Later-life flight: Part two


My editorial on learning to fly after the kids are grown (“Flight Begins at 40, or Maybe 50,” March 2012 IFR) struck a chord and earned several responses. The story was consistent: “I’m 50 (or 60 or 70) and just learned to fly. You’re right, we need older people acting as advocates to get more people with the means and the long-dormant wanting to make the leap.”

But one letter brought up a point I don’t see much press on. This gentleman soloed at 61 and was newly instrument-rated by the age of 63. With 220 hours under his belt, he’d like to keep flying but he’s tempted to throw in the towel over the risk; Not the risk of crashing, but the risk to his estate.

He can’t get renter’s insurance for more than $100,000 per seat liability. “I would not drive with only $100,000 coverage, so it makes no sense to fly with that little, either,” he says. No insurance company he found would write the $1 million smooth policy he wanted for anyone under 500 hours.

Having no assets worth seizing, this issue was off my radar, but I wonder how much it lurks as a stealth deterrent. I know one of the selling points of the flying club I used to teach for a decade back was outstanding insurance for members: $1 million smooth, and an option to pay $15/month to eliminate the deductible on hull damage. We had some high-net-worth individuals renting as they learned.

I checked around myself and found that one can get higher liability with low time, but it’s discouragingly expensive. “Discourage” is probably the key term here. It’s not that an issue like this is preventing potential pilots from joining up or forcing new pilots from our ranks. It’s that this is just one more thing making it tiresome to stay excited, to stay motivated, to stay in the game.

Case study two might be my colleague Paul Bertorelli, who sang a little hallelujah when he sold his Mooney some years back. Then he got bit by a share in a J-3 Cub. He had a great time flying it, instructing student pilots again, and shooting the smart and snarky videos he’s so good at. (Check out the landings one on AVweb’s YouTube channel.)

Now he and his partners are considering selling the Cub they haven’t flown in three months. Why? There was a screw up getting it re-registered and an error chain in the forms has dragged on with the FAA, work gets in the way, there was winter, of course, and the appeal of local hops has dried up.
Or, is it that the rosy bloom has worn off such that the discouraging factors tip the scales far enough to mitigate the fun? It’s the same FAA, the same work schedule, and, frankly, there are always places to fly just for the fun of it. But when the motivation gets sapped, the habit erodes and the flying … stops.

So here’s another target for our efforts to keep GA from vanishing into complete obscurity: We don’t just have to retain students, we have to retain enthusiasm—enough to power through the discouragement and keep from returning to a wannabe flying life on Flight Simulator. — Jeff Van West


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