By Catherine Powell
|Image courtesy Pixabay|
If you or someone you know is considering getting their private pilot's license, there are a few things you won't learn from a flight school. While a flight instructor can teach you many things, one of the things that are not usually covered in your education is the liability you incur the moment you take control of a rented light plane. While you may correctly assume that the operator of a flight school is covered by insurance for incidents involving their aircraft, what you probably don't realize is that their coverage doesn't extend to you. Before you sign up for flight lessons, there are a few things you need to know.
While flying is statistically safer than driving, if you should damage someone else's aircraft, you could be held liable. Unlike auto insurance, which in Florida is considered no-fault, in the world of civil aviation, a wronged party can sue for damages. That's right, a flight school, flying club, or another pilot whose property you damaged will in all likelihood take you to court if an incident occurs where your inexperience was to blame.
Unlike your SUV, the wingspan of a lightplane is vast. A Cessna 152 has a wingspan of 33 feet 4 inches. A Cessna 172 has a wingspan of 35 feet 8 inches. A Piper Cherokee has a span of 35 feet 5 inches. That means it's all too easy to have a ramp incident where the wingtip of your plane inadvertently clips another aircraft. Straightening out a wing on a Cessna could set you back thousands. Bend a prop on landing and you could be looking at several thousand dollars to replace it. Even a bird strike that results in a cracked windscreen or dented cowling can cost a bundle to repair or replace. In short, renting a plane isn't like renting a car. Your comprehensive coverage isn't going to cover the damage. Even if the damage you caused is covered by the owner of the aircraft, it isn't uncommon for their insurance company to sue the offending pilot to recover damages.
What happens if your rented plane is declared a total write-off? As bad as it is to be on the hook to repair a damaged aircraft, what's even worse is being held liable to replace one that's been totaled. Depending on the age, condition, and avionics on a training plane, the cost to replace one can range from $50,000 to $150,000. That doesn't include the loss of income the flight school will sustain until a suitable replacement can be found. Since flight training can be $100 or more per hour, every hour that a flight school's aircraft isn't available can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue that an operator can try to recoup in court. That doesn't include the court costs and attorney's fees you would have to cover out of pocket were you forced to defend yourself.
If your lack of experience results in an injury to others, who will pay for their medical bills? If you as a pilot in command cause an injury to anyone in the air or on the ground, you could be held personally responsible for medical costs, pain & suffering, and loss of wages. That means if you're forced to make an emergency landing that injures anyone in the plane or on the ground, get ready to stroke some big checks.
What if you get hurt while flying? – Before you climb into the cockpit, you'd better touch base with your insurance agent to find out if you're covered for injury or death. Many insurers regard flying light planes as a hazardous undertaking that renders medical coverage and/or life insurance null and void. (This is doubly true if you didn't tell your insurer that you were thinking of becoming a student pilot.)
How can student pilot insurance protect your assets every time you climb into the cockpit? Since you can't call AAA if your rental plane experiences a problem on the ground or in the sky, every student pilot owes it to themselves to check out student pilot insurance before they take a check ride. Otherwise known as non-owned aircraft insurance, this specialty policy protects you five ways:
1. In-flight insurance covers any peril that's not listed as an exclusion when you are airborne.
2. Not in-flight coverage insures the plane for damage when at the ramp, taxiing, or on the runway.
3. Aircraft damage liability pays for damage to the aircraft itself.
4. Property damage covers you for damage done to anyone else's property, including other aircraft involved in any incident.
5. Bodily injury liability coverage extends to other pilots, bystanders, and in some cases passengers. It can also help pay for legal defense fees should you be sued.
How much coverage should you seek? While the amount of coverage is up to you, before you opt for the minimum you need to consider the possibilities. What would it cost to replace the aircraft you intend to rent? How high of a deductible are you willing to take on? If another pilot, anyone on the ground at the airport, or any passengers you take with you in the rental aircraft is injured or killed, how much personal liability can you afford to cover? Bodily injury limits of $200,000 per passenger and $1 million per incident are the industry recommendations for private pilots. While flying may be less hazardous than driving for the public at large, if you're ever involved in an aviation accident, the odds of a serious or life-threatening injury is highly probable. The best way to ensure many happy landings is to make sure your flights are covered in full before you takeoff.
Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com/