As far as I am concerned, Sun N Fun is the big kick off airshow for the season. Sun N Fun is the time when we all get to see what is on the drawing boards for the rest of the year and what was in the shops over the winter. It is one of my favorite shows with a laid back, small show personality, but with the quality, quantity and performance of a big show.
Since it is the first show of the season it s also the first time many people get their planes out and take a trip. Who doesn’t want to start their aviation year off with a trip to central Florida for warm temperatures and sunshine, which is usually what Sun N Fun is like? The year 2008 started a little different, with about five inches of rain that turned the place into a giant mud puddle. Even an AOPA article coined the phrase “Mud N Fun”.
The mud and the weather surrounding the show was a deterrent to a few people. Many of the exhibitors I talked to had display planes stuck all around the country. Planes were arriving all week and the booths filled up along with the parking lots. Once the mud started to dry up it was probably even better than the previous years. Usually Sun N Fun is hot and dry. There have been times that cars have started fires in the parking lots because the grass was like kindling. At least that was not the problem in 2008.
Another nice thing that happens at Sun N Fun is getting to see a lot of the planes that I insure. Many of my customers travel to the show as a vacation. They too feel this is the start of the season, even if they have been flying their planes all year long.
Seeing a customer’s plane on display is always encouraging but also a little worrisome. I worry because no matter how good a pilot, airshows bring over confidence, risks and potential losses. So before you ever take off for the next show, make sure you have the correct coverage.
What type of coverage needed depends on what you plan to do with your plane once you get to the airshow. If you are the average fly-in attendee with a goal of parking the plane out in the field, pitching a tent and enjoying the fly-bys, you probably won’t need anything. But if you happened to have an aircraft that gets a lot of attention, parks in the manufacturers booth or you participate in the fly-bys you should make sure you have the correct insurance coverage.
The typical fly-in risks are things like: damage from storms, theft, and damage from other people or crashes. If all you are doing is parking in the boonies, then your regular coverage should protect you the same as any other day. Just because you are at a fly-in shouldn’t change the coverage you have.
But, if on the other hand, you put your plane in the manufacturer’s booth or on display in a specific area (make and model display, type club, warbird area, etc.) you might not have coverage. Certain companies actually have limitations as to how you display your aircraft. Its one thing to park it at an airport, but it’s a whole other risk if you put it on display and tempt the public to touch it. I know, touching is not what most people are asking the public to do, but the thought is, if it’s on display, the risk changes and there is more potential for damage. The risk will change even more if you decide to fly it in any of the fly-bys like a manufacturers showcase.
If you decide to put I on only “static display” most aviation insurance companies will cover the plan at whatever policy limits you have purchased, as long as you are not being paid to display your aircraft.
Has the airshow or manufacturer offered a free room or fuel if you will display your plane for them? If so, you might fall into a commercial category or, “for hire”. It is important to note that what I am talking about is from the insurance perspective not the FAA’s regulations. The insurance underwriters do not control the FAA regulations but their policy requirements and language can often go beyond the FAA scope.
Since getting a tank of avgas and a free hotel room constitutes payment for services your aviation insurance policy might not provide coverage while the plane is on display. This is a “gray area” of what is constitutes “for hire” and nothing more than “reimbursement of expenses”. The Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) state something about reimbursements of expenses which doesn’t include making a profit or being paid to fly.
If you are at the fly-in and you are asked to make a few fly-bys the risk changes again. If you are getting the free room and the fuel it might be construed as payment for flying or “for hire”. Most policies will not cover that type of usage. Now, if you buy your own fuel and rent your own room and you aren’t making any money, it’s not “for hire”. But it still might not be covered by the policy. Every now and then an aviation insurance policy will have some language about using the aircraft for demonstration purposes, whether flying or static, make sure you check yours before volunteering.
In the beginning I mentioned that there is also overconfidence during fly-ins and airshows. It seems there are always a few pilots that try to take off a little too short or fly a little to fast or even climb a little to steep. It’s this kind of behavior that causes accidents. Many people that attend airshows can’t wait to get in the air and show off their pride and joy. There is nothing wrong with that, it is just how you do it that gets you in trouble.
One popular way is formation flights of aircraft that are all the same make or model. Formation flights are visually appealing to the spectators. From an underwriter’s position, the formation flights need to be done by experienced formation pilots. Many aviation insurance companies will require formation classes and training before adding coverage for formation flights to the policy.
Even if you have the formation training, remember the bit about being paid. In fact, that’s probably the biggest issue about taking your plane to a fly-in or airshow. If you get paid through rooms, fuel or money, you need to have a policy that covers commercial use and you need to be qualified to act as a commercial pilot. If you do not have either of those, your coverage could be voided. That is if you have any coverage for that usage to begin with.