Insurance is what most pilots use to manage the risk of flying — it’s important for you and those you might meet with misfortune; it’s just as important to know the fine print.
YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT IS IN THE FINE PRINT TO HELP YOU TO AVOID A COSTLY ERROR. Take for example a simple provision contained within most aircraft insurance policies. “The policyholder will abide by all Federal Air Regulations.” This seems pretty simple: you maintain your plane, and fly per the regs, and you will have no problem, right? WRONG.
The regs are many, and your memory is few. Unless you are one of the few great souls that have managed to read 14 CFR (and have miraculously retained it), you are at risk of busting a regulation. If you have busted a reg — or even crossed into the grey — the insurance company will find it. Some of the regulations are simple … do you always remember to follow them?
DID YOU GET A PREFLIGHT BRIEFING? It was a simple flight, down to a local mom and pop airport located some 15 miles from his home field. The pilot had intended to work on his short field takeoffs and landings, since he had grown somewhat lax on his short field technique when he moved to another airport with a 4000-foot strip. “This short strip should work out nicely to help me hone my short field skills,” he thought, as he climbed out of his home airport. Little did he know what awaited him.
The weather was simply wonderful. A light breeze from the south provided just enough crosswind to warrant a correction, and brought much needed warmth to the flight. Everything was cooking along nicely in the cockpit, and our pilot tuned his nav/com into the Unicom frequency and made his call inbound. There was no answer, but the lack of an answer didn’t surprise him — this wasn’t a high volume airport.
As he descended, he did everything right. The gear came down at the right point, he hit the pattern altitude right on the nose, made nice, wide turns for each leg, and announced his every intention. As he was on short final, he carefully checked the road 100 feet off the runway end for traffic that might cause him problems.
Everything checked out. With the landing checklist complete and the plane set up and ready, he prepared for landing. He crossed the end of the runway at the right altitude, and touched down around 50 feet past the displaced threshold, easily slipping his plane into the short strip.
LITTLE DID HE KNOW THAT THE MINUTE HE TOUCHED DOWN, HIS INSURANCE WAS VOID! The airport owners routinely take vacations in the winter months. During such periods, they do not have a staff to clear the snow in their absence. To protect them from liability due to accidents the airport is NOTAMed as CLOSED. The minute our pilot’s wheels touched the ground, he had violated Federal Air Regulations, which prohibit landing at closed airports!
Note: the pilot in command has the authority to deviate from the FARs when necessary to assure the safety of flight. Practicing takeoffs and landings doesn’t qualify.
AS HE ROLLED OUT ON THE RUNWAY, he edged a little to the left to avoid a small clump of snow. His left wheel left the paved runway, and started to get fouled in the snow on the left side of the runway. The drag increased quickly, and our pilot quickly ran out of rudder as the plane swung hard to the left in a sickening, slow motion ground loop…
THE STRESSES TORE AT THE LANDING GEAR, which failed as they were designed to on excessive side load. The right wing came down hard on the snow and ice mixture, carving a wide swath through three landing lights before the plane finally came to a stop…
FORTUNATELY, THIS IS A FAIRY TALE. In reality, the pilot didn’t lose control, and safely landed, back taxied, and took off again to return to his home airport. However, if he had lost control, his insurance was VOID at the time because he had violated the Federal Air Regulations by landing at a closed airport.
DON’T BE A VICTIM OF IGNORANCE. You need to know enough about the FARs to know what you can and can’t legally do when flying — or maintaining your airplane. With this knowledge in hand, you need to know the fine print in your insurance policy. Finally, to keep you out of trouble, you need to get a preflight briefing BEFORE EVERY FLIGHT, WITHOUT FAIL. Remember: the insurance companies won’t cut you any slack on a regulation violation, no matter how slight.
BOTTOM LINE: Our pilot did something stupid and got lucky … this time. Don’t rely on luck — know and follow the regulations, know the limitations of your insurance policy, and fly and maintain your plane safely. Do those things, and your insurance should be there when you need it.