Posted by: Jeff Rhodes | March 25, 2010

An Aging Pilot Plan

I was recently asked a question about an aging pilot and his continued operation of a high-performance, turbine airplane.

Question:

A gentleman I fly with recently expressed interest in stepping back from his flying a bit and maintaining his certificate as VFR only.  (The question came from a pilot flying a Pilatus PC-12, but it is valid for any high performance, single pilot airplane.) A large part of this decision is his age and ability to maintain IFR currency and operate under IFR safely.  The goal would be to hire a pilot to fly with him on longer trips while he retains the ability to fly short- 0:45 – 1:00 trips on his own under VFR.

How would the insurance companies view this arrangement and/or what would be their willingness to insure him as a VFR pilot only?

Thank you for your time!

Answer:

It sounds like this owner/pilot is facing some aging pilot issues with respect to his continued operation of the aircraft.  Most policies require that the pilot’s certificates and ratings be current and valid for the flight involved.  In other words, having a lapsed IFR currency wouldn’t jeopardize coverage, IF the pilot was not flying IFR.  One would have to assume that this would apply to flying on a filed IFR clearance, regardless of whether the flight was in IMC, or not.

If the pilot will be flying solo even part time, he will almost certainly be required to maintain recurrent training annually at Simcom, FlightSafety, or other approved school.  I don’t know if the pilot could complete a required recurrent session unless the pilot could meet the standards required for IFR flying in these aircraft, which aren’t typically operated in a VFR-only environment.

In a broader view, this pilot needs to get “on top” of his insurability plan for the next several years.  He – and his insurance broker – need to be able to articulate a plan as to what standards the pilot will be meeting, what training will be done, and how the aircraft will be operated from here until the pilot no longer seeks to remain as an approved pilot – whether that is 2, 3, 5, or more years.  Underwriters will work with aging pilots IF there is a plan in place, but they shy away from an “I’ll fly till they don’t let me anymore” attitude.

My suggestions to this pilot, given what I know about his situation are this:

1)  If he is no longer ABLE to fly to the standards needed for IFR, then he probably shouldn’t be flying without a fully qualified copilot at all times – maybe not even then.

2)  If he is capable of passing annual Simcom (or similar) flight reviews (including IFR), but simply wants to limit his flying to CAVU days and short trips solo, then there shouldn’t be any problems if he doesn’t hold IFR currency.  Again, if he were to have an accident in any sort of IMC or if it were shown that he was flying IFR out of currency, then there could be grounds for denial of a claim.  Reliably conducting all operations VFR in a high performance turbine aircraft is difficult, even on short trips!

Bottom line – aging pilots need a plan to communicate to the insurance marketplace what should be expected and everyone should be on board and fully understand the requirements.  If this is a situation you are facing, get with a good insurance broker that can help you formulate a plan acceptable to all the players – before an unacceptable plan is dictated to you.

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