On 9 October 2023 the Minister of Transport published a ministerial order that the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) must provide administrative support to the Air Services Licensing Council with licensing applications and foreign operator permits. The SACAA is also the responsible entity for registration of aircraft in South Africa, which is a pre-requisite to a license being issued to an operator. The Norton Rose Fulbright aviation team has assisted various clients with registration and licensing of aircraft. Although the registration requirements might seem straightforward, it is a time-consuming administrative process. It is helpful for clients to know what the requirements are before approaching us to assist with registrations to avoid any delays in the registration process.

All South African airline carriers, private airline operators and individuals operating private aircraft are required to register their aircraft on the SACAA register in order to fly their aircraft lawfully. Failure to do so means that the aircraft cannot be flown in the country and the implications of operating an unlicensed aircraft include criminal liability, fines or penalties, aircraft seizure and confiscation, revocation of any existing licenses or registrations, difficulty in obtaining future licenses or registrations and loss of insurance cover.

Under the South African Civil Aviation Regulations, 2011, an aircraft must be registered in the name of the operator of the aircraft, which must be a local entity. The South African Civil Aircraft Register (SACAR) is an aircraft registry listing all South African registered aircraft. This is the only official register of aircraft operating in South Africa.

The regulations set out the requirements to apply for an aircraft to be entered on the SACAR. An application for the registration of aircraft must be made on the prescribed form including the following information: particulars of the aircraft, aircraft type, engine type and serial number and the intended operation of the aircraft.

The following documents need to be submitted with the prescribed form: evidence of ownership or an affidavit confirming the ownership of the aircraft: a certificate or notification of cancellation from the appropriate authority of State or territory where the aircraft was last registered; a copy of the Clearance Importation Document issued by SARS; confirmation that a type acceptance certificate, certifying that the type of aircraft meets the required safety, design and performance standards, has been issued by the Director of the SACAA; certified identity documents of all the Directors; a copy of the Company Registration documents issued by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission; and proof of payment of the prescribed fee. The fee is presently R925.00. The SACAA will also need to inspect the aircraft to issue a certificate of airworthiness. The process on average takes about 6 to 8 weeks.

The SACAR is not an ownership or title registry. This means that the registration of an aircraft and the issuing of a certificate of registration in the name of the operator of the aircraft does not confer or imply ownership of the aircraft. The records of the SACAA refer to the registered operator as the owner of the aircraft. An aircraft owner, for the purposes of registration, means a person in whose name the aircraft is registered, including any person who is or has been acting as an agent in South Africa for a foreign owner, or any person who hires the aircraft at the time. The rights and responsibilities of the actual owner of the aircraft are subject to the terms of the lease agreement entered into between the owner and the operator of the aircraft.