Insuring Your Ideal Aircraft: Bracing for the Ups and Downs

Last year’s hull value means little at renewal time.

Having renewed my insurance, I can focus on enjoying my aircraft. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

Time certainly flies. It feels like we just moved Annie, our Commander 114B, into her new hangar, but in fact we are commemorating our first year of aircraft ownership. While recalling interesting destinations, challenging flights, and beautiful scenery brings us great joy, not every detail about hitting the 12-month mark warrants celebration.

Yes, I am talking about insurance renewal. 

As our first year wound down, I was thinking more about annual inspection, our hangar lease, and database updates for Annie’s instruments than dealing with insurance. I knew renewal time was coming up, but after a good year with nearly 100 flight hours and no insurance claims or other mishaps, I was not expecting trouble.

Perhaps I should have braced myself after my insurer sent a letter a couple of months before my term was up to let me know it might or might not renew my insurance. I think the note’s main purpose was to make sure I was not expecting an automatic renewal without having to file a new application. It all seemed reasonable, but I could have used a bit more warmth.

The initial quote for renewal was disappointingly high but decreased considerably once I updated my flying time. So far the terms for a second year of insured flying were agreeable. Then the phone rang. It was my insurance agent with one of those “oh, by the way” comments that you do not want to hear.

He told me the underwriters would not cover Annie at the same hull value as last year. This year’s figure would be 26 percent less. It had been a long week. My heart sank, my scalp began to sweat, and I had to fight back a profane tirade that would not have helped at all. At least there was some comic relief. When I got the call, I had just boarded a commercial flight. We were sitting at the gate, and I knew the cabin crew would soon close the door. From the middle seat I had neither the time nor space to mount a counterattack.

Another funny thing: I have followed the used aircraft market closely for more than a decade, and these days work requires even deeper immersion in a range of market trends. The revised hull value means that if anything terrible happens to Annie, I might be able to replace her with what? A Piper Arrow? I recently spotted a 1975 Cessna 172 like the one I soloed in that is for sale at the price the insurer slapped on Annie. Nothing against the dedicated Arrow and Skyhawk drivers out there, but I am truly peeved. The market has soared in recent years, and I do not think it is ever going back to 2010 levels. I feel like I would have to travel at least that far back in time to make the latest insurance numbers work. Why am I getting zero lift from this rising tide?

After talking with friends about this, I realize I am not alone, and owning an “orphan” airplane like the Commander does not help. Nor does shopping around, as I keep encountering the same numbers anyway. More than one broker told me I would be better off with my current insurer since I already have a “relationship” there.

I sensed a hint of “pipe down and pay up” in that advice. Perhaps I will take it. After all, you really are not allowed to complain about owning an airplane.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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