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Ask Jim

Jim Pinegar, Vice President & Director of Operations of AOPA Insurance Services, has been addressing your aviation insurance questions for one year this month. We hope you have found the information a helpful valuable resource. In honor of the one-year anniversary, we have compiled the top questions Jim has received this year:


ROGER: What can I personally do to get the best value for my insurance dollar? Curious on your thoughts.

JIM: Roger, great question. As you can probably imagine, I could write a chapter on achieving the best value, but I’ll do my best to limit my response to a paragraph or two or five…

Sometimes in today’s environment, insurance is viewed as a commodity and value is misconnected to price. We all know intrinsically that the lowest price does not always equal the best value, but it’s sometimes hard to admit when we’re the ones writing the check – and I don’t know about you, but my insurance is due at the same time as my annual, so I too am very perceptive to price!

The way I would recommend evaluating value is to first take an honest assessment of your needs and determine what is important to you - this where you start to separate the wheat from the chaff. Insurance policies generally share similarities in hull (physical damage to the aircraft itself) and liability (payment to others for damage, injury, etc.). However, many insurance carriers have add on coverage, that may make significant differences in coverage – and the good news is that these “add-on” coverages are typically offered for free or little charge!

For example, some of the add-on coverages include items such as: damage to non-owned hangers (do you rent a hangar?), handheld avionics (do you fly with an I-pad?), medical payments (no-fault medical reimbursements), spare parts (do you have a spare engine in your hangar?), and hurricane protection (funds offered to help you move your aircraft out of hurricane watch area).

These are just a few of the differences that can be offered from competing insurance companies – so it may be worth your time to think about what kind of flying you do, where you fly, and what you would like protected. Then allow your agent to compare the differences and related premiums.

Sometimes taking the lowest cost policy could leave something important exposed….remember insurance’s true value is to make you whole in the event of a covered loss…and that can only occur if we think about our true coverage needs, and not solely price. Sometimes saving just a few dollars to omit a piece of coverage can end up being expensive if something were to occur.


ARNOLD: I have an insurance policy with AOPA. When I got it, I had a current Class 3 medical, but it has since expired. The FAA is going to take some time clearing my medical – but how can I still fly in the mean time?

JIM: Arnold  - thank you for writing in; medical questions as they relate to insurance are always of interest, especially as we continue to work on third class medical reform. Not having a current medical at the time of your renewal will generally only limit our ability to shop all available insurance markets.  Your current carrier will still offer terms, but will add a dual requirement – specifying that you fly with a qualified CFI until your medical is current.  This is similar to having an expired BFR, the same requirement would be added – fly with a CFI until current. Please make sure the CFI meets the requirements of the policy as specified in the “open pilot warranty”, and keep flying!


SCOTT: It occurred to me that if I ever had to land the plane from the right seat it would be good to have some experience doing that and feel comfortable. Is flying my plane from the right seat OK with my insurance company?

JIM: Scott – a very excellent and interesting question. There are no legal rules that specify where a PIC has to sit. However, there may be limitations in your aircraft’s POH that stipulate a certain seat must be used. Barring that, in general an insurance company won’t have any problems with you flying from the right seat. Sounds easy, right? – well there’s more to the story…a lot more. While each accident is reviewed on its own merits, let’s review a few real world examples. First let’s look at a worst case scenario - a double fatality. The insurance company will review items such as: 1) what are the pilot qualifications of the front seat occupants? Is the left seat occupant a pilot (or student) and the right seat a CFI – well, this could be construed as instruction and we now may have a problem, or 2) control considerations – i.e. is the only fuel shutoff/selector on the left side of the aircraft, if so, are we sure the right seat was actually PIC? On the other hand, if no one else is in the aircraft and it’s just you in the right seat, there’s no question who was PIC.

Think of it this way: questions about who was PIC can lead to questions regarding coverage – make certain it’s always clear, both inside and outside of the cockpit, who is PIC.

That’s the insurance side, but on the pilot side: in many aircraft, switching seats means swapping flying and throttle hands and instruments may read different since you are now at a different angle. Certain maneuvers will “feel different,” particularly stalls and steep turns. If you only want to do a few patterns, I would consider having a qualified CFI sit left seat while you get your right seat experience.


SCOTT: What are the most common reasons an insurance provider will not pay on a claim? 

JIM: When someone purchases insurance, they are in fact signing a contract – in this case one that transfers risk from one person to the other. If the purchaser abides by the contract, then the insurance carrier is obligated to also adhere to the contract. So technically, any material nonconformity is grounds for a claim not being honored. With that said, aircraft insurance carriers want to pay claims – of course, they do not want them (no one wants to have a claim), but they do want to fulfil their obligations and serve the aviation community. They understand that accidents happen and if claims are unjustly denied, the entire industry suffers, shrinks, and eventually does not exist in the way it does today. 

In exchange for premium, all the insurance carriers ask for is an honest, wholehearted effort to follow the contract. Are there times when a pilot inadvertently violated a small term of the agreement (insurance policy) and the claim was still paid – sure, but I wouldn’t bet on that happening every time. Carefully read your policy, follow any pilot requirements (dual, CFI checkout, and schooling), and let your agent know if you have any questions. Do not use the aircraft for any other reason than allowed in the policy (i.e.  for hire, instruction or rental, on a policy not approved) And finally, remember it’s our responsibility as aviators to make all efforts to protect our aircraft from damage – no pulling it out of a hanger before a hail storm.


GORDON: In regards to backcountry landings, how can I be sure that when I land my Helio or Husky at a remote strip I am covered? 

JIM: Gordon – great question, remote strip and “off airport” landings are always an interesting topic. Barring any “off-airport” exclusions in your policy (which are very rare these days), landing is landing, and landing is generally covered. Sounds easy, right? Well, there are a few caveats. Coverage is commonly excluded if 1) the pilot intends or expects damage (outside of an emergency), 2) the aircraft is knowingly being used for unlawful purposes, 3) is being piloted by someone not approved by the policy, 4) or if the aircraft is being used for a purpose other than what the policy covers – i.e. performing a commercial operation on a non-commercial policy.  At the end of the day, if you are performing a landing in good faith at a location where a reasonable person would deem appropriate, you’re probably safe in regard to coverage.

Jim is always ready to assist and answer your questions about aviation insurance. Submit your question here, and it may just be highlighted in an upcoming Ask Jim Edition and you will receive a complimentary umbrella.

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