concern, the ratio of white pilots (18,163) to the total of African, Coloured and Indian pilots (1,761), placing non-whites at a little less than 10% of all SA pilots.

These inequalities have CAA grumbling that “transformation continues to be lethargic” and CAA Chairman, Mr Smunda Mokoena, darkly alludes: “It is evident that the aviation industry is reluctant or unable to transform and that efforts to diversify do not measure up to the challenge. This is also an indication that there is the need for an urgent intervention.”

It is however perhaps apposite to explore the numbers of pilots that make up the general aviation community. Private pilots and student pilots are, for the most part, voluntary entrants to aviation and few are sponsored or employed by the aviation industry itself.

If we add up the numbers for both SPLs and PPLs, we find that white males still constitute the vast majority – in similar ratios to commercial pilots. It therefore cannot be correct to blame the “aviation industry.” These numeric imbalances are clearly due to personal choices and not to industry influences, since student and private pilots are not employed in flying jobs.

Although in the distant past, mostly prior to the 1930s, women and persons of colour were discouraged and often barred from becoming pilots, there are many, many stories how they overcame these prejudices. But since the 1980s the playing field has been levelled in most parts of the world. It is very unusual to hear of women or persons of colour being discriminated against in the aviation sector. Indeed, women and other races are generally welcomed into aviation and many governments actively encourage these groups to take up careers in aviation by way of bursaries and other enticements.

Nevertheless, elsewhere in the world we see the same inequality of numbers. For example, in the USA, only 4.1% of airline transport pilots are women and a tiny 2.7% are black. Our figures in SA, at 8% and 10% respectively are a lot better in comparison, even though they do not parallel the local population demographic.

Inequalities in society are a problem. Many socio-political schemes have sought to address such inequalities, but only where these inequalities are due to discrimination or are otherwise prejudicial. The fact is, different population groups tend to have different preferences for a wide range of pursuits and, although there may be dramatic disparities, it is erroneous to assume that the resultant statistical differences are brought about by injustices, either present or past.

Efforts to grow the female and black pilot populations through encouraging black kids to take up flying, through barring whites from entering cadet programmes and many other initiatives by the industry, by state agencies and by efforts from pilots who fly young black children for introductory flips, have yielded disappointing results.

The reality is that you can take the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.

AOPA’s concerns are that our CAA is now trying to force the issue, not by developing aviation among the people who are in the minority, but by attacking the majority of pilots on the basis that they are white and male. This seems to be very apparent in their actions: the financial, regulatory and administrative burdens placed upon general aviation pilots and aircraft owners continues to increase exponentially. Far from encouraging new entrants into aviation, this has the effect of raising the bar. There were times only a few years ago when a licence renewal would take only a few hours while the applicant waited by having a couple of cups of coffee. Today, at best, the process takes days – or even weeks and months.


CAA officials have become exceedingly obstructive. As an example, one issue AOPA has had to deal with recently is where an experienced CAA official refused a registration request for an aircraft weighing 476 kg because it does not meet the regulatory requirement of a maximum of 600 kg. The email correspondence between the official, the aircraft owner and several other individuals who became involved in the correspondence became farcical. The official was adamant that 467kg did not “meet” the 600kg requirement. Another CAA official jumped in in support of this contention. Another insisted that the regulation was not clear and the wording would have to be revised to clarify the already clear wording. Ultimately, the official declared that this was a personnel licensing issue and would have to be taken up with that department.

The CAA’s grounding of CemAir was another famous example of frivolous misinterpretation of the rules designed to frustrate legitimate aircraft operators.

Many who find themselves victims of these obstructive tactics assume that the basis is just due to stupidity or incompetence, but it appears to us that it is a deliberate tactic that is selectively applied.


The scheme of applying these tactics in order to influence transformational outcomes is deeply contrary to the letter and spirit of constitutional rights. The constitution provides opportunities to everyone, but allows citizens the choice of whether they wish to exercise those rights or not.

CAA’s annual reports show that they are deeply dedicated to transformation of these embarrassing statistics – even if it means that they must trample upon everyone’s rights and destroy the very industry they are obliged to serve.

PS: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent’s point.

The phrase was popularized in the United States by Mark Twain (among others), who attributed it to the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

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