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AOPA Action: AOPA exploring insurance optionsAOPA Action: AOPA exploring insurance options

Pledges to help pilots get relief from burdensome fees, requirements

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the flying community was voicing its frustration with another impediment to the skies: insurance. “Not a day goes by that I don’t get a call about insurance rates,” AOPA President Mark Baker said.

Many AOPA members, especially the more seasoned ones, have complained that their premiums are spiking, coverages are being limited, and restrictions to simply get covered are often harsh—with little to no explanation.

After months of close coordination with AOPA, AssuredPartners Aerospace, AOPA’s strategic insurance partner, has teamed with an A-rated aviation insurer that has pledged to explore options for pilots up to age 79. This development could provide more options to those who fly single-engine, piston-powered aircraft with fixed, retractable, or tailwheel gear configurations; with six seats or fewer; and with hull values as high as $500,000. BasicMed is also scheduled to be an approved underwriting element, giving some pilots potential relief from burdensome insurance-related medical requirements. This insurer will also offer potential coverage options for younger and newer pilots.

The current aviation insurance market has been hard on many in the industry. Aging GA pilots have been faced with fewer options, as insurers have been scrutinizing their underwriting criteria for pilots over the age of 65.

While some pilots may be getting partial insurance relief, it’s important to note that this will not apply to all aviators. In addition, annual flight training or safety pilots may be required, depending upon the complexity of the insured aircraft. Hull deductibles also will increase with aircraft value.

“We’ve been working hard with AOPA to develop options for those pilots that are experiencing difficulty in finding necessary coverage and reasonable premiums,” said Bill Behan, AssuredPartners Aerospace CEO. “By bringing another choice to the table, we are aiming to allow more capable pilots to stay in the skies.”

AOPA says some telecommunication services a ‘major risk’

AOPA and 15 aviation industry associations urged the Federal Communications Commission to suspend an auction of radio frequency spectrum in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band based on a study that found that some telecommunication services pose a “major risk” of interference with aircraft radar altimeter operations. The chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), also called on the FCC to postpone the auction, citing aviation’s concerns.

Despite strong opposition, however, the FCC held the auction as scheduled.

The request to suspend the FCC auction opens a new front for aviation in the resistance to 5G telecommunications’ use of spectrum considered risky for radar-altimeter operation. A study by the technical standards organization RTCA “revealed a major risk that 5G telecommunications systems in the 3.7-3.98 GHz band will cause harmful interference to radar altimeters on all types of civil aircraft—including large commercial transport airplanes; business, regional, and general aviation airplanes; and both transport and general aviation helicopters.”

Results of the RTCA study “clearly indicate that this risk is widespread and has the potential for broad impacts to aviation operations in the United States, including the possibility of catastrophic failures leading to multiple fatalities, in the absence of appropriate mitigations,” the aviation groups said.

COVID-19 updates

Flying after the vaccine

Info for pilots and ATC from the FAA

Pilots and air traffic controllers can receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, but they may not fly or control air traffic for 48 hours after each dose, the FAA said in a policy statement released in December. The FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine said that it reviewed available data regarding safety profiles associated with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration approved under emergency use authorization. The vaccine is administered in two doses, 21 days apart.

“Holders of FAA-issued airman medical certificates or medical clearances may receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine; however, a 48-hour no-fly/no safety-related duty interval must be observed after each dose,” the policy said.

“While general aviation has experienced a boon despite this challenging year, reducing insurance pressures has always been on the front burner for AOPA. They say age is just a number, and nowhere is that more applicable than in general aviation. This is one step forward in having pilots judged by their abilities and experience, and not just their age. This is also an example of how we listen closely to our members and advocate on their behalf. We will continue to explore more options.” —AOPA President Mark Baker
However, the agency added that it would monitor “patient response to Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and may adjust this policy as necessary to ensure aviation safety.” In addition, the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine will evaluate subsequent vaccines as the FDA grants emergency use authorization.

“We applaud the FAA Office of Aerospace Medicine for carefully reviewing the data and quickly releasing a policy that allows pilots and air traffic controllers to receive the vaccine and continue working and flying after a brief period,” AOPA President Mark Baker said.

AOPA survey assists FAA with SFAR relief plans

AOPA conducted an online survey asking pilots to weigh in on questions concerning COVID-19 restrictions and give the FAA data to consider before it decides whether to extend pandemic relief beyond Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) 118-2, which took effect October 1, 2020—the third pandemic-relief measure of the year.

SFAR 118-2 was complex, but narrower in scope than both the original SFAR 118 in April that initiated extensions of several medical, airman testing, and currency provisions—and its first amendment (SFAR 118-1) published in June, which afforded relief to a different group of pilots.

In December, as the pandemic underwent a resurgence surpassing the FAA’s expectations of just a few months earlier, AOPA sought to present the FAA with fresh survey data estimating how many pilots made use of the SFARs, what they found helpful, and what wasn’t helpful—and give pilots a chance to suggest ways any future SFAR amendment could be improved.

“The FAA needs relevant and reliable data to support its decision to grant further regulatory relief. This survey will provide that hard data,” said Christopher Cooper, AOPA senior director of regulatory affairs. “If more regulatory relief is going to be sought, we want to make a request that reflects the needs and safety of the pilot community,” Cooper said.

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