Aviation Insurance – Airplanes, Cars, and Tugs do Collide … so Who Pays?

Aviation Insurance – Airplanes, Cars, and Tugs do Collide … so Who Pays?

Aviation Insurance – Airplanes, Cars, and Tugs do Collide … so Who Pays?

The crew of a King Air 350 arrived at their destination, met with the professional ground crew and advised them they would be there overnight. The FBO asked if they’d like to have the aircraft put in the hangar for the night, but the crew, knowing the pleasant forecast for the evening and morning declined, electing to leave the airplane on the ramp. Why not save the owner a few dollars?

After securing the covers, locking the door, making sure the parking brake was off, and completing the “contact form” at the FBO counter, they were free until morning.  However, that evening at the hotel, the phone rang. What could the FBO possibly need at such a late hour?

“Captain, this is ‘we don’t want to be named’ FBO. I’m calling because there is a problem with your King Air. A car was driving to an airplane and drove under your left wing. They wrongly assumed they had sufficient clearance between the roof and the wing tip, but it appears the GPS antenna on the car did quite a bit of damage to the aileron. You should probably come out here and take a look to see if you need to make alternate arrangements for your passengers.”

Once you get to the airport and see the damage, you recognize immediately that alternate travel arrangements will be needed, as the King Air is not airworthy. After completing new travel arrangements for the passengers, you are now left to figure out how to get your aircraft repaired and who will be paying the bill. Will this damage be paid for by the FBO, the driver of the car, or the policy on your King Air? That depends …

The person or entity operating the car will have the means/coverage to fix your airplane if they have an aircraft policy that has coverage to extend to “On Airport Premises Automobile Liability.” This section of the aircraft policy states, “…Policy is amended to include coverage for your ownership, maintenance or use of automobiles, but only while on airport premises.”

Most aircraft policies state that this coverage is “excess coverage.” This means if you have coverage on your auto policy, then the auto policy would pay out first and then the aircraft policy would pay out once the auto policy limits were exhausted.

The probability that the auto policy would cover this in the first place is minimal, and if it did, there likely wouldn’t be enough coverage to pay for the entire claim. The aircraft policy would then kick in as “excess.” The limit within the aircraft policy will vary, but it should be the amount shown on your declarations page. Meaning, if you have a $25,000,000 liability limit, then you should have $25,000,000 worth of “On Airport Premises Liability.” Again, you need to read your policy to make sure you have this coverage and confirm that it isn’t “sub-limited.”

Keep in mind that this is only applicable if you are involved with operating the car. If the person or entity driving the car does not have coverage, your policy will pay to fix your airplane. However, this will affect your loss record, which could adversely affect your rates. The FBO’s insurance should only come into play if it was their employee or contractor that was negligent; however they could be involved in the claims process due to “negligence.”

While on the ramp this week at a large general aviation airport, I noticed non-FBO golf carts and tugs driving around. Perhaps you have a piece of mobile equipment kept in your hangar to drive around the airport? If you caused bodily injury or property damage in that mobile equipment, you may want to make sure you have coverage for that! This would be under the “Liability Coverage” section of your policy, titled “Use of Mobile Equipment.” The paraphrased version is this: Your policy will cover you up to the policy limits if you are operating equipment that you own or lease (must have a written agreement if leased) while it is on airport premises. There are three caveats for the “mobile equipment:”

1. ot subject to motor vehicle registration, and

2. esigned for use principally off public roads, and

3. sed exclusively on airport premises owned by or rented to you, including roadways immediately adjoining.

With that in mind, one would ask their broker, “What if I borrow the golf cart at a transient FBO to go to my airplane, am I covered? Number three above says “exclusively on airport premises owned by or rented to you.” How many of us have borrowed the FBO’s
golf cart and driven out to check on our airplane? I know I did it just this week!

The third coverage, as it relates to automobiles and mobile equipment, centers around your guests or passengers’ automobiles. When I was in high school, I worked for a large company in their flight department. We had our own hangar and frequently the passengers would pull onto the ramp and I would put their bags on the airplane and then drive their car away. If I hit something on the ramp, we now know there could be coverage under the aircraft policy for “On Airport Premises Liability.” But what if I wrecked their car while driving it into the hangar or around the airport? I could even be held liable if I damaged the car while it was sitting in the hangar. This situation would be protected by “Garagekeepers Operations.” This coverage is typically sub-limited to around $150,000 each automobile, not to exceed $1,000,000 each occurrence. So, if you damaged every passenger’s car, the most the insurance company will pay for the loss in its entirety is $1,000,000. When I was 17, I never asked the chief pilot if we had this coverage in our policy. Thankfully, I never needed it, but it easily could have happened.

Next time you are at the airport, think about who will pay if something bad happens involving a car, tug, golf cart, or some other mobile equipment. We all know airplanes are expensive and traditional auto policies have “cheap” liability limits. It is alarming when you look at state minimum requirements for automobile operators. So, when one of those cars wanders onto the airport, what happens when they hit your airplane? What happens if you run into an airplane in your car? What if it isn’t a car, but a golf cart?  You might be covered for Aviation Insurance, but now you know what to look for to know for sure.

About the Author

Leave a Reply