Moving on up

Are you ready for a jet? With all the hoopla surrounding the first flights and certification tests of the new very light jets coming to market, excitement is high.

Anyone who’s been to any of the major shows in the past few years knows that the jets are among the most popular attractions. Pilots — and their family members — stood in line for hours just for a chance to sit in the mock-ups of the Eclipse 500, Javelin or Adam 700 and listen to a well-rehearsed sales pitch. But there’s so much more to it than that. It’s a chance to get a feel for what it would be — could be — like to fly a jet. The chance to dream is no doubt the real reason people stand in those long lines.

But what if you are really serious about buying one of the new jets? Do you know what you need to do to get ready for one, besides squirrel away a lot — a LOT — of pennies?

Call your insurance agent.

Not what you were expecting, right? But it’s the first call you should make, long before you call one of the aircraft companies to set up your demonstration flight. In fact, it’s the first call anyone who’s planning on buying a plane — or moving up to a more complex aircraft — should make.

Pilots are “always” looking at the next step up, says Greg Sterling, general manager of the AOPA Insurance Agency. And he understands. He’s a pilot who deals with pilots every day — many with big dreams of moving on up.

Fridays, 4 p.m., are his worst times, he admits. Why? “I’ll get a call from a guy who wants to buy a Bonanza and when I look at his policy, I see that he’s a private pilot with no instrument rating and just 60 hours,” he says. “The insurance derails his purchase. It makes me the bad guy.”

If that pilot had only called his insurance agent before he went shopping, he’d know the underwriting requirements for whatever aircraft he set his sights on. He’d also know that it’s imperative to put together a transition plan.

What’s that, you may ask? A transition plan details what training you should have under your belt before you make the purchase of that new aircraft. For instance, if you’re moving up from a fixed to a retractable gear and you have no RG time, get some. If you’re dreaming of a much more complex machine, check out type specific training at places like SimCom or FlightSafety. And of course, if your heart is set on an Eclipse 500, Adam or Javelin, those companies have developed (or are in the process of developing) their own training programs, which you’ll have to complete successfully before they hand you the keys.

It’s important that you develop your own transition plan — don’t expect your insurance agent to do it for you. “I’m not your CFI,” says Jim Anderson, vp and chief underwriter for AIG. He notes it really helps clinch the deal when a client shows up with a training plan already developed. “That adds value to the insurance package,” he says.

The insurance gurus who will decide your fate also want to see that you aren’t taking any shortcuts, so go beyond the minimums.

“An underwriter looks favorably on a pilot who says ‘I don’t know what the insurance requires, but here’s what I plan to do,’ and then lists items such as 10 hours dual instruction, 10 hours solo,’” Sterling notes, adding it’s also good to ask “is there anything else I need to do?” That will make you shine during the underwriting process, which means you will be a preferred customer — critical to getting the best premiums.

Sterling also advises that you allow space in your budget for higher premiums the first two years you own your new aircraft. As you build time in that make and model, premiums should drop in price.

Insurance professionals — indeed, almost everyone — agree that buying insurance is the least exciting part of any aircraft acquisition. But if it’s not in place, it can be the most frustrating. “Make it part of your transition, not an obstacle,” Anderson says.

Janice Wood is one of four people who contribute regularly to this column.

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