Buddy, Can You Spare an Airplane? — Part 2

It’s too sweet a deal — your friend says you can fly his/her airplane, but before you jump in and fly away, you need to remember that borrowing someone else’s airplane is all about responsibility and trust… and rules. You’ve got a lot to live up to when you fly someone else’s pride and joy. Last week we looked at borrowing airplanes from the owner’s point of view. This time, we’ll take a look at what we’re taking on when we borrow someone else’s airplane.

Now’s not the time to overestimate your abilities. You’re being entrusted with someone else’s property, worth tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars — that’s without factoring in sentimental value. AND, you’re placing your life, and the lives of your passengers, at risk. Ask yourself if you’re qualified and safe to fly the airplane. Are you:

  • Current with a Flight Review or an FAA certificate or rating checkride (or their non-U.S. equivalents for our international readers) within the last 24 months?
  • Holder of a valid Medical Certificate?
  • Legal to fly as pilot-in-command in instrument conditions with recent experience or checkrides, if you plan to file and fly under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)?
  • Landing current as required (in the U.S., in the same category and class of airplane within the preceding 90 days, with additional requirements for conventional gear [tailwheel] airplanes and night flight)?

Remember: The airplane owner’s insurance requires YOU to be “legal” in order to fly.

Further, are you thoroughly “checked out” in the airplane type? Modern airplanes often have sophisticated avionics and autopilots… and you need to know how to work it all if you’re going to be safe in the airplane. See Flying Unfamiliar Airplanes: Transition Checklist for more about qualifying in other people’s airplanes.

If you don’t feel comfortable in the airplane, and certainly if you’re not “legal” and “current” to fly it, get some instruction in the airplane before even thinking about a self-launch.

There are few higher praises from a friend than to be allowed to fly his or her airplane. You need to live up to this awesome endorsement. Fly the airplane legally and responsibly. And communicate — tell the owner:

  1. when you’re flying
  2. where you’re flying, and
  3. when you’ll be back.
  4. Discuss with the owner who’ll be responsible for what expenses — before you fly.

Inside Information: Reimbursing the owner for more than direct operating expenses (fuel, oil, hangar/tiedown while away, flight planning fees) may invalidate the owner’s insurance policy. Don’t leave your friend hanging in the breeze by glossing over insurance clauses. It’s better to lose use of the airplane than to put yourself and your friend at odds in court if something goes wrong.

The owner trusts you to use the airplane as intended. Don’t buzz your girlfriend’s house, don’t explore loops and rolls in someone else’s non-aerobatic airplane, don’t hop rides for some charity event without the owner’s permission… don’t betray the owner’s trust.

  • Schedule your use well in advance, and be willing to forfeit the outing if the owner needs the plane;
  • take care of the airplane; and
  • Responsibly enjoy the tremendous freedom of personal flight brought on by the uncommon generosity of whoever allows you the use of his or her airplane.

Although you’re borrowing — not renting — follow The Renter’s Code when flying someone else’s airplane — just substitute “airplane owner” for “FBO.”

Lastly, you’ll want to be sure you’re protected should something go terribly wrong. In most cases you are responsible for repairs if the airplane is damaged while under your control — the owner’s insurance company may pay off your friend, then turn around and sue you to get their money back. The owner, your friend, has no say in whether his or her insurance company will choose to subrogate against you. Even if you’re “named” to the owner’s insurance policy, that merely establishes the conditions (you as pilot-in-command of the airplane) under which the owner is financially protected… not you.

Important: In some venues, you might not even have liability protection under the owner’s policy if you injure someone or damage somebody’s property while using your friend’s airplane. And that leaves you unprotected and responsible for potential millions in actual losses and punitive damages.

For that reason, it’s a great idea to carry a Non-owned Aircraft Insurance Policy that protects you when you fly rented or borrowed airplanes. That way, if you’re sued for damage, injury or death, you have legal and financial protection. Use the insurance link from the iPilot home page to ask for quotes on non-owned aircraft policies (which are surprisingly affordable), or contact your choice of agent. Be sure to buy a policy that covers the type of airplane you plan to fly.

BOTTOM LINE: There’s no better friend than the one who’ll loan you his or her airplane. Be legal, be safe, earn his/her trust each time you fly, and most importantly, be responsible if you care for your friend as much as he or she clearly cares for you.