When it comes to aviation insurance, underwriters utilize large data sets to determine their risk exposure for a given policyholder. Pilots 70 years and older often face steep rate hikes, while others may get dropped from their policy altogether. Many healthy and experienced pilots consider these changes unjust and even discriminatory. However, underwriters simply don’t have the resources to evaluate each pilot’s mental and physical health and often make decisions based on the generalized data.
This article will cover what you can expect as a pilot crossing age 65, tips for retaining your aviation insurance at reasonable rates, and some risks that could lead to steep rate hikes or being dropped altogether.
Example of Insurance Premiums for Pilot Age 69-80
The table below demonstrates how aircraft insurance premiums and policy restrictions evolve over the course of a senior pilot’s flying career. In this example, the gentlemen was flying a 1984 Commander 1000 twin turbo prop. He sold the aircraft in 2022.
|Year||Pilot Age||Liability Limits||Pilot Warranty||Premium|
|2011||69||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$16,600|
|2012||70||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$17,500|
|2013||71||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$17,700|
|2014||72||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$18,200|
|2015||73||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$18,200|
|2016||74||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$15,000|
|2017||75||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$15,700|
|2018||76||$10,000,000 CSL||Annual Training||$17,200|
|2019||77||$5,000,000 CSL||Annual Training, Annual EKG & Medical||$20,600|
|2020||78||$2,000,000 CSL||Annual Training, Annual EKG & Medical||$21,000|
|2021||79||$2,000,000 CSL||Annual Training, Annual EKG & Medical||$25,600|
|2022||80||$2,000,000 CSL||Option 1: Dual Pilot Only with Mentor Pilot||$28,100|
|2022||80||$1,000,000 CSL||Option 2: Annual Training, Annual EKG & Medical; Switched Insurance Companies, Client sold aircraft.||$60,000|
What Happens as Pilots Cross Age 65
While a pilot’s age will become a flight risk at some point, there is no agreed-upon “age limit” across the industry. Each of the sixteen major general aviation insurance companies has unique underwriting requirements. The most conservative of these companies refuse to insure pilots after age 65, while others evaluate on a case-by-case basis. What’s more, those requirements fluctuate based on changing market conditions. When the market is “soft,” age limits are likely to be more lenient. However, when the market is “hard,” insurance companies become more risk-averse, and age becomes a factor sooner rather than later.
Depending on the underwriter, a pilot’s age could be a factor as early as 60. It will undoubtedly become a factor by age 70. In 2019, AV Web published an article discussing the opinions of underwriters from most of the major GA insurance companies. The report noted that most underwriters factored in a pilot’s age starting at 70. Two representatives began taking a closer look at age 65 for owners of more complex aircraft. Yet, every underwriter also claimed to have clients flying in their 80s. While two had clients flying in their 90s.
An article published in General Aviation News stated that, according to insurance professionals, additional requirements are standard once pilots turn 80, in addition to higher premiums. These requirements may include flying with a mentor pilot, annual medical evaluations, and flight reviews. If the pilot does not follow these requirements, they’ll pay an even higher premium or lose coverage altogether.
Most pilots can expect their age to begin affecting premiums between 60 and 70, with additional requirements implemented by 80 at the latest. The outcome depends on the data referenced, the pilot’s claim history, training, and experience. The type of plane and flying they do will also play a role in the decision. Even then, the insurance company’s decision can vary considerably. Yet, pilots can take steps to prolong their coverage and avoid particular mistakes as they approach their 70s to improve their circumstances.
Tips For Keeping Your Aircraft Insurance
Insurance companies won’t offer the same limit of liability or insure solo flights forever. However, there are some intelligent ways to postpone this eventuality and lower your costs along the way. Here are some tips to help pilots keep their aircraft insurance
1. Fly Often and Train Frequently
According to APOA president Mark Baker, the best way to avoid claims and remain insured is to fly often, train regularly, complete your medical requirements, and document everything. When an underwriter sees a strong 12-month flight history and annual training appropriate to each aircraft you fly, it signals your vitality, proficiency, and commitment to safety.
“If we want to look at the best way for all of us to stay proficient and sharp, and help keep claims down, we need to simply keep flying. We’re better pilots–and our aircraft stay safer–when we continue to enjoy this passion for the freedom to fly.”
An excellent starting point is to complete annual IPC and flight reviews. Participating in the FAA’s WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program is also highly recommended. Purchase a membership to an Owner & Pilot Association like MMOPA, COPA, or TBM OPA and attending their annual conferences will also go a long way. These programs and associations will place you above more casual pilots in an underwriter’s eyes and make them much more comfortable when writing your policy.
2. Complete Adequate Medical Examinations
Pilots in their 60s and 70s should maintain annual medical and EKG examinations completed by a certified aviation medical examiner if they wish to extend their aviation career. There are three classes of medical examinations pilots can complete. First-class examinations are the most thorough and must be completed every six months to remain current. Second-class examinations must be completed every twelve months, and third-class examinations every twenty-four months.
Speak with your broker to determine which class of examination is most appropriate for you. However, the general rule of thumb is the more valuable the aircraft, the more thorough the medical examination. Finally, it’s wise to include a photo of yourself with your aircraft with your policy. This photo will put a face to your name for underwriters and allow them to see that your body is healthy.
3. Find Your Broker and Insurance Company Early
One of the first factors an underwriter will consider when evaluating your policy is the length of time you’ve been with their company. Insurance companies are businesses looking to maintain long-term relationships. For this reason, brokers try to keep their clients with the same company as they age. Find a good insurer by the time you’re 60, if not sooner, and stay with them. If you’ve been with a company for years, they are much more likely to continue insuring you into your 70s, 80s, and beyond.
Likewise, establish a strong relationship with a trustworthy broker as early as possible. A great broker will be your strongest advocate when problems occur. By establishing a connection and remaining loyal to them, they will be more likely to go to bat for you if the need arises.
4. Request Lower Limits of Liability
As you approach your 70s, understand that your premiums are bound to increase, and liability limits will reduce year after year, regardless of your efforts. This is simply a necessity to limit your insurance company’s risk exposure. Pilots who carry higher limits of liability, especially those who hold ‘smooth’ limits that provide coverage for bodily injury without sub-limits, are an increased risk for insurance companies. Those with high liability limits will run into age-related problems earlier.
However, you can use this to your advantage and request lower liability limits as your age. Doing so demonstrates an understanding of your situation and makes it easier for underwriters to continue your policy.
5. Plan Ahead and Be Realistic
If you want to keep flying insured, you’ll need to compromise. The day will inevitably come when it’s no longer safe to be in the air alone. However, planning ahead demonstrates an awareness that underwriters desire. Once you’ve found your broker, discuss pricing stability. Ask how long you can keep your current coverage if you stay with your carrier. Then, research to see if any other companies will allow you to keep your limit longer and make changes as early as possible.
Consider the aircraft you’d like to be flying in your senior years, then begin working toward purchasing that aircraft as soon as possible. As the saying goes, “When you slow down, get a slower plane.” The more experience you have flying that plane or a similar model, the longer you’ll be able to remain insured.
Finally, be realistic. Your abilities will inevitably diminish as you age, and you must make certain concessions if you want to keep flying. By your mid to late 70s, your underwriter will likely implement additional requirements such as flying with a mentor pilot. To be proactive, find a mentor pilot you enjoy flying with beforehand and include them on your policy for higher-risk flights such as long trips, night flights, instrument flying, and poor weather flying that might lead to mistakes and fatigue.
Risk Factors That Lead To Being Cut Off
Just as there are ways to prolong your insurance coverage and reduce premiums, there are also factors that indicate you may be a risk insurance companies are unwilling to take. Understanding these risks and doing your best to avoid them as you approach your senior years is essential.
1. Ignoring the Above Tips
Some of the most significant risk factors that could lead to losing your aviation insurance would be ignoring the tips listed above. Just as each step can help retain your insurance, not doing so will have the opposite effect.
2. Complex and Costly Aircraft
|Risk-Exposure||Hull Value||Makes & Models|
|Low||$150,000 – $700,000||Diamond DA42|
|Medium||$700,000 – $2,000,000||Piper Meridian|
|High||$2,000,000 – $14,000,000||Pilatus PC-12 & PC-24|
Phenom 100 & 300
Bigger planes, moving at higher speeds, with longer checklists and considerable repair costs, are the next significant risk for insurance companies. In fact, owners of expensive single and twin-turbine-powered aircraft run into age-related issues before others. Likewise, pilots of turboprop and jet planes will likely be required to fly with a second pilot at some point. The fact is that insurance companies are much more willing to insure a $400,000 Cirrus SR22 over a $5,000,000 Phenom 100 or 300.
3. Small Claims
When an underwriter begins looking into policyholders, they aren’t as concerned with more significant claims because they understand those aren’t as likely to occur. However, minor mistakes, such as prop strikes, runway incursions, and unstabilized approaches, indicate a pilot might be losing their edge.
If you have a history of small claims, you can expect this to affect your ability to retain your insurance. Likewise, if you make small mistakes, it may be time to evaluate your fitness for flight before a severe error occurs.
Eventually, The Time Will Come
The issue of a pilot’s age has been a sensitive discussion amongst aviators since we started flying. However, it has become a more prevalent topic of conversation since the hard market began in 2018. Countless studies have been completed to determine when a pilot’s age affects risk performance. Yet, conclusions vary, and no agreement has been reached. The fact of the matter is human beings are unique. Some pilots reach their limit in their 60s while others maintain their competence into their 90s. However, one consensus remains: A pilot’s ability to safely fly and return to the ground will eventually diminish.
As an aging pilot, we encourage you to fly for as long as possible. Take advantage of the tips and risks discussed above to extend your flying career and use your judgment to determine when it’s time to take additional precautions. At the end of the day, your goal is to enjoy flying and return home safely. This article will help you accomplish those goals.
Graduated from the University of North Dakota with a degree in Commercial Aviation as a Pilot and Flight Instructor. My first professional job was working for Cirrus Aircraft as an instructor.