5 Important Tips When Renting Aircraft
While renting any vehicle comes with risk, there is much more at stake when that vehicle is an airplane. The consequences of mechanical problems with the aircraft, operator (i.e., pilot) error, and so forth can be significant and put people, the plane, and other property in harm’s way.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help minimize the risk to yourself and others when you rent aircraft. Just as you would with a preflight checklist, you should complete these steps every time you prepare to take possession of an airplane, whether for a short hop or a long trip. Doing so helps ensure that your journey is uneventful.
How to Minimize Risk When Operating Rented Aircraft
Be sure to ask yourself the five questions below each time you rent an airplane.
1. Is the aircraft properly maintained, airworthy, and flight-ready?
If an incident occurs with a rented aircraft — whether your fault or not — sorting out who is responsible or the level of “shared responsibility” can be a complicated and contentious process. Knowing you are flying a high-quality airplane, combined with performing a thorough preflight inspection, helps reduce the chances of an incident or accident while the aircraft is in your care, custody, and control.
In addition, similar to renting a car, noting any existing physical damage with the owner before your flight can help you distinguish new damage from pre-existing issues if a claim is made later. Bottom line: it is wise to minimize the chances of an aircraft-induced incident or accident that causes harm to people or property and triggers an insurance claim.
2. Are you current/proficient/rated on the aircraft?
Much like the assessment of the aircraft that you perform, it is also vital to evaluate yourself. Am I prepared to be a “quality” pilot today? In addition to passing the IMSAFE checklist (for Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotion), be sure you are current/proficient in the aircraft you are renting for the upcoming flight.
Are the airport/crosswind considerations within your skill level? How does the weather look for your flight? These are just some of the questions all pilots should ask themselves before each trip, regardless of the aircraft. By doing so, you can minimize the chances of a pilot-induced incident or accident that causes damage or injuries and an insurance claim.
3. Do you have an agreement in place with the aircraft owner or flight school that provides clarity about your responsibilities?
The owner of an aircraft you are renting probably carries insurance on it, although you shouldn’t assume this is the case. Even if they do, it is important to be aware that it may or may not provide you, the nonowner pilot, with some level of protection. Plus, even if it does provide you with some level of coverage, it is insurance you do not own or control. Consequently, there is a chance that the level of coverage purchased by the owner may not be adequate enough to fully protect you.
If the owner does have coverage, then you should review their policy and be sure you understand it. If you don’t, then you might unknowingly operate the aircraft in a manner that violates the terms of their policy, and a claim could potentially be denied for both you and the owner. Ultimately, you should never rely on someone else’s aircraft insurance to protect you.
4. Have you considered the importance of purchasing renters’ insurance?
Having your own aviation insurance to cover you when you rent aircraft, like a SkyWatch non-owned aircraft policy, ensures that you are properly protected. And being properly protected provides powerful peace of mind!
Since it is your policy, you can (and should) familiarize yourself with what it covers and what it does not cover. Even if you have some level of coverage under the owner’s policy, your aviation renters’ insurance can often add an important layer of protection on top of it. Plus, a renters’ policy covers defense costs, so if a claim is made against you, whether credible or not, then your policy will pay for the costs to defend you from such action.
Every pilot knows that the financial consequences of an aviation claim can be devastating. That is why having your own coverage is essential. Your renters’ insurance policy is specifically designed to protect you, the named insured!
5. What do you need to consider when purchasing renters’ insurance?
In purchasing aviation renters’ insurance, ask yourself these important questions:
- What kind of aircraft do I rent? Be sure to choose a policy that extends coverage to the type of aircraft you operate.
- How will I be operating the aircraft? Choose a policy that provides coverage to fit your operational needs and make sure you understand the limitations of your policy.
- What limit of liability do I need? Often, aviation renters’ insurance will have a cap on the maximum limit that is available, and typically, it will have a sublimit applicable to each passenger. Purchasing the maximum limit available provides the highest level of protection and should be strongly considered.
- Should I buy “physical damage to non-owned aircraft” coverage with my policy? Definitely! This covers your liability for damage to the non-owned aircraft itself. If you forget to put the gear down when landing, then this coverage will pay for repairs to the aircraft. An important consideration when choosing a “physical damage to non-owned aircraft” limit, of course, is the value of the aircraft you’re going to be operating. However, an often-overlooked consequence is the “loss of use” value if a damaged aircraft is out of service for any time period.
Typically, the “physical damage to non-owned aircraft” coverage provides a “loss of use” caveat. For example, imagine that you accidentally put a dent in the elevator. The cost to repair it may be minimal, but the aircraft is out of service for two weeks while the repair shop waits for the part. The aircraft rents for $200/hour x 5 hours/day = $1,000/day x 14 days = $14,000 in loss-of-use cost!
In that scenario, if the cost of the repair is $2,000, then the overall cost of the incident is $16,000. Consequently, it is important to factor in all of the potential components of claims when selecting a limit on your insurance policy.
Quality Equipment, Qualified Pilot, and Proper Insurance Protection: The Keys to Renting Aircraft Safely
The risks associated with renting aircraft should not keep you from doing so. You simply need to address the plane’s condition, your ability to fly it, and your financial protection should an incident occur with the same focus and attention to detail you use when preparing for takeoff.