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Safety Check: The Magic Number for Senior Insurance

Safety Check

It’s always hard for me to see a long-time Enstrom dealer close their business. I recently discovered the reason behind one such closure, and I couldn’t help but wonder, could this have ended differently?

The owner had run a successful helicopter operation for many years, maintained a solid relationship with the FAA, and appeared to be in good health. The dealer had but one mark against him: he had just celebrated his 70th birthday. The septuagenarian couldn’t find an insurance company willing to underwrite him to act as pilot in command of a helicopter. After exhausting each of his options, he felt he had no choice but to close his hangar doors for good.

Unfortunately, this has proven to not be an uncommon occurrence. I have three friends who worked as senior pilots for a local jet charter company. They were stellar aviators with outstanding safety records who all happened to be over 70 years old. They were all terminated at the same time. I talked with the owner of the company. He said he had no choice. His insurance agent couldn’t find an underwriter who would renew the air carrier’s policy.

Enstrom 480B

So why are insurance companies suddenly taking aim at the early baby boomer generation? To find out, I reached out to an expert, my friend Matt Drummelsmith, President of Aviation Specialty Insurance (ASI). He insisted that, while underwriters might certainly judge older pilots’ eligibility more harshly than their spry, young counterparts, being advanced in years will not equate to an automatic denial. In fact, Matt pointed to one gentleman he insures who is set to celebrate his 85th birthday this year.

The sad truth is, age will at some point become a factor in a pilot’s ability to defy gravity. However, studies have conclusively shown that the age at which pilots begin to lose their aviation edge varies widely. Age can affect a pilot’s sleep, sight, hearing, short-term memory, motor skills, problem solving, multi-tasking, monitoring skills, and a range of other cognitive functions. Some losses can be offset by pilot experience, but others cannot. Some pilots might prove perfectly capable of flying at 80. Others should quit by 65.

If you believe you fall into the former category, how can you prove that to your insurer and keep your aircraft covered? Matt told me one category insurers weigh heavily is loyalty. They’re looking for a long-term relationship which can turn them a profit. If you swap insurers every year to save a buck, don’t be surprised if no one offers to take you on as a new customer after your 70th birthday. It’s essential to keep a good working relationship with your broker. Convince them you are the ace of the base with minimal risk exposure.

As the old saying goes, “never stop learning!” Seek out new proficiency training and document everything you do. Insurers love when pilots earn additional ratings. If you are a licensed private helicopter pilot, go get your commercial. Even if you never use your license to carry passengers for hire, it proves to insurers your age is not slowing you down.

You can also attend safety seminars. For anyone planning on attending HELI-EXPO this year in Anaheim, HAI’s safety seminars are a great place to start.

Do you take your health seriously? Prove it and obtain a first-class medical certificate. This makes it clear to your underwriter you’re not afraid to obtain an annual EKG. Once you hit the threshold that is 7-0, understand that your premiums are bound to increase, regardless of your efforts. Matt Drummelsmith would encourage anyone at this stage in their career to request a lower liability limit. Doing so demonstrates you understand your situation, and it makes it easier for underwriters to justify continuing your policy.

I will conclude with this reminder: every human is unique. But, if the only other metric an insurer has to gauge your eligibility is age, don’t be surprised if your broker requires you to take additional steps to remain insured, or prepare to have your wings clipped. Be proactive and demonstrate you’re still a worthy investment in whatever ways you can!

Fly safe.

Randy Sharkey

Randy is a dual rated Airline Transport Pilot with 13,000 flight hours in airplanes and helicopters. He has type ratings in the BE400 and CE500. Randy has been a rotorcraft Designated Pilot Examiner representing the Grand Rapids FSDO since 2014. Currently he works for Sweet Helicopters, a northern Indiana Part 135 air carrier operator and serves as the Airport Manager of the Goshen Municipal Airport.

About Enstrom Helicopter

From Rudy Enstrom’s early designs in 1943 to initial testing in a Michigan Quarry in 1957 to aircraft operating on six continents, Enstrom Helicopter Corporation has maintained a reputation for safety, value and performance. Based in Menominee, Michigan and proudly made in the United States, Enstrom has a rich history for design innovation. The goal is to provide helicopters to the customer’s exact specification and deliver support and maintenance worldwide.