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Feature Article

Feature Article

Matt Debski, Aircraft Owner WVFC tdebber@alum.mit.edu

Lessons from the Actuary

As regular readers know, my wife and I had our first child in February.  So, in light of my flight instruction and general aviation pursuits, I went shopping for life insurance beginning in July.  I started with the company with which I have home and car insurance.  I'm in good health and got back a reasonable quote.  When I added that I was a pilot, the rate went up by about fifty percent.  When I said I was a flight instructor (never mind that it's only around ten flight hours a month), the rate went up four hundred percent.  In fact, the premium was more than I would earn from flight instructing in an average month.  Needless to say, I needed to find another solution.

I learned of a reputable insurer, Minnesota Life that seems to have hit upon an actuarial formula that makes sense.  Their premium adjustment for aviation activities, including flight instruction, was minimal as long as I was instrument rated and flew at least fifty hours a year but not more than two hundred.  From a life insurance perspective, that was a big win for me.  Their formula is also interesting when looking at managing the risk of flying generally.

First, let's look at the instrument rating requirement.  The instrument rating requires fifty hours of cross-country time and an additional forty hours of flight instruction.  Additionally, an instrument-rated pilot learns a good deal more about nasty weather and how to work with air traffic control.  An instrument-rated pilot will also be much less likely to scud run when a quick call to ATC will get the pilot into the system and guided home via a variety of navigation aids.  So, the actuaries have determined that this really does make a difference.  In the Bay Area, an instrument ticket also means that a low stratus layer becomes a slight inconvenience instead of delaying or canceling a flight.

The second half of the formula is flying time.  The insurance company says that if you want to fly, you need to fly fifty hours a year to keep the reduced rate.  Well, that makes sense: fifty hours a year is about four hours or two two-hour flights a month.  I usually tell people that I notice my skills deteriorate if I don't fly at least once every ten days.  The average West Valley pilot flies about 1.3 hours per month.  That's enough to remain current, but not necessarily proficient.  That average number is not particularly useful: seeing the distribution would be more illuminating.  Nevertheless, that's an awful lot of pilots who are not getting to fifty hours a year.  If you're one of these pilots, recall why you got your certificate in the first place and get out and fly!  Go to a new airport, take a friend on a Bay Tour, and take a trip to Vegas, Santa Barbara, Mendocino, Napa, or Reno.  Take your family to brunch in Petaluma, Hollister, Los Banos or even Half Moon Bay or Livermore.  The more you fly, the safer you'll be as a pilot.

For all of us, safety in aviation includes managing the various risks.  The safest thing to do is to stay home and not drive to the airport and fly: roads and cars are dangerous.  Since we've all decided to fly and find great joy in flying, it's great news that one of the best ways to be a safe pilot is to fly often.

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