Occasionally pilots are heard saying that they are covered on someone else’s aircraft liability insurance because they were added as a pilot approved to fly that airplane or because they meet the pilot qualifications specified in the insurance policy's “open pilot warranty.” Unfortunately, it is often not that simple.
Understandably, any aircraft insurer wants to make sure that each aircraft it insures is operated only by competent, qualified pilots. As a result, general aviation aircraft insurance policies are commonly written to provide that there is no coverage at all, for anyone, if the aircraft is flown by someone other than a pilot specifically named in the policy as an approved pilot or by someone who meets the minimum qualifications that may be described in the policy. That is commonly called the “pilot warranty.” But that may not mean that everyone who is named as a pilot or meets those qualifications is actually protected by the insurance. A classic example sometimes arises with renter pilots where a renter pilot meets all the pilot qualifications required by the insurance but is still not protected by the insurance. After an accident, a renter pilot may sometimes discover that the aircraft owner and rental company were protected by the insurance, but the renter pilot was not covered despite meeting all qualifications specified in the policy.
It is essential to be named as an approved pilot and/or to meet the pilot qualifications that may be specified in an insurance policy. Otherwise the insurance may not be valid for anyone, including not only the pilot but also the aircraft owner. But how do you find out if you are actually protected by the insurance? Although interpretation can and does vary from state to state, an insurance policy is just a contract. There is no way to know what a contract says without actually reading the whole contract.
In the case of insurance coverage, the insurance contract will often say it covers claims against the “named insured,” the “insured,” or “you.” To figure out what is meant by that, you typically have to look at the policy definition of “named insured,” “insured,” “you,” and similar words. The meaning of those words is defined differently from policy to policy, but “named insured” commonly means only the person or entity (like a corporation or LLC) specifically named on the declarations at the beginning of the policy. Modern policies may have a broad definition of other words such as “you” or “insured,” and that may result in coverage being extended to named pilots and other pilots meeting the specified pilot qualifications. But even such broad policy definitions and provisions often include unexpected exceptions.
For example, insurance policies that I recently reviewed each broadly defined the “insured” and “you” in a way that would include all named pilots and other pilots meeting the specified insurance qualifications, except under certain circumstances, such as giving flight instruction or evaluating another pilot—even if they weren’t being paid for the instruction or evaluation! Picture the poor pilot that thought he was protected by having the aircraft insurance name him as a pilot approved to fly the airplane only to discover after an accident that he was excluded from the coverage because he was giving someone flight instruction at the time of the accident.
Yes, it is critical to be named as an approved pilot or make sure you meet the pilot qualifications specified in the insurance for airplanes that you fly, but that may not be enough—you also need to go further and read the definitions and the rest of the policy. – Don Frank
Don has been an AOPA panel attorney since the inception of the AOPA Legal Services Plan and has been an AOPA member for more than 50 years.