Insurance Trouble for Older Corporate Pilots

 - October 16, 2006, 5:05 AM

After being forced into retirement at age 60, some former airline pilots turn to corporate aviation to continue their flying careers. It can become a problem for operators to obtain hull and liability coverage when these older corporate pilots reach age 70. Although most underwriters will not deny coverage to a corporate flight department using an older pilot, they may require that older pilot to fly as second-in-command instead of PIC, raise the premiums or reduce the liability coverage on the policy.

“We had an issue with a corporation in Iowa where the pilot-in-command was 72 flying a Citation,” said Larry Marrs, president of Wings Insurance Agency. “They had a young, inexperienced copilot and this older, experienced pilot-in-command. It came down to a tough decision for the company. They couldn’t swap seats because the copilot didn’t have enough experience as PIC yet. And the pilot in command was not comfortable flying copilot position, so they ended up hiring a new pilot and the 72-year-old pilot retired for good. But it was a tough deal.”

Seventy seems to be the benchmark at which insurance companies place additional scrutiny on corporate pilots. In addition to requiring that the older pilot give up his left seat for the copilot slot, insurance companies may place additional medical restrictions, such as requiring current first class medicals, on pilots older than 70.

Corporate flight departments with a PIC nearing age 70 should be proactive about renewing their insurance. The department should consult with the broker at least 60 to 90 days before the renewal date to find out if the underwriter has any policies regarding older pilots and what action seems best for the department. Planning even further ahead–such as when a pilot is 67 and insurance considerations will make flying for the company after age 70 unattractive–can relieve some of the stress on the department and the older pilot by giving both parties some time to plan and consider the options.

Checking with the insurance company before hiring an older pilot is useful, just to be sure there are no surprises when he joins the company. “The worst time to discover that it’s an insurance issue is after you’ve sent the new pilot to training,” said Marrs.

Not all underwriters see age as a problem, however.

“We insure pilots older than 75 every day,” said Christopher O’Gwen of U.S. Aviation Underwriters. “We haven’t set a ceiling at which we would stop insuring an individual just because of his age. Insurability depends on the situation–the individual’s medical history, current training level, and whether he’s flying single-pilot or in a two-crew operation. I don’t see age becoming a problem. Clearly 60 is not old, and these folks have a lot of flying time left.”