The recent FAA decision to temporarily suspend enforcement of medical certificate lapses during the coronavirus emergency may not change insurance policy requirements, industry leaders told AOPA.
It should come as no surprise that satisfying regulatory requirements and satisfying aviation insurance companies are two different things. That was true before the pandemic and will remain so.
AOPA was pleased to report the FAA decision on March 26 to suspend enforcement of pilot medical certificate expirations from March 31 through June 30, a move that aims to provide relief from looming deadlines and is among several similar measures that AOPA called for in light of the unprecedented disruption. The FAA recognized the value and importance of keeping general aviation pilots flying during this national emergency and able to respond as unmet logistical needs arise.
Bill Behan, CEO of AOPA’s insurance partner, AssuredPartners Aerospace, explained that aviation insurance policies, unlike automobile and homeowner coverage, vary from company to company on several key points.
“It is possible that flying without a current or valid medical certificate may jeopardize the validity of your aircraft insurance policy,” Behan noted in a written response. His insurance brokerage responded to the FAA policy change by surveying insurers it writes policies for. Insurance companies offered “sympathetic responses to pilots’ challenges in renewing their medical certificates, but none were willing to state the FAA’s decision ‘not to enforce pilot medical requirements’ would override or alter their company’s policy wording, in any way.”
Behan noted that the FAA policy change expires June 30, pending further action, so pilots whose medical certificates expire later will not be affected.
For those with expiring medical certificates who do need to fly before June 30, but will be unable to renew their medical certificates, Behan advises careful review of individual policies. If the policy requires a current medical certificate, and many do, affected pilots may still get some relief by contacting their agent or broker and asking that they request a written statement from the underwriter confirming that they will suspend or exempt that requirement to allow continued flight, with insurance coverage in place.
“If your underwriter is unable or unwilling to provide such a statement, you need to understand that flying without a current or valid medical may very well jeopardize your aviation insurance coverage,” Behan wrote. “Your broker should discuss the various options that may be available to you, if any.”
AOPA has heard similar responses from others in the industry, including USAIG, one of the major GA insurance carriers, who offered similar advice about reviewing individual policies before flying with an expired medical (or any other deficiency), specifically focusing attention on the policy exclusions (if any), and the pilot warranty or approved pilot clauses, which often establish requirements for training, experience, and certifications.
It’s much better to confirm coverage before flying with any issues than to wait until there’s a claim and then hoping to find a resolution, Behan advised. Also, there may be other aspects to investigate, particularly if you plan to fly internationally or if you are flying for an air carrier.
Pilots who can demonstrate a need to fly, and a plan to mitigate risks, may be able to persuade insurers to extend coverage that would otherwise be precluded.
In summary, Behan wrote:
“1) As respects your aviation insurance policy, the FAA’s recent decision not to enforce actions against pilots whose medical certificates may have expired, DOES NOT relieve you of meeting all the requirements of your aviation insurance policy.
“2) If your current FAA medical expires after June 30, 2020 nothing has changed and you may continue to fly as normal.
“3) If you are unable to renew your FAA medical certificate which expires prior to June 30, 2020 and desire to continue to fly you need to contact your aviation insurance broker to have them verify if your specific policy wording requires you to have a valid and current FAA medical.
“4) If your aviation insurance policy does require a current and valid medical certificate have your aviation insurance broker contact your insurance company underwriter to ask for a written statement exempting you for some period of time due to the current COVID-19 pandemic if you are unable to obtain a medical.
“5) If [your] underwriter is unable or unwilling to provide such a statement, you need to understand that flying without a current or valid medical may very well jeopardize your aviation insurance coverage. Your broker should discuss the various options that may be available to you, if any.”