One of the most exciting aspects of airplane ownership is upgrading your aircraft from one model to the next. When you’re ready to transition, make sure you consider your insurance, too.
There is an age-old bit of wisdom that offers us this priceless advice, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. When applying this advice to pilots, it is really asking us to consider whether the aircraft we want and intend to transition to is safe and appropriate for us at that time. Often, the truth is that we need to prepare ourselves as aviators before we can make the change. The driving factors here are safety and our ability to obtain insurance affordably and under terms we are prepared to accept. These two factors go hand in hand.
The CARS (400.1) defines a high-performance airplane as one that requires one pilot and has a maximum speed (Vne) of 250 KIAS or greater or a stall speed (Vso) of 80 KIAS or greater.
Consider how many aircraft are accessible to a newly minted private pilot whose license states that they are licensed to fly all single-engine non-high performance land airplanes by day. Considering landing gear alone there are so many options. Conventional gear, tricycle gear, and retractable gear offer a myriad of choices that ignores a plethora of options when it comes to power, performance, and, of course, we have not touched upon the issue of price yet. You do not have to have too great an imagination to see where someone could get into difficulty diving into the deep end of that pool.
Consider a newly licensed private pilot trained on one of the traditional flight school aircraft. These would be Cessna 150/152, Diamond DA20, or the Cessna 172. The other option would be Piper Pa-28 140 or 150. What these aircraft all have in common are a few features:
- low power
- intended for flight at lower altitudes ((No pressurization or oxygen, piston engine (not turbocharged))
- intended primarily as a VFR flight platform
- fixed gear
- 2-4 seats
- benign flying characteristics
- low stall speeds
- low approach speeds
The other reality is that for the most part, most of the training fleet in Canada will also be equipped with very simple avionics (very little to keep the pilot’s head inside the cockpit).
Training aircraft are selected for a reason. People learn in specific ways. We go from simple to complex, a logical progression. As we master the simple, we can begin to add increasing levels of complexity at a pace that the learner can handle, and, of course, every person is different. Some can take on more complexity more quickly, while others take more time to handle the additional demands of increased complexity.
What is the Right Airplane Upgrade?
With these facts in mind, we can turn our attention to transitions. When less experienced pilots looking to transition from entry-level aircraft into something more modern, they must stop and ask themselves if the desired aircraft makes sense as a direct transition. If looking to make a larger leap, they should set up a transition plan… from A to B, then B to C until they can safely move into the aircraft, they ultimately desire. In setting up this transition plan they will accomplish a few important things.
- They will accumulate experience and skills at a safe pace.
- They will give themselves time to gain the additional licensing or ratings that will allow them to use their desired aircraft as intended.
- They will build a relationship of trust with their Insurer by showing that they have approached this transition with thought and purpose (self-awareness).
This last point is as crucial as any other. Insurers evaluate risks by looking at submissions. Rarely do they get to meet the private pilots that they insure. I am the first to acknowledge that there are some incredibly competent lower-time pilots and some very dangerous high-time pilots though, I’ve come by this knowledge of who is who by meeting the people involved and getting to know them, flying with them. Underwriters need to evaluate risks from a distance and must use some broad guidelines to determine what represents a better risk, generalities that often prove to be true. The generally true principle is that experience and training equal safety.
Larger leaps in complexity and performance are almost always accompanied by larger increases in hull value. As an example, a newer private pilot wants to transition from their Pa28-140 to a newer Mooney Acclaim. The Piper will likely have a value between $60,000 and $70,000 USD. The Mooney will have a value between $350,000 and $400,000 USD. The Acclaim has a turbocharged 280 HP engine, while the Cherokee 140 has a 150 HP engine. The Acclaim flies the circuit around the cruise speed of the 140 and is approximately 33% faster on the final. Avionics is a whole different world.
Creating a Transition Plan for Insurance
So how do we transition in a way that an underwriter will not balk at? We need to go from the 140 to a more complex aircraft that is not a massive leap in price or performance. A Piper Arrow or similar retractable gear aircraft with a variable pitch propeller is a good start. We use this as a platform to begin training for an instrument rating. This will build time in a complex aircraft and start working the pilot toward an IFR rating because most underwriters will not even consider a pilot on an aircraft like the Acclaim without one. The next transition will be to a lower cost/lower performance Mooney like an M20J. This will be the setup aircraft for the next step. Finish the IFR on this aircraft and build a more complex aircraft time with a higher performance aircraft. From this machine, you can move as an IFR pilot with a couple of hundred hours of RG time and Mooney experience to the aircraft of your dreams and likely at an insurance cost you can afford without prohibitive and restrictive conditions.
Underwriters get very uncomfortable putting large amounts of capital at risk with inexperienced pilots. We know that all pilots cannot be painted with the same brush. As I stated above, I have known newer pilots like unicorns, rare cases of exceptionally competent pilots who were conscientious and careful. They could be trusted to safely operate expensive aircraft of varying complexity, but underwriters do not usually get to meet the people they are insuring. They must make their decisions based on a submission provided by a broker. Names and numbers. A proper transition plan set up with your broker is the best way to put yourself into your desired aircraft with insurance at a price you can afford and with conditions you are happy with.
Without this transition plan, you could find yourself with the aircraft of your dreams and no coverage at all.
Expert Advice from The Magnes Group
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Mooney Acclaim photo courtesy AOPA