So, You Want to Fly Cool Airplanes?
earning a pilot certificate is only the beginning…
After a pilot endures the rigors of earning their Private Pilot Certificate the idea of moving into faster, more capable airplanes begins to look attractive. So, a pilot might find him/herself looking to add additional qualifications to their certificate. That traditionally starts by adding an instrument rating, followed by a multi-engine rating, and some scattered endorsements that allow you to fly high-performance, complex, or high-altitude aircraft.
So, after months of flying various aircraft types you have now satisfied the legal requirements to fly virtually any non-jet general aviation aircraft under 12,500 lbs (jets and all aircraft above that weight require aircraft-specific ratings known as “type-ratings"). In the eyes of the FAA, you are as good as golden. HOWEVER, while the FAA is often thought of as the gate keeper to safe skies, your aircraft insurer may have much more to say about your qualifications.
Insurers Rule the Skies
For pilots moving up the proverbial ladder of ownership, they will often find themselves answering to the insurance underwriters more than the FAA. Think you’re moving up from flying a light piston trainer to something like a Beechcraft Bonanza? Your insurance company may place some shockingly large hurdles in your path, sometimes requiring substantial “time-in-type” training with an instructor. This can quickly drive up the price tag of your new favorite plane. The insurance underwriters are in business to make money and to do that, it is in their best interest to make sure the pilots flying their insured aircraft try their best NOT to crash them. So over time these insurance companies have worked alongside the FAA to investigate what type of pilot crashes certain types of airplanes.
The Cirrus SR-22 is a prime example. Cirrus presented the aviation world with a remarkable new airplane equipped with a whole-aircraft parachute. This was built to be the safest aircraft on the market. The SR-22 actually began its aviation tenure in 2001 with one of the poorest safety records of any general aviation aircraft - you were 3 times more likely to be involved in a fatal accident in a Cirrus against the rest of the general aviation fleet. Today, your odds of being involved in a fatal accident in a Cirrus are actually less than that of the general aviation fleet (and that is with 7 times MORE Cirrus flying than in 2001). So what changed? Cirrus developed a standardized instruction course (a first of its kind for a piston single) and the insurance companies adopted it as a cornerstone requirement to fly an SR-22.
Safety by Statistics
It’s easy to become frustrated by the hoops our respective insurers require us to jump through before signing us off to fly - in fact, I have heard of many pilots that choose not to insure their aircraft so they are not required to go through a process they deem trivial. But, as frustrating as it may be, the insurance companies are working with raw data. Sure, those numbers may not give the most holistic view of an individual pilot, but, in reality they are built to reduce the odds of bad outcomes - and that is something we all want.
All of this is really telling a greater story about the “big picture” of buying (leasing, renting, co-owning) a new airplane. Just because you are rated to fly something big and fast, doesn’t necessarily mean that will be an insurable activity without some safety-increasing “hoops”. So, when you’re ready to shop for your shiny new airplane, be sure to ring your favorite insurer and ask what they might require from you. It’s an easy phone call and at the end of the day, they want to make you a safer pilot.