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I've Had an Aircraft Accident: What Do I Do?

Most pilots will go through their entire flying lives without ever having an accident or incident involving an aircraft. That is a wonderful testament to the quality of pilots flying in America today as well as the quality of the aircraft which they operate. Most pilots work very hard at maintaining the skills necessary to avoid aircraft accidents. That includes proper initial and recurrent training, adequate and effective aircraft maintenance programs and, depending on the type of aircraft and type of operations, participation in a Safety Management Systems or a full ISBAO program as commitment to safety of flight.

However, we are all vulnerable to the whims of fate or development of a fault tree that leads to something which we try our best to avoid: an accident. The cause might be a sudden downdraft or cross-wind burst just prior to landing, an unexpected runway incursion, a slight depression in the taxiway or a catastrophic systems failure. There are possibilities lurking out there that, try our best, we may not be able to foresee or overcome.

Hopefully, you will never have to experience an event of this type; certainly not one of a catastrophic nature. The old saw of "bent metal is always better than broken bones" never rang more true. Accidents involving injury (or worse) can become extremely complex and are best dealt with by medical, legal, FAA/NTSB and or insurance professionals. It is not the intent of this article to deal with those events.

What this article is intended to address is the incident in which your aircraft is damaged, for some unforeseen or unexpected reason, and you need to interact with your insurance carrier to file a claim, get your aircraft repaired and start flying again.

Aircraft Insurance, like other types of property /casualty insurance, is based on the principle of indemnity: In exchange for the premium paid, the insurance carrier will make you whole in the event of a loss (subject to deductibles, exclusions, terms and conditions). This does not mean that your insurance carrier will pay to replace your steam gauges with the latest glass panel or "zero-time" your engine. The spirit of the insurance contract is to put you in the same condition you were in prior to the accident. The wording of you aircraft insurance policy may seem complex but, given a little effort on the part of the policy holder (a couple of hours to read the policy) and a broker or underwriter willing to answer questions, it is relatively easy to understand. Like your auto insurance policy, your aircraft insurance functions in a pretty straight forward manner.

So, what are the basic and appropriate steps you need to take in the event of an accident involving your aircraft?

If you have an accident, you need to:

1) Report the accident

As soon as possible, report the event to your broker or insurance carrier and, if the event is significant to warrant it, the FAA or NTSB. Some insurance carriers will provide you with direct reporting channels (via phone or e-mail) but, if you have an insurance broker you should contact them first if at all possible as they are your advocate in all insurance matters.

In preparation for this initial report make sure you have the important facts. Use "Who, What, Where, When and How" as a guide. You will need to provide date, time location, description of events leading to the accident, who was PIC, SIC and any passengers onboard, description of the damage to your aircraft as well as damage to any other aircraft and to any persons or property not in your aircraft (including on the ground or other in-motion or in-flight aircraft). You may have to provide additional information subsequent to the initial report but your broker and/or insurance carrier will advise you of what you should provide and to whom.

2) Capture the event and damage

If possible, take photos of the scene of the event. Carrying a disposable camera in your emergency bag on the aircraft is a good idea (remember to check periodically and replace if needed). Memorializing the physical location, the amount and scope of damage, weather conditions and other important factors on film or digital media can be a valuable resource.

Prepare a written statement. While it may be difficult to slow your mind down after an accident, it can be beneficial to prepare a personal account of what happened and how it occurred from your perspective. The most difficult part of this written statement is to remember to use only the facts as you know them. Do not speculate, guess, assume, pre-suppose or interpret. Just record the event as it unfolded to you and try to include as many facts as possible (time, weather conditions, airspeed, attitude, altitude, heading, aircraft performance, traffic, etc.). You may choose to, or be required to, share this statement with others so just stick to the facts.

3) Protect your aircraft from further damage

Depending on the location and severity of the event, you may need to wait for the FAA/NTSB, state or local or other authorities or your insurance carrier to authorize movement of you aircraft to a secure area. However, if the damage is minor, it maybe your responsibility to see that the aircraft is moved to a location where weather or other conditions will not cause or contribute to additional damage. If this is the case, make sure that the location (preferably a controlled environment) is secure but accessible to both you and your insurance claims person. In most cases, a local FBO or repair shop can provide a good, secure location until such time as you and your insurer are ready to have the repairs made.

4) Cooperate with your Insurance Carrier

Unlike the reputation of some other aspects of the insurance world, aircraft insurers, for the most part, want to work with you to ensure that your aircraft is repaired and returned to you in an efficient and timely manner. If the aircraft is deemed to be a total loss, the insurer wants to pay you, close the claim and deal with the salvage.
Like you, your insurance carrier understands that the claim will not improve with age so they want to treat you fairly, in accordance with the terms and conditions of your insurance policy, and get the repairs made or payment made as expeditiously as possible. Providing the claims adjuster with the information he or she needs to get the repairs completed and the claim settled will only get you back in the air sooner.

5) Use a repair shop that you trust

While the accident may not have occurred at your home base, you still have the ability to decide where, within reason, you want to have the repairs made.
Depending on the amount of damage, you may be able to work with your insurance carrier to ferry the aircraft to your preferred repair facility, be it the manufacturer or your home FBO. If the repairs are minor enough to have fixed locally and you choose to do so, ask around about the quality of work performed by the facility that you are considering. If there is more than one shop on the field, find the one with the best reputation and check their prices with the insurance carrier. Even if the carrier balks at the repair cost, you might find it worthwhile to contribute toward the repair if you know it will be top notch. After all, you want your ship back in the best shape you can get it.

6) Consider this a learning experience.

Once you have had an accident, affected the repairs and are ready to fly again, ask yourself, "What can I learn from this experience?"

The answer may be that you can learn many things including that you need more frequent recurrent training, better quality training or training of a different sort. It could also be that you need to pay more attention to the upkeep and maintenance of your aircraft including the quality of the work performed by your preferred shop. A good mechanic takes pride in his work
and should not be unhappy to show you what has been done and explain why. It may be his or her name that goes in the maintenance log book and they may have responsibility for the service or repair work performed but you are flying in the aircraft and, potentially, staking your life on their work so check it out.

No one wants you to have an aircraft accident or incident. If you do, however, remember that you buy insurance coverage for just such an event. Your insurance policy does have limitations and may not cover certain things after a loss (like certain types of damage excluded by the policy, diminution of value and damage within the deductible amount) and your insurer may require you to do certain things after a loss but you should view your insurance carrier as a partner in this process.

If you stay informed as to what coverage your aircraft insurance policy provides, use your insurance broker as your advocate and intermediary (part of the service for which you pay them) and stay actively involved in the process, you can help make an unfortunate situation as least painful as possible.


Have you had any experience with this topic? If so, Discuss it with us by clicking "Reply"

Pros and Cons of Placing Your Aircraft On Someone Else's Charter Certificate

If you are like many business aircraft operators, your aircraft is not being used as much as in the past. Your costs are up and utilization is down, and you are under pressure to keep the budget under control. Your friendly local charter operator suggests having you place your aircraft on their Part 135 charter certificate to gain income from charter.

Why Would You Want To?

To off set your operating costs. A typical charter agreement has the owner paying for all the operating costs. The owner gets the revenue from the charter less a 15% commission to the certificate holder. This is the basic cost/revenue structure, but there are variations.

You will not make money doing this. If this were the case, wouldn't charter operators always own their aircraft? The charter revenues should exceed the variable expenses of operating the aircraft leaving the excess amounts to offset the fixed expenses, thus lowering the total cost to the aircraft owner.

Other benefits may include:

Reduced liability to the owner if all flights are flown under the charter operator's certificate. If your own flights are under Part 135 then the operational control for the flight rests with the charter operator, not the aircraft owner. Although if this is a big issue, don't even own an aircraft in the first place, just charter.

Access to lower costs. Bulk fuel, reduced hangar rates, possible fleet discounts on insurance, and lower personnel costs if you fly with the charter operator's crew.

Why Shouldn't You?

One is control. If you are a control freak, then you should own your aircraft and hire and manage the crew. Then you have 100% control over who flies, and when and where the aircraft is used.

Depending on the aircraft, conformity to Part 135 may increase your costs. Additional maintenance may be required, plus you will have more stringent crew rest regulations. Seating needing to meet current fire-blocking rules may be an issue as well. These costs are dependent on the aircraft type and configuration.

Increased utilization (especially by others) will increase the wear and tear on the aircraft. Plan on refurbishing the interior more often.

Decreased values. The more hours an aircraft flies the greater decrease in value at the time of sale (other factors being equal). A 10-year old airframe with 6,000 hours will have a reduced value and take longer to sell than one in the same overall condition, but with 4,000 hours.

Increased aircraft management and operational issues if operating both Part 91 and Part 135. The FAA adds restrictions on how the aircraft agreements (and contracts for crew) can be structured and can affect how easy it is for you to fly under both Part 91 and Part 135. Flying all Part 135 is easier, but you may want the flexibility that Part 91 offers. .

However, the biggest reason not to place your aircraft on someone's charter certificate is if you already use your aircraft a substantial amount, then there will be little opportunity for offsetting charter revenues.

If you have infrequent use and a predictable schedule, then you might want to look into charter. If you have a constantly changing flight schedule, and take the aircraft on the road for long trips, the charter operator won't have access to your aircraft and you won't get much revenue.

There are also issues that involve legal, tax and FAA. Rental income is generally considered as a passive income. Passive income (and losses) may impact the ability to fully tax depreciate the aircraft. State and local taxes are often different for commercial operations. You need tax guidance from an aviation-tax specialist to full understand the ramifications.

If done under the correct circumstances, placing an aircraft on an operator's charter certificate can be a win-win situation. The owner gets revenues to offset costs, and the charter provider gets an aircraft to charter without having to fully support the costs of owning and operating the aircraft with charter revenues. However, don't go into it without carefully researching all the requirements and conditions, especially legal and tax.

Have you experience with placing an aircraft on someone else's charter certificate? Click reply and let me know your experiences.

None of Us Want to Be Dinosaurs

Let's not lose sight of where this wonderful industry is heading.

I am sorry to have to tell you this, but most of you reading this article are no longer the future of aviation. You may be fully entwined and engrossed as a current player within the aviation industry today, but all too soon some day off in the future, you will have to slow it down and enact your exit strategy with the hope that you will have suitably prepared yourself for a long, comfortable and happy retirement before you make your last flight.

No; the future of aviation lay's in the hands of today's youth, and unless you work at an aviation school, you have probably noticed that there are not too many young people hanging out at your airport, like they did when you were first bitten by the love of aviation bug. This is a gathering storm that will eventually turn into a cataclysm that will consume the industry that we all love, if none of us make the time to give a leg-up to youngsters that are our future.

Part of the problem is the fact that airports have now become impenetrable fortresses where it is impossible for any young person to have any kind of personal - hands on experience (touch/feel) with an aircraft up-close. Razor-wire topped fences, cameras, no-parking signs and airport security personnel has effectively killed any hope of parents packing a picnic lunch and loading it and their children up in the family car to go an watch aeroplanes at the local airport.

Years ago it was commonplace for pilots and their aviation friends to invite an excited boy or girl who had been eagerly watching aircraft movements' car-side, to hop over the fence and "come take a look at my aeroplane." Sometimes after obtaining mum or dad's approval, they might have even strapped the youngster in and taken them for a quick hop around the pattern. Regardless of what act of random kindness someone on the air-side of the fence decided to bestow upon an awestruck youngster, it was the spark that ignited a raging fire that burned in the belly of that youngster that caused he or she to pursue a career within the aviation industry.

If we didn't have the EAA's Young Eagle Program, the Scouts Aviation Badge System, and the Air Cadet Organization thankfully out there plugging away on our behalf trying to give young people their first taste of aviation, our industry would have already been long-ago relegated to near extinction. Obviously there will always be a need for air transportation; however the new-world order of anti-terrorism-security programs and other societal-saving mandates has slowed the air transportation system down to a crawl, and subsequently what little glamour or mysticism that our industry was barely clutching onto in its wizened hands, has now been lost. Why would a youngster aspire to join an industry that is inaccessible, officious and inconvenient?

There was a time when Glenn Curtiss was building airports all-across the United States to allow the dots of commerce to be rapidly connected. There was a time when aerospace was synonymous with everything that was new, slick and advanced in the world. Men and women like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, through their record-breaking aviation exploits and feats of daring provided immense inspiration as positive role models to young people in the twentieth century. Where are the aviation role models in this second century of aviation?

Hopefully this is where you come in. Yes you; I'm not talking to anyone else so please don't ignore my message to you in this vital matter. Now is the time for you to start sharing your love of aviation with the younger generation. How can you do this? To start with, why don't you talk to your neighbours where you live and ask if any of the children in the neighbourhood would like to come to the airport with you to look around and get up-close to some aircraft? I promise you that the first time that you make a move in this effort; your heart shall be gripped with an overwhelming sense of good. If your own passion for aviation might have been flagging of late, the joy of aviation that the young people find thanks to this, your first effort shall, I am certain, encourage you to do more of this aviation experience sharing. If you fly, take the youngsters up. Maybe later you will become so enamoured by the way that this benevolent new side of you makes you feel, you might start speaking at local schools in your area?

It takes a massive amount of people to make our national aviation system work. The pilots often take most, if not all of the spotlight and glory; but think of the number of aviation maintenance technicians, line service personnel, engineers, designers, detailers, sales people, air traffic controllers, handlers, administrators, painters, upholsterers, inspectors, regulators, and entrepreneurs that are right behind the pilot, thus making his role possible within this marvellous system. If we can't inspire the next and future generations of people to elect to fill these roles, where will we all end-up? I don't plan on ever walking in the long-cold and dead footprints made by dinosaurs, and I pretty sure you don't either too.

Please become an inspiration to others by sharing your love of aviation, because you are mainly all that this industry has, and unless you have found a way to live forever, you will soon be retiring.

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