I was exploring renters insurance on the AOPA insurance website and noticed that while you get a 10% discount for having no claims, there seems to be no difference in price between a private pilot with 50 hours and an ATP pilot with 5000. Why is it not the case that more experience yields cheaper insurance? Is this normal for aviation insurance?

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    $\begingroup$ There is no causality between the number of hours and accident rate. It may even be that higher hour pilots are slightly more predisposed to an accident because of complacency. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 18 '17 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ At one time, CFI rates for rentals were less. But that was one company that I know of. And it was a while ago. My understanding is that aviation insurance underwriting is much less "tuned" than with other risk categories. $\endgroup$
    – mongo
    Aug 18 '17 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Aug 18 '17 at 18:56

It's not at all clear that more total flight hours correlates to lower risk. Data shows that pilots with <200 hours of total flight time are at the lowest risk of having a serious accident.

One can speculate the reasons for this, but the truth is, aviation accidents are still very rare occurrences. This makes gathering and analyzing data difficult. The data is very noisy due to the low sampling rate.

That said, statistical data points to a low rate of accidents until somewhere between 100 and 250 hours. Then it increases steeply, reaching its highest point around 500 hours for non-instrument rated pilots, and 800 hours for IR.

enter image description here
Annualized non-IR GA accident rates (median TFH=250.5)*

enter image description here
Figure 11. Annualized IR GA accident rates (median TFH=823.5)*

Statistics have long shown a "hump" in accident rates at the middle zone of experience.

From there it descends slowly over time but never reaches the low rates of new pilots. Another thing that occurs is that the number of pilots at a particular level of experience decreases extremely rapidly after a few hundred hours. It decreases to the point where the number of pilots with high hours is very small. The sample rate is then so small that it's close to impossible to come up with an accurate risk assessment.

Additionally, sometimes insurance rates are obviously driven by factors other than risk. Most aircraft insurance will give a discount for instrument rating. But if you look at the above graphs, IR pilots are at a higher risk than non-IR. They can fly in IMC, which is higher risk, but they have cheaper insurance. This is clearly a marketing decision. If one insurer gives you that discount where others don't it will attract more customers.

* Source:
Predicting Accident Rates From General Aviation Pilot Total Flight Hours,
William R. Knecht
Civil Aerospace Medical Institute,
Federal Aviation Administration

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect if you built the same graphs with the number of active pilots with that number of hours, the graphs would look almost identical to the accident rate graphs. In other words, there are few active pilots with low hours (if they are active, they won't have low hours for very long), ramping up to a point, and then as the hours get larger, there will be fewer pilots with that larger number of hours. $\endgroup$ Aug 22 '17 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ @GregTaylor the number of pilots at a particular level of experience decreases extremely rapidly after a few hundred hours That's what the statistician that drew the graphs did his best to correct for. There are, at any given point, several times more low time pilots than high time pilots. Data on non-accident pilots is very difficult to get. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Aug 22 '17 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ It looks like these graphs are for the accident rate per pilot per year. Could the hump effect be explained entirely by the fact that inexperienced pilots probably spend less time flying, thereby exposing themselves to less risk? In other words, if someone hypothetically made a chart of accident rate per pilot per flying hour, is it possible that the accident rate would be decreasing over the entire range? (Never mind the question of whether or not it's actually feasible to create such a chart.) $\endgroup$ Aug 29 '17 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @TannerSwett First, I'd say newer pilots fly more, not less. Most pilots with high hours are commercial or atp and I would think spend less time flying their own plane. But that's just my conjecture. More importantly, insurance is sold by year, not flying time. So that's what matters to the insurance company. $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Aug 29 '17 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ I would also say that low hour pilots are more likely to have an instructor with them, so mistakes might be less likely just because the extra set of eyes $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Aug 29 '17 at 17:41

I will speak from some personal recent experience in getting quotes for planes I have been looking to purchase. I dont have any charts or hard stats but I have spoken to numerous insurance companies via AOPA and others I have used for my gap insurance. For some background at the time I had about 80 hours all pretty much in a PA-28-181 (archer), PPL VFR only. I was/am looking to buy a Mooney M20C/E (the insurance companies view these the same) and other similar 145Kts ish, light retracts. One of the most important things I found is that most online "calculators" are just estimates, get on the phone and talk to a broker the reality is VERY different...

There are a few factors that effect insurance rates:

  • Time In Type
  • Ratings/Certificates Held
  • Hull Value

I asked the insurance brokers point blank "what can I do to bring my rates down?" and in all cases they answer, "add time in type". An instrument rating would bring my cost down by about 10% across the board and subsequently increase my hours. If I had time in type (in aircraft model) that would bring my rates down about 10%ish as well. Adding time in the archer VFR only would not effect my rates for a different air frame like the Mooney. Most insurance companies will also stipulate some mandatory instruction time before you can carry passengers. If you actually apply for a quote as a 50 hour VFR pilot you will get a very different quote than a 5000 hour ATP. The base insurance on the air frames hull value may, however be consistent.

Most applications also ask for total hours in the past year as well as total hours over all. i.e. they want to know how much you have flown recently which they put importance on.

If you poke around some of the aviation forums you will find stories of huge insurance drops after a year of ownership and time in type as well as stories of hikes for no apparent reason.

On the topic of gap insurance. Generally speaking you get gap insurance (renters insurance) to cover the deductible on the flight schools insurance. My FBO/Rental facility has a 10K deductible (their policy covers beyond that) the renters insurance covers me from 0-Deductible min as well as some passenger liability. The price (for the past few years) despite my increasing hours has held fairly constant which is a bit contradictory to the rate patterns for personally owned aircraft. Keep in mind this is not air frame limited and extends to any aircraft Im legally aloud to fly/rent.

  • $\begingroup$ What an excellent commentary Dave. 'have flown recently', I've noticed that a ton of crashes, (which affects insurance calculations), are due to older pilots with very low recent experience... I mean 20k hour atps, 70+, getting into an old plane with maybe 3 hrs pic exp over the last 3 months. This really hurts GA insurance rates. $\endgroup$
    – Doug Ryan
    Oct 23 '18 at 23:49

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