Certificates To Be In Force 3
Certificate of Airworthiness 5
Certificate of Release to Service 6
Certificate of Registration 8
Radio Licence 9
Pilot’s Operating Handbook 11
Weight and Balance 12
Compliance with Requirements 14
Periodic Maintenance Inspections 15
Compliance with Flight Manual (or equivalent) Instructions 17
Certificates To Be In Force
When it comes to aviation, it’s not just a case of “kicking the tyres and lighting the fires”. Before every flight, a pre-flight check must be done. This entails not only checking that the aircraft is in an airworthy condition, but also that all of the correct documentation is present, and valid.
“When the weight of the paperwork is equal to the weight of the aircraft, you are ready to fly!” – Unknown
So, before you even begin the aircraft pre-flight, check the documents first; the last thing you want is to do an entire pre-flight only to find out right at the end that you don’t have the necessary paperwork!
Sometimes the Law can be difficult to navigate and understand, so here is a simplified version…
1. Your Pilot Licence
a. Make sure it is valid
b. Make sure it is signed
2. Your Medical
a. Make sure it is valid
b. Make sure it is signed
3. Aircraft Documentation
a. Just remember “A R R R O W”
i. A – Certificate of Airworthiness
ii. R – Certificate of Registration
iii. R – Certificate of Release to Service
iv. R – Radio Licence
v. O – Pilot Operating Handbook
vi. W – Weight and Balance
b. Other documentation that is required:
i. Proof of Insurance
ii. Aircraft Operating Certificate (Part 135/121)
iii. Certificate of Approval (Part 141)
iv. Aircraft Flight Folio
v. Valid Compass Deviation Card
c. Documents that are not permitted to be in the aircraft during a flight are:
i. Your logbook
ii. The aircraft propeller logbook
iii. The aircraft engine logbook
iv. The aircraft airframe logbook
The reason for this is should those documents be destroyed or lost, then there might be no evidence of your experience, or of the aircraft maintenance records. There is, however, an exception to this rule; if an aircraft is to be exported its relevant logbooks may be in it, but copies must be made and stored in a safe location.
Period of Validity of Aircraft Documents:
• Certificate of Airworthiness – 1 year
• Certificate of Registration – 1 year (note, there is no expiry date, just a date of issue. Proof of payment of the annual fee accompanied by the original Certificate of Registration is required to ensure validity)
• Certificate of Release to Service – 1 year OR at a total flight time
o Release to Service is only valid if the Certificate of Airworthiness is valid
• Radio Licence – 1 year
• Pilot’s Operating Handbook – no expiry date, BUT, it must be kept up to date with the latest revisions and supplements
• Weight and Balance – 5 years
Period of Validity of Other Documentation:
• Proof of Insurance – 1 year
• Aircraft Operating Certificate (Part 135/121) – 1 year
• Certificate of Approval (Part 141) – 1 year
• Valid Compass Deviation Card – 1 year from date of last compass swing
Certificate of Airworthiness
The Certificate of Airworthiness of a South African-registered aircraft is yellow piece of paper issued by the South African Civil Aviation Authority and states:
“This Certificate of Airworthiness is issued pursuant to the Convention on International Civil Aviation dated 7 December 1944 and Part 21 of the Civil Aviation Regulations, 2011, in respect of the above-mentioned aircraft which is considered to be airworthy when maintained and operated in accordance with the foregoing and the pertinent operating limitations.”
So in plain English, it means that the SACAA has deemed that the aircraft conforms to the SACAA’s rules and regulations, and is fit to fly, or Airworthy.
The Certificate of Airworthiness is valid for 1 year from the date of issue. It may not necessarily be the same date as the Certificate of Release to Service.
Certificate of Release to Service
The Certificate of Release to Service is issued by the AMO (Aviation Maintenance Organisation), and states that the aircraft and its equipment are serviceable for flight, and that the maintenance carried out has been in accordance with the Civil Aviation Regulations, and the aircraft’s Approved Maintenance Schedule.
The Certificate of Release to Service expires one year from the date of issue, or after a certain number of flight hours, whichever occurs first.
The number of flight hours might vary from type to type, as different aircraft have different maintenance schedules. In the case of light aircraft, a new Certificate of Release to Service is normally required every 100 hours. These hours might be based on Tachometer hours, or Hobbs hours, and will be stated on the certificate itself.
The inspection that is carried out to renew the Certificate of Release to Service is also called the “Annual Inspection”, or “MPI” (Mandatory Periodic Inspection).
If the Certificate of Airworthiness isn’t valid, the Certificate of Release to Service is also invalid.
Certificate of Registration
Every aircraft in South Africa is given a unique 5-letter registration.
These are randomly allocated, or specific registrations can be registered.
No two aircraft will have the same registration (can you imagine the confusion if two ZS-DVR’s were operating in the same airspace at the same time!)
In South Africa, aircraft registrations begin with “ZS/ZU/ZT”. Each country has their own specific designators, for example, Botswana is A2-, Namibia V5- and so on.
Within this, aircraft are broken down into type certified, non-type certified, helicopters, and RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft).
ZS-, is for type-certified fixed wings and helicopters.
ZU-, is for non-type certified fixed wings and helicopters (such as home-builts, or kit-planes).
ZT-, is for rotorcraft (both manned and remotely piloted).
The Certificate of Registration is valid for 1 year. There is no expiry date on the certificate itself, just a date of issue. Proof of payment of the annual fee accompanied by the original Certificate of Registration is required to ensure validity of the document.
The Radio Licence is issued by ICASA (The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), which is an independent regulatory body of the South African government, established in 2000 by the ICASA Act to regulate both the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors in the public interest.
Every aircraft radio must be licenced. Even a handheld transceiver requires a licence, and you, as the operator of the radio, require a radio licence in order to legally be allowed to use it. (Receivers don’t require a licence).
As part of your training towards a Private Pilot Licence, you will be required to obtain a Restricted Radio Licence in order to be able to legally use the aircraft radio.
In order to keep the Radio Licence for the transceiver(s) valid, you need to pay an annual fee to ICASA. If you pay 5x the annual fee, then the licence will be valid for 5 years. Double check the paperwork after you have renewed it as there have been cases where 5 years were paid for, but it was only renewed for 1 year (and the money for the other 4 years vanishes mysteriously!)
Radio Licences are specific to the aircraft the radio(s) are installed in.
Should you wish to fit a different type of radio to your aircraft, you would need to obtain a new radio licence for that unit.
Pilot’s Operating Handbook
Also known as the POH, FIM (Flight Information Manual), PIM (Pilot Information Manual), or simply “Hand Book”. The POH contains all of the information needed to safely operate the aircraft from weights and limitations, to speeds, to normal procedures and emergencies, to the various systems.
We will look at the POH in more detail in later sections.?
Weight and Balance
Also called a Mass and Balance Report, in order to carry out accurate performance calculations, it is important to know the weight of the aircraft, and where its centre of gravity lies.
First let’s make sure we understand the various weights.
BEW – Basic Empty Weight
Basic weight of an aircraft including the crew, all fluids necessary for operation such as engine oil, engine coolant, water, unusable fuel and all operator items and equipment required for flight but excluding usable fuel and the payload.
ZFW – Zero Fuel Weight
The maximum permissible weight of an airplane with no disposable fuel or oil. In simple terms, zero fuel weight is the most an airplane can weigh when loaded with passengers and cargo with no usable fuel or oil on board.
MRW – Maximum Ramp Weight
The maximum weight authorised for manoeuvring (taxiing or towing) an aircraft on the ground as limited by aircraft strength and airworthiness requirements.
MTOW – Maximum Take-off Weight
The maximum weight at which the pilot is allowed to attempt to take off, due to structural or other limits
MLW – Maximum Landing Weight
The maximum aircraft gross weight due to design or operational limitations at which an aircraft is permitted to land
The AMO (Aircraft Maintenance Organisation) will weigh the aircraft in order to determine the BEW and centre of gravity so that the initial Certificate of Airworthiness can be obtained. The weighing process involves draining the fuel tanks so only unusable fuel remains. Quite the process!
Thereafter the aircraft must be re-weighed every 5 years, or if there are changes to the equipment or layout. For the most part the weight and balance reports will remain consistent over the years, but there are cases where an aircraft will mysteriously gain 100lbs, which not only affects the useful load (how much you can load into the aircraft), but it could also affect the centre of gravity.
If you use electronic flight planning software make sure the figures in the software match the figures on the Mass and Balance report! You will also find some aircraft brands use pounds and inches for measurement, while others might use kilograms and centimeters; double check the units and be careful of calculation errors!
The Mass and Balance report has a section for re-weighing due to equipment and/or configuration changes.
Compliance with Requirements
Failure to carry these documents on your flight, or to check that they are valid could result in a fine. It is always best to carry the original document. If, for whatever reason you can’t, then a certified copied must be used.
Failure to comply with any part of the Law could result in a fine, temporary grounding, or even permanent loss of license!
In 2011 the South African Civil Aviation Authority introduced a penalty system which comes in the form of monetary penalties for those who transgress the applicable civil aviation regulations.
More information can be found in Part 185 of the Regulations.
Periodic Maintenance Inspections
There are 5 types of inspections:
1. Inspections as recommended by the manufacturer;
2. Mandatory periodic inspections;
3. Progressive inspections;
4. Block inspections; and
5. Other inspections.
a. Duplicate inspections
b. Non-scheduled maintenance inspections
c. Propeller strikes
For a full breakdown on each of the inspections, you can refer to Civil Aviation Technical Standards Part 43.
But to summarize, aircraft are required to undergo inspections at certain intervals. A minor inspection could be something like an oil change, whereas a major inspection could involve fitting a new engine or even removing the wings!
These inspections are required in order to maintain – or renew – the Certificate of Airworthiness, and are required to be carried out at a certain number of aircraft hours, or within a certain timeframe, whichever comes first.
Mandatory Periodic Inspections, or MPI’s, are required every 100 hours of flight time, or within a 12-month period.
The location and type of operation could also result in inspections being done more regularly. For example, aircraft operated by the sea might require more frequent corrosion checks or compressor washes. Inspections may never be less than the manufacturer’s recommendation.
Other inspections required could be the result of a hard landing, severe turbulence, limitation exceedences (VFE for example), lightning strikes, foreign-object damage, propeller strikes etc. In any of those cases, the manufacturer’s recommendations must be followed. If there is no specific procedure for a particular aircraft, the Director (of the SACAA) must be approached for guidance.
Most operators of piston aircraft will have a maintenance schedule where aircraft are inspected by the AMO every 50 flight-hours; this is a basic inspection that includes oil and filter changes, and sorting out any snags that might have been deferred. Depending on how busy the AMO is and the complexity of the aircraft, the 50 hour inspection shouldn’t take more than a couple of days.
The 100 hour inspection is more thorough and can take several days. Everything that would be done at a 50 hour inspection is done, and more. Some parts have a service life, and will be replaced or overhauled after a certain number of hours – this is called “TBO” Time Before Overhaul, and includes the engine, propeller, and starter motor among other things.
*Please note the above is with reference to type-certified aircraft. Non-type certified aircraft (NTCA), registered as ZU-, have a different system when it comes to maintenance. Rules and standards are less strict, but still well-monitored.
Compliance with Flight Manual (or equivalent) Instructions
The Flight Manual, or Pilot’s Operating Handbook, is compiled by the aircraft manufacturer for that specific aircraft. It contains all the information required in order to safely fly that aircraft, from weight and structural limitations to maximum speeds and systems information.
The information and instructions contained in the flight manual must be adhered to. It has been created based on experience from test flights of that aircraft, and the information contained therein is for your safety. Flight manuals can be expensive to purchase, and cheaper generic checklists and manuals are available. But take caution! While the generic procedures might seem similar to those found in the Flight Manual, they are not designed for that specific aircraft and may miss important information!
If it says to approach at 70kts for landing, then that is the speed you follow. The flight manual might also contain information on particular characteristics of an aircraft, such as what happens when it stalls. It will also have warnings if a particular maneuver could lead to a dangerous situation – perhaps it likes to drop a wing and enter a spin at the stall, or it might like to go into a flat spin if you exceed a certain number of turns.
Along with knowing the procedures and checks for the aircraft you fly, it is also important to have a good understanding of the systems. Many a pilot has been caught out by something as simple a fuel selector in an aircraft with quirky fuel system, and inadvertently caused the engine to stop by switching the fuel off!
If you fly a lot of aircraft, there’s no harm in making a “cheat sheet” highlighting speeds and any unique procedures or quirks for that aircraft.
When in doubt, refer to the flight manual.
Example of a speed “cheat sheet”