Mr. Helms raises a valid and timely issue in his recent letter regarding the self-certification aspect of Sport Pilot medicals (Could medical kill Sport Pilot? Dec. 2 issue). I plan to keep flying my Comanche for some time yet, but like many older pilots, have considered switching to Sport Pilot somewhere down the road if it matches my flying needs and I still feel that I am physically fit to fly. Certainly the availability of insurance would be one of the factors bearing on that decision.
Even if the availability of insurance becomes a problem, I’m not sure it would have as big an impact on the LSA program as the author predicts. Many of us older pilots would be financially able to self-insure the hull of a $80,000-$100,000 LSA. As for liability, the $100,000 seat coverage we have now already leaves our estates substantially exposed. I would think long and hard before deciding to go totally bare, but if it were the only way I could keep flying I would have to consider it, especially if the mission consisted mainly of short range solo sightseeing flights on sunny days.
To me, the bigger question is what will be the impact of self-certified medicals on the actual accident rate. It is my understanding that medical problems in flight cause an extremely small percentage of present GA accidents, even though the current third-class medical amounts to a fairly loose screen. As LSA pilots begin to self-certify I would expect this number to increase a bit, but not really significantly; after all, the occurrence of sudden disabling medical events is pretty rare among basically fit people, either in the air or on the ground. If this turns out to be the case, it is hard to see how a slight increase in the accident numbers could represent a real problem for the insurance industry. If I am wrong, and LSA pilots start falling out of the sky from heart attacks or losing their way back home due to Alzheimer’s, then obviously the insurance underwriters WILL react, as will the FAA, and the program will be severely curtailed, which would be entirely appropriate. This would obviously be a bad result for the LSA program, and for all of GA, but I really doubt that it will happen.
A bigger concern would be if the insurance industry perceives the self-certification issue to be a potential source of problems even before any actual results are in. That perception could lead to a business decision to stay out of this market segment just to avoid the hassle. This could easily happen if they get the impression that the LSA program is simply a refuge for pilots who are medically unqualified and/or who are not concerned about bending/breaking the rules to stay in the air. This outcome would also be very bad, maybe fatal, for the LSA program, and would not be a good thing for GA either.
As pilots there’s not much we can do to influence this, except to individually approach self-certification sensibly and conservatively. And it probably would not be a real good idea to tell your insurance broker that you’re thinking of switching to LSA because you can’t get a medical any longer.