Blog Book: A Bump In The Runway


There’s an unpleasant snag in the non-equity club/partnership arrangement I’m looking at. It has nothing to do with the airplane, the owner, the other partners, or anything tangible, really. It’s—surprise—insurance.

To recap, I’m really excited about flying this 1970 Cherokee. My needs are to work toward an instrument proficiency check and have a nice airplane available for occasional modest IFR trips, as well as local flying. This arrangement seems almost ideal in so many important ways. The owner, an enthusiastic new pilot, has zero-timed the engine (upgraded to 160 hp), added a fresh prop, and installed a capable IFR panel (we’re looking into an autopilot) and an updated interior. It even lives in a hangar, which is far more comfortable than my first apartment.

The other two partners are also new pilots, so when the insurance company didn’t balk at adding them to the policy, the owner assumed I’d be a shoo-in with my experience level. Now, I don’t pretend to be the ace of the base by any means. But I do have an instrument rating, close to 2,000 hours total time, and the experience of having owned a cute little Grumman two-seater for 22 years and a V-tail Bonanza for 14 years. In between, I’ve also flown a lot of oddball aircraft types under odd circumstances because of what I do for a living. Most of those flights were not PIC, but they include time in some business jets (even the tiny Caproni C22J minijet in the 1980s), CAP 10 aerobatic trainers, and even a couple of backseat rides (including full controls) in a two-place British Spitfire. And yes, that was the all-time highlight of my flying career.

What all that experience has taught me, primarily, is to humbly know when I don’t know something. So when I started looking into this Cherokee, I spent quality instruction time learning how it behaves in slow flight, steep turns, and most of all, in the landing pattern. A pair of top instructors at the base airport have pronounced me rust-free enough to go solo, though I still plan to continue inching my way back into the instrument-flying pool from the shallow end, one toe at a time.

Now back to that insurance thing: The Cherokee’s owner thought getting me added to his policy would involve a short summary of my experience and maybe a phone call. After all, he told me, between them, all three other pilots’ total time is about a third of mine. He also told me he thought the rate might actually go down with me on the list. I’m pretty sure he was joking.

So, what’s the problem? My birthday.

It was in 1952, and according to the insurance writer, because of that I would need to have a total time of 100 hours logged in PA-28s (I looked, and I have about 40 over the years) and 25 hours within the last 12 months. Here’s why I’m confused.

I can understand caution over a pilot in his eighth decade on the planet (for the record, my doctors assure me I am far healthier than I have a right to be), but how does imposing a higher time-in-type requirement address the age issue? (By the way, I purposely didn’t ask the aircraft owner which company it is.) Some friends have angrily suggested age discrimination. I told them I could actually understand how my youthful energy and enthusiasm could intimidate some people.

In reality, I would be OK with the 25 hours in the last 12 months (and I could fly that off pretty quickly, and it would be fun!). But would I really be any less of a risk at my age just because I had another 60 hours in random PA-28s racked up (and largely forgotten) since I first soloed in 1977?

We are working on a solution, but it looks like it’s going to be costly. I’m just not sure why that has to be.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


  1. In my experience (I’m your age) these sort of things are greatly ameliorated by having a good agent who knows you well. This sort of thing happens when a request for coverage comes in and someone simply plugs in some values into an application. You need a human to point out the actuarial idiocy of declaring you, with the most experience, being the higher risk of the three of you.

  2. I agree with Aviatrexx. I questioned my agent as to why the insurance company didn’t account for training I took through the Bonanza group. She questioned them and was able to have them deduct another couple hundred from the cost. A good agent is worth their weight.

  3. Excellent post, Mark, and timely too. I’m bumping on the insurance issue as well because I hit the Magic Number and this apparently causes everything in the world of insurance industry paperwork and number-crunching to change overnight. I’m very imterested to follow your progress to a solution, and much thanks to the commenters who posted their own suggestions and experiences.

  4. Something is wrong here. A good friend of mine is 72 and has no problem with insurance on on his Bonanza. My father was still getting insurance with Avemco at age 90+ for his C-170 at a reasonable rate. I think you need to see if the group is willing to try another insurance provider or you need to find another plane. 100 hours in a PA-28? Maybe 5 hours. This is the insurance companies way of saying we don’t want you.

  5. I had the same issue but throw in a heart attack and the following years of obtaining my medical. Surprisingly, the medical didn’t seem to be the issue but the premium sure was. I had similar times in all models of Bonanza’s and I too was a baby boomer. It seems I would have been safe enough as long as I made the payments. But on top of the six-month medical evaluation the Feds required and the fact I’m one who knows my limitations with aircraft, I decided that flying just wasn’t in my budget any longer. You’re about five years behind me but maybe it’s time to acknowledge the time has come to evaluate your situation. It happens to all of us sooner or later.

  6. The Aviation Insurance industry is a incestuous industry.
    (It isn’t so easy a Cave man can do it.)
    They are not like any other insurance providers I have dealt with. You almost always have to go through a broker, once you speak with him, he is your de facto representative until you formally divorce him. No other agent will discuss insurance until you send a letter of divorce. The good news is they pretty much provide the same service, the bad news is they pretty much provide the same service.
    Knowing the broker goes a long way to smoothing the process. He knows you and your activities and kind of vouches for you.
    Before I knew the above, I called a broker listed in tradeaplane innocently asked about insurance for a TW airplane. In 2000 the quote was $6000 a year! Dreams ran into a abrupt wall. 10+ years later as i neared retirement from the airlines i called the local broker and asked about insurance for another type of airplane. After a few days he calls me back and tells me that I had a quote from XYZ insurance 10+ years ago and he couldn’t discuss insurance with me unless I divorce him.
    You are right there is age discrimination in Aviation Insurance. I am aware of a 20 year build project of an RV-10. The builder/pilot is low time but older than me the quote was over $20k for a year!

  7. At turning 80, my insurance dropped me after having been with them for over 30 years. 56 years aviating; Comm. IFR, Wright Bros. Professional Pilot Award; regular annual training; 4000+ hrs. TTL time; Flew a year and a half without any insurance and finally, after 25 years and 2000+ hrs. reluctantly decided to sell my Baron 55E. Guess I should have moved back to a single engine before it was too late.

  8. Insurance company actuarial databases probably rival Google databases. They know where the risks are across all the aircraft and pilots they insure.

    Anyone’s individual situation is anecdotal.

    Personally I was still insurable at reasonable rates in a C182 when 78 y/o. I had 33 years in that aircraft, flawless record, IFR current, same insurer, yada yada.

    I just decided it was time hang it up before I became ‘that guy”.

    Multi engine, conventional gear, retractable, high performance, more than 2 seats all increase the insurer’s risk of a large payout.

  9. 25 years ago a friend of mine upgraded from his 210 to a Cessna 340. He had over 2000 hours, lots of retract and IFR time and he flew 200+ hours a year. The insurance market was very tight then and his insurance company required 75 hours of dual and he could not fly with non family members for another 100 hours.

    Fast forward 10 years and there are a bunch of hungry new entrants in the aircraft insurance market. So another pilot I trained for his private pilot license bought a North American T 28 Trojan with 190 hrs total time. (T 28= 7500 lbs MGTOW, 1525 hp, 335 kt VNE). No problem! 10 hours of dual, a type rating check ride and he was good to go unrestricted.

    What ever criteria the insurance companies are using seem to be solely driven by market conditions and right now the market is very tight.

  10. I’m also your age and can’t find reasonable insurance coverage for the Bearhawk I just completed. My total time is less than yours but I have 550 hrs in a Maule, 80 in the last year, a very similar airplane. So my decision which probably isn’t smart is screw the insurance company and self insure. I won’t let them dictate whether I can fly or not.

  11. I am a long-time Cirrus Instructor (2004) and checkout a lot of older pilots since that is the demographic which is most able to afford these airplanes. In my experience insurance companies are all over the map on what they require so it pays to shop around. Best strategy is ask other pilots in your demographic which company is willing to insure them.

  12. PREMIUM TOTAL $1,965.
    ITEM 5. When in flight the aircraft will be operated only by pilots meeting the requirements endorsed in this policy. ITEM 6. The aircraft will be used only for the purposes indicated by “X” below (see Definitions).
    X “PLEASURE AND BUSINESS” “CHARTER/AIR TAXI” “COMMERCIAL” AS ENDORSED HEREON ITEM 7. The named insured is and shall remain the sole owner of the aircraft and the aircraft is not subject to any encumbrance

  13. Above is an excerpt from my policy. I am 93 years old and cancelled this policy a year ago. I owned and flew a 1979 C172 insured for $50,000 and I have 2,000 hours total time. The policy covers me up to $1,000,000.
    It was good until April of last year but I decided to hang it up and canceled it.

  14. A real shame on this insurance issue. If this continues what will happen is pilots my age and older will start flying without insurance, just like a lot of C182 drop zones did/do now. I’m guessing active charter pilots my age (65) and older, companies are still able to get reasonable cost insurance for those pilots since I and a few others older than myself are still employed at my company. Best of luck to the author in his attempted return to active flying.

  15. Alas Kathryn’s is no longer there. For Years it was nearly daily reading for me. Learned soooo much from it, alas from terrible accidents. More and more I saw bad accidents happen to the more senior pilots, left me sighing, why in the world he made that flight in winter crossing mountain ranges at night, or challenging CBs in summertime. Spewing his family members from collapsing airframes in vertical dives.
    C’mon, insures discriminate? It’s more like the seniors think they are still the hotshots from bygone days. Which is definitely NOT. At least I don’t. As an ex 4-holer airline pilot, grand total about 23,5k hours, including 5.5K GA. I am/was used to a high standard for myself, but built in 1952, I am already far from that level.
    Flying IFR, maybe even in complex airspace, single pilot in a light single as the TS mentioned, forget it, I leave that to others. I love to see my grandchildren grow up, and not wanting them to visit my grave because I thought I needed flying so badly.
    One by one I let my ratings go, just enough to keep flying a simple C172 in benign VFR weather. Which I will do maybe one or two years from now on. But critically monitoring my performance at each flight I make.
    I am looking to make the decision, in time and at my own. Not by some institution, law or chief pilot starting a friendly conversation with me, pointing that it was getting time to hang them (my stripes).
    Accept the time will come that it is getting too risky to fly, or (a bit later hopefully) driving a car. Even stopping my favourite pastime, building and flying model aircraft. (actually that is one of the things I do to keep me sharp flying the “full sizes”).
    But all of the above, it is MY way of getting through the aging process. But I really take into account that I also make it with respect for people who I would take up, or could be living beneath my flight path….

  16. Not to defend insurance companies in any way, but there is a method of sampling that justifies almost outcome. If you gather enough data that says older pilots bend up aircraft 90% of the time, you can conclude that 90% of those insured will do the same. From my own observations, 90% is spot on and I can say that older pilots just don’t fare well. Time in the logbook really doesn’t make much of a difference. Just at our local airport I’ve seen older pilots run out of gas doing touch and goes, flying into tree limbs, landing short tearing out runway lights, blown tires from landing long, loss of control on landing and many more. A few of them fatal. From those experiences I think I can assume older pilot’s skills deteriorate to the point they sooner or later will end up in a smoking hole in the ground. And, with the data the insurance companies gather they can safely assume the same.

    Add to that, is the attraction of every attorney within earshot of the crash site eager to claim their share of the liability money insurance policies more or less guarantee them. Whatever your limit of liability is, you can be assured that the amount will flow through some attorneys back account. So, your policy is really nothing more than a reserve of cash for the vultures to peck at. And they never fail to do so.

    But, the reality of increasing premiums for older pilots is that most of them don’t know when to quit.

  17. I think the issue is that it is the blanket policy on age. 80 year old guy with 60 years of flying time, no accidents and lots of recent experience gets treated the same way as an 80 year old guy with 2 prior accidents and low total time. Both just get told insurance not available at any price.

  18. Mark, I sympathize with you on the age issue. AIG dropped me when I hit age 70, in spite of having a flawless record and an active third class medical at the time. Not to defend the insurance companies, but they have two major issues facing them these days. The first is the ever expanding costs to repair or replace airplane parts. Just look at the current price increases in both Continental and Lycoming engines. The most common accident for a complex aircraft (Cirrus excepted) is a gear up landing. With the engine teardown, new prop and airframe repairs each accident averages over $70,000 per incident. Almost double that for a twin. The second issue is an aging pilot population, many of whom still want to fly their Bonanzas, Barons or 210s. While it isn’t fair to generalize the capabilities of senior citizens, the actuarial tables underwriters use say that we all lose a step or two as we age, and they run with the law of probabilities.

    Aircraft insurance is a relatively small market that differs from auto or homeowners’ insurance. There are quite a few agents, but only a small number of underwriters and reinsurance pools. Aviation Consumer wrote a good article some time back about insurance. It makes a good read that is still pretty relevant today. Instead of switching agents, it is usually better to let them shop the markets for you. Going to multiple agents can backfire since they are all (direct writers excepted) going to the same small number of underwriters.

    One quick note to people who decide to go “bare” on coverage. Even if you feel you can afford to cover the cost of the airframe if it gets bent, the liability is the big ticket item. The recent accident with the Bonanza in Florida brings that to mind. With two fatalities on the ground, the lawsuits could bankrupt your surviving family. You are dead, but they still have to live with the aftermath.

    • It’s obvious that if you have no insurance and do have an accident the financial fallout will depend on the circumstances. I believe those who choose to go uninsured rather than giving up flying make a conscious effort to minimize the potential for multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Carry no passengers, avoid flight over urbanized areas wherever possible and keep the mindset that not hitting anyone or anything expensive when you crash overrides all other considerations.

    • Your last paragraph should be posted in lights. Of course we can self-insure our plane; worst case, we’re out a plane. But liability is a whole ‘nother ballgame. If you screw up, or if a lawyer can convince a jury that you screwed up, your family will probably think less kindly of you when they learn that you didn’t carry insurance.
      Learn how much your state allows you to keep in bankruptcy; that’s what your family will be left with. If you have no money or no family, go for it.

  19. I’ve encountered pilots over the years who were interested in purchasing one of my aircraft that I decided to sell. Over a period of 64 years flying….you own all types. In one instance I was selling a Beech 18. The pilot buying the bird called and said he was finding it difficult to get insurance.
    I asked ‘you have life insurance don’t you?’ He answered yes. I said ‘OK….look, if you crash and kill your self, your wife gets the insurance money and she doesn’t have to put up with the plane any longer. If you crash and survive…’ve just got a new project.’
    Problem solved!