The FARs require entries in a pilot’s logbook for several limited purposes, such as establishing a record of flight time for qualification for a higher rating, maintaining a record of pilot proficiency under IFR and substantiating recent flight experience. However, an up-to-date logbook may be the second most important document next to the pilot’s aviation insurance policy in case of an accident. Here’s why –
Typically insurance brokers or agents will, prior to the inception date,
or the renewal of that policy, send an aviator a pilot-history form that
he or she must complete before the broker or agent will seek quotes
from the insurance market. Most pilots will estimate their flight
experience in the various categories specified in the history form
without going to their logbook for verification. The reason for this
is that many pilots, especially those with higher certificates and ratings,
do not log all of their time; they only record the number of hours
required by FARs to be legal. In addition, many who do not seek higher
ratings look at the task of logging time as one more unnecessary detail.
The unfortunate truth is that should an accident occur, the NTSB will undoubtedly look to the pilot’s logbook to see if he or she was qualified for the flight, and then his or her insurance company will look at the logbook to see if the pilot-history form, which was submitted to the broker or agent and is part of the application for insurance, is corroborated by actual entries in that same logbook.
The scenario in cases where the pilot has estimated flight hours on his or her insurance form goes something like this: The insurance company issues a policy based on a mis-representation that a pilot has 2,500 hours total time – 1,500 hours were multiengine and 1,800 hours were retractable. However, the pilot’s logbook shows 1,500 hours total time – 750 hours multiengine and 800 hours retractable. Since the pilot is often deceased or unavailable because of injuries when a post-crash inquiry is being made, the insurance carrier decides to decline coverage based on this material representation or breach of the insured’s warranties of the pilot’s experience.
Unfortunately, the lack of insurance coverage becomes another unnecessary complication to the already complicated aftermath of an accident.
Some pilot-history or qualification forms ask for the flight time logged, others just ask for the flight time or pilot-in-command time under various subcategories. The need to be precise is not often made clear by brokers or agents, many of whom just do not understand the significance of these different terms, especially when that language is used in the investigation of an accident. Often times if a claim is made after an accident against a manufacturer for deaths of occupants of an aircraft based on defective design or manufacture of the aircraft, the best available defense will be the lack of recent flight experience of the pilot or the lack of his or her total experience in the aircraft. This argument is often made when a manufacturer wants to show either misuse or abuse of the aircraft as the cause of the accident or just plain pilot error due to inexperience.
The careful logging of time, however, seemingly insignificant, can leave an important legacy to a large estate. If flight time is not documented, an uninsured loss might make a small estate out of a very large one.
Just as important, a legitimate claim that the death of a pilot or other occupants was caused by an aircraft defect can be made far less valuable or even worthless if a pilot does not carefully record flights in his or her logbook. Failure to substantiate flight experience may give the impression that the pilot was unqualified for the flight, not by FAR standards, but in the eyes of the jury.
It can even be more troublesome in the case of placing insurance through a direct writer of aviation insurance because there is no recourse against an independent insurance agent or broker who may have inadvertently estimated flight time instead of logged pilot time required by some insurance carriers.
Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful to pilots in dealing with this little known, potentially serious, insurance problem:
1. Getting into the habit of noting flights in their logbook, even those local flights that seem to be of little importance to record.
2. Inserting a note in their logbook that all flight time has not been recorded, and attach some separate realistic estimates of past unrecorded time.
3. Read the pilot-history form carefully and verify all flight times that are reported. If the flight experience is an estimate it should be stated as such. If the flight experience is not logged, it should be mentioned. In fact, a broker or agent might even require the underwriter to acknowledge that the pilot-history form times are estimates or are only approximate. This holds true with respect to other questions on the pilot-history form regarding training and recurrent training; hours during the last 12 months and last 90 days; total instrument and night flying.
4. The insurance policy must be read carefully to make certain that the declarations page and any endorsements specify the pilots experience and he or she has logbook entries to back it up.
5. Make certain that in reporting flight experience on the application for a medical certificate, the times reported are consistent with the insurance application and pilot-history form as well as the logbook. If the pilot carefully documents the flight time for the insurance company and then only makes an estimate of that time when applying for a medical certificate, that disparity will come back to haunt him or her.
6. It is important to be honest about estimating and recording flight experience. It is hard to be untruthful and consistent at that same time. Inconsistency can make a completely honest claim worthless and more importantly, could lead the pilot into not realizing his or her own experience limitations.
The pilot’s logbook is like a diary. Not only for the pilot, but also others reading it. It is like going back in time and realizing the experiences, great and small, make flying so exciting and economically rewarding. It is part of the pilot that lives on, and in the event of an accident, be the best insurance he or she ever had.
Article Submitted by: Alexander T. Wells, Ed.D.