Flying Safari: The Ultimate Guide

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Why go on a flying safari through Africa?

Africa is a large continent. The US can fit into just West Africa alone (brown area), and France (purple area) is just a tiny area compared to the sheer size of the African continent. To visit the Greater Kruger Area in the eastern part of South Africa, then travel on to Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe to then visit the Victoria Falls would take more than 25 hours of driving, not counting waiting times at border crossings, delays at roadblocks, and time spent during fuel stops. Flying the same route would take you several hours instead, with no traffic jams along the way or queues at the border, and with a unique view of the African continent below you while you move from one highlight to the next.

The True Size of Africa, Source: Daily Mail.

Travel by air allows you to skip long days of road travel and its associated stress and to see more of the continent in a limited time. In addition, many of the safari lodges have their own airfield already, which makes using air travel even more logical in Africa as a means of transportation.

Self-fly or fly-along as passenger

There are opportunities for pilots to rent an aircraft in South Africa as well as for non-pilots to fly along with a professional pilot as a passenger. The opportunity to fly along is available on most of our group flying safari tours and gives you the opportunity to explore the African continent in a unique way: by air. Air transportation saves you long days of travel by road to get from one place of interest to the next. Transportation by air is a common way to travel in Africa. It is convenient and you make the best use of your limited time there.

Seeing Africa from another perspective.

If you are a pilot and already have, for example, an EASA, FAA, or ICAO pilot license, you can convert that license to a South African version–giving you the opportunity to fly in Africa. If you do not have a pilot license, there are opportunities available to use air transportation to move around from one hotspot to another.

The aircraft

Most of the aircraft types available to fly yourself or to rent in South Africa are either Cessna 172s, 182s, or Cessna 206 aircraft. Most of them are equipped with the traditional 6-pack instrument panels. The only Cirrus aircraft dealer on the whole African continent is based in the Johannesburg area at Lanseria Airport (FALA). However, they stopped renting out Cirrus aircraft for multi-day safari tours as with most safari tours you fly one to two hours at most during a day then spend the rest of the day or even some extra days on the ground going on safari or staying in a safari lodge. That is considered not a viable proposition by the Cirrus dealer as the aircraft would be away too long and not fly enough hours on average per day. It is still possible to rent a Cirrus aircraft here and there from a few private Cirrus owners in South Africa, but the best aircraft availability is to be found with the Cessnas and a few Piper Archer aircraft, of which there are plenty around. The aircraft are mostly based in the Johannesburg area. However, for group safari tours, we source aircraft from other areas in the country as well.

Our rented Cirrus SR22 parked at Hoedspruit Civil Airport.

The professional pilots who fly along with us on our group tours fly newer model 6-seater Cessna 206 aircraft equipped with a modern G1000 glass cockpit. The video below is not from Africa but gives you a good impression of what it is like to fly along in a Cessna 206 aircraft as a passenger. The Cessna 206 is a very common aircraft found throughout Africa and is ideal for flying into the airstrips of safari lodges.

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Flying along in the Cessna 206

For private safari tours with more than just a few people, the flying can also be done in either a Cessna Caravan or the Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. These aircraft offer more space for luggage and passengers and fly a lot faster as well. The Pilatus PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop passenger and cargo aircraft manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft of Switzerland. It is a capable and pressurized aircraft and is able to fly into the sometimes relatively short dirt bush airstrips operated by safari lodges in Africa. The Cessna 208 Caravan is an American single-engined turboprop, fixed-tricycle landing gear, short-haul regional mini-airliner and utility aircraft that is built by Cessna. The aircraft typically seats nine passengers with a single pilot and can take along quite a lot of luggage as well.

Pilatus PC-12 that just arrived at Hoedspruit Civil Airport with the engine compartment open for cooling purposes.

Information for Pilots

Pilot license validation procedure

You can get a South African (SA) PPL license based on your own original (foreign) pilot license. The validated South African license is restricted to a PPL VFR-only license, which is valid for five years and for as long as your original EASA or, for example, FAA license and medical, remain valid as well. The procedure to get the South African license involves some paperwork, one theory exam in South African air law, and a checkride with a South African flight instructor.

The paperwork

The best way to deal with the paperwork is to arrange the paperwork well ahead of time before your actual arrival in South Africa. A copy needs to be made of several documents, such as your pilot license, medical, passport, and the last three to four pages of your logbook. In addition, you will have to request your own CAA to provide you with a letter in which they state that your pilot license record is current, valid, and up-to-date. With the paperwork in your hands, you then go to a local notary to get the document copies legalized before sending them (the legalized copies) off to South Africa for processing with the South African CAA. If we would process these documents for you, we would be able to get your South African PPL document issued and in our hands even before you arrive in South Africa. When you then arrive, all you need to do is that one theory exam in Air Law and go on the checkride with an instructor before the South African license can be handed out to you.

The checklist below is provided for your convenience and can be installed on your smartphone (iOS or Android) to help you remember the steps involved in the validation procedure.
South African Pilot License Validation Procedure

Checkride with an SA flight instructor

The South African PPL license you will receive is based on your original (foreign) license. To get it, you will need to do a theory exam in Air Law as well as an initial checkride with a South African flight instructor. The checkride is straightforward and includes some basic touch-and-go’s, and might include a simulated emergency landing or an approach to stall in landing or clean configuration as well as some basic manoeuvres such as a steep turn over left or right. The check ride will also include an overland flight and a landing at a controlled airport. Expect the duration of the checkride to be anywhere from 1,5 to 2 hours of flight with an instructor.

How the SA CAA deals with different aircraft types

The South African CAA works with aircraft type-specific qualifications. If you have, for example, experience flying a Cessna 172 but no experience flying the Cessna 182, you will have to either get some hours logged as pilot-in-command in your home country on the specific aircraft or you will have to do a familiarization training before you are allowed to fly on the new aircraft-type (the C182) in South Africa. In Europe, we work with class ratings, so both aircraft types C172 and C182 fall within the same class rating and nothing stops you legally from flying either the C182 or C172 other than that you might want to become familiar with it or do some additional training on the new type of aircraft. Another example is when you migrate from a Cessna 172 or, for example, a Cessna 182 to a faster and more complex aircraft such as the Cirrus SR22 Turbo. You EASA license doesn’t legally sit in the way of flying the SR22, but the insurance company might demand from you that you do some extra training or follow a Cirrus transition course before they will insure you on the aircraft as pilot-in-command. More or less the same holds true for FAA licenses, where the FAA classifies aircraft together in a group as single-engine land (SEL) or, e.g., multi-engine land (MEL) aircraft. Not so for the South African CAA, as you will see.

If you want to fly a Cessna 182, 206, or Cessna 210 in South Africa, it helps if you already have some hours on that specific type in your logbook. If you have never flown that type of aircraft before, the best and easiest thing you can do is fly some hours on that specific aircraft type at home in Europe or the US, so you can prove to have flown pilot-in-command on that type before you arrive in South Africa. Alternatively, you can do a familiarization training on type as soon as you arrive in South Africa, together with a South African instructor. If you have some hours already in your logbook on the specific type, that familiarization training is not needed as you have proof that you are already qualified back at home to fly on that type.

How best to prepare for the Air Law theory exam

We will provide you with a theory book on South African Air Law and point you to an app for iOS / Android tablets that you can use to check that you are up to examination standards. To get a South African PPL license based on your EASA or FAA license, you will have to pass this one specific theory exam on Air Law and do a check ride with an instructor, before your South African license can be handed out to you.

Aircraft rental options in South Africa

We do not rent out aircraft ourselves for Self-fly Adventure Tours. We bring you into contact with an aircraft owner in South Africa who is willing to rent out his aircraft to you. Most of the aircraft owners we work with are private owners. Some of the aircraft belong to flight schools in the Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Nelspruit area. All of the aircraft are well maintained. The aircraft are rented out based on block times, from engine start to engine stop, and do not include the fuel (dry rate). Most aircraft owners require that you take out an excess insurance policy for the rental period. On group Flying Safari Tours, the aircraft come from all over South Africa and need to be delivered to the starting point of our tour, in which case, you should budget for some additional hours of flight time on top of the trip hours themselves.

Aircraft rental prices

We will assist you in renting an aircraft in South Africa. The prices below are indicative of the most common aircraft types available in South Africa. All prices exclude the fuel (= dry-rate) and are based on block times (engine start – engine stop). Rental prices differ from one aircraft owner to another, but the table below should give you a good indication of what you can expect. Most aircraft owners expect you to fly on average about 1,5 to 2 hours per day during the rental period. Again, on group Flying Safari Tours, the aircraft come from all over South Africa and need to be delivered to the starting point of our tour, in which case, you should budget for some additional hours of flight time on top of the trip hours themselves.

Available Aircraft Types (Rentals)
NoAircraftTypePrice (Dry/Euro/hour)
1Cessna 172C172140.00
2Cessna 182C182155.00
3Cessna 206C206215.00
4Piper Warrior/ArcherP28A145.00

Fuel prices, landing & handling fees, indemnity forms

The fuel price at Lanseria airfield (FALA) is roughly 20 to 21 Rand per litre, which is around 1,30 euro per litre at the moment of writing. At some of the airports or with some fuel handlers, you are charged a bit less or more for the fuel, ranging anywhere from 17 to 18 Rand to a bit more than 22 Rand per litre. At some airfields, we will have to resort to arranging AVGAS fuel barrels ahead of time, in which cases the price per litre can go up to around 2,45 euro (40 Rand) per litre, all depending on the number of drums we have to order and where they have to be delivered.

You will have to pay the landing fees yourselves at the major airports. At most bush airfields, there is no maintenance fee to pay. However, at almost all of the unpaved airstrips, you will need to get written permission up front from the operator of the airstrip. For the self-fly trips that we organise, we will arrange this permit for you.

There is no requirement or need for a handler at the major airports, except for at Cape Town International Airport, which we will arrange for you if you join a self-fly safari trip with us that lands there.

Satellite flight following

We actively follow all aircraft during group self-fly safari trips as well so that we can follow your aircraft on individual custom designed tours if you have one of the following satellite trackers: Garmin Inreach, Spot Messenger Gen 3, Iridium GO! or the ADL 130/140. If you don’t own one of the above satellite trackers, you can rent one from us.

Garmin Inreach 2-Way Satellite Tracker.

Aircraft excess insurance

If you hire an aircraft and it gets damaged, the “Excess” (or also called “Deductible”) is the amount of money you have to pay the owner upon returning the aircraft. The “Deductible” is the amount you risk, while the rest is insured. In most countries, the deductible is there to make sure you take good care of the product (= aircraft) that is insured. The “Deductible” when renting an aircraft in South Africa is usually an amount of in between 20.000 and 40.000 Rand, which is anywhere between 1.250,00 and 2.500,00 euro. In South Africa, you can reinsure this “Deductible” risk for around 150,00 euro per month, which is called an Excess Insurance. Most aircraft owners want you to take out the Excess Insurance, which would cost you probably about 150,00 euro for your flying trip of a month or less.

Backup aircraft and maintenance support

On the group self-fly safaris, our tour guides will fly along on the trip in a support aircraft. If you book an individual and custom-designed trip with us, you will most likely be flying on your own.

We can track your aircraft (flight following) through a satellite tracker datalink. Ideally, you will buy a Garmin Inreach Device, which also gives you a way to communicate through a satellite link with us through text messages.

We will take care of all the flight plan filing for you and arrange overland and landing clearances. We also have aircraft engineers on stand-by and willing to fly out to you in case your aircraft brakes down in the bush and to help you out. This service is provided by the maintenance engineers at a charge.

Of course, we will do our best to support your trip from start to end.