AOPA Access

July 1, 1998

The majority of all pilots, myself included, rent the aircraft they fly. Renting an aircraft can be a frustrating and sometimes risky endeavor. When renting from an FBO, we face a host of issues. We often don't know the maintenance history of the aircraft that we're flying, and we may not be certain about the extent of the insurance coverage for our flight. On top of this, we sometimes encounter scheduling problems, poor service, and unappealing aircraft. Here's some practical advice that will make your next visit to your local FBO a little less frustrating - and more enjoyable.

Before you pick up the phone this weekend and call your usual FBO, why not check around? You might be surprised to find that an FBO at a neighboring airport has better rental rates. If you're renting at an airport in a metropolitan area, try going to an airport out of town. A short drive might save you some cash. Also ask about block time rates. Many FBOs even offer flying club arrangements that require minimal money down but still provide substantial savings over normal rental rates.

If you do decide to enter into an arrangement with an FBO that would require putting a large amount of money into an account, make sure that you'll be able to get a refund of the adjusted balance should you decide to take your business elsewhere. It's wise to play it safe and get any agreement in writing. Also inquire about fleet availability; it is incredibly frustrating to have money on account and no airplane to fly.

It's also prudent to check on the maintenance history of the aircraft that you'll be flying. Ask to see the aircraft logs, but don't expect to walk away with them. Ambiguous entries should raise an eyebrow. If there's nothing to hide, the FBO should have no problems disclosing this information. Also check for aircraft status boards and maintenance discrepancy logs. Any maintenance problem that you encounter while flying a rental aircraft should be properly documented. Most important, check the aircraft itself. Is the proper and original documentation on board the aircraft? Does the anticollision light work, for example? A lack of attention to small details may indicate more serious maintenance problems.

Once you've confirmed that the aircraft you'll be flying is properly maintained, you need to make sure that you've maintained your knowledge of the aircraft. Dig out that operating handbook. Memorize the V speeds and performance data. When was the last time you practiced a short- or soft-field landing? Two hours with an instructor covering aircraft performance and emergency operations is a wise investment when you consider the cost of a botched off-airport landing.

These issues raise some important questions. What would happen in the event that you damaged a rental aircraft? Are you covered by the FBO's policy? Most renter-pilots believe they are, but that often is not the case. Some states require that the scope of insurance coverage be revealed as a condition of the rental agreement; however, most states lack this sort of consumer protection.

If you're uncertain about what is covered, take a look at a few key factors. First, find out what type of liability and hull coverage you're granted through the FBO's policy. Ask about any deductibles for which you may be responsible. Most important, find out whether the FBO's insurance company can subrogate you. In other words, can the insurance company sue you to recoup the funds that it lost while paying the claim? The FBO also may have the right to sue you for revenue lost while the aircraft was down for repairs. To protect yourself, ask for a waiver of subrogation and a guarantee that you'll be notified if the coverage changes. Better yet, seek additional coverage.

AOPA has an informative booklet titled A Pilot's Guide to Insurance: Renters, Aircraft Hull, and Liability to explain all of your options when seeking additional renter's insurance, and the AOPA Insurance Agency has flexible and comprehensive insurance coverage designed just for renter-pilots. Give us a call at 800/USA-AOPA for more details on how you can be better prepared the next time you fly.


AOPA Aviation Information Resources

AOPA Pilot Information Center for expert help and advice for pilots, from pilots, 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).

AOPA Online on the World Wide Web (www.aopa.org) offers many of the information publications from AOPA and the Air Safety Foundation.

AOPA and Air Safety Foundation booklets are available, some free, some for a nominal shipping and handling charge, by calling 800/USA-AOPA (800/872-2672).