FAA Exemptions Can Cause Pilot Conundrums

 - April 8, 2020, 8:54 AM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

Crewmembers with training requirements or medicals expiring between March 31 and June 30, who have difficulty meeting these due to Covid-19 concerns, may find some relief in a series of FAA exemptions issued in late March. But some experts urge caution due to insurance concerns.

“We recommend that any persons whose airman medical certificate will expire between now and the end of June should continue their efforts to obtain this certificate as quickly as possible,” said James Viola, president and CEO of Helicopter Association International in a statement issued on March 31. “I note that the document was signed by Legal, not Flight Standards…It’s also possible that insurance companies may not acknowledge this document as binding.”

One rule change issued March 26 states that the FAA “will not take legal enforcement action” against crew members who continue to fly on expired medicals through June 30, 2020, with certain caveats. An exemption issued March 30 extends the duration of medical certificates for pilots who conduct Part 135 operations outside the United States to June 30, 2020 if those medical certificates expire between March 31 and May 31. Another set of FAA exemptions address various training requirements for pilots and flight attendants in Part 135 and Part 121 operations.

For many pilots, the medical exemptions may have fewer insurance ramifications than the training exemptions. Representatives from both Avemco and United States Aircraft Insurance Group (USAIG) noted that many of their policies do not have exclusions for expired medicals, and Starr Insurance companies recently issued a statement accommodating extensions for recurrent training and medical certificates.  

“Even under normal circumstances, there isn’t anything in our [aircraft owner’s hull and liability] policy that says the pilot’s medical, flight review and aircraft annual must be current to receive coverage,” said Mike Adams, senior v-p of underwriting at Avemco, who noted that Avemco’s rental policies do require the pilot to have a valid medical and currency at the time of the flight. “If the FAA is granting an exemption on a pilot’s medical certificate due to the coronavirus situation, we would consider it a valid medical as well.”

USAIG president John Brogan encouraged pilots flying under the FAA exemptions to contact their broker about receiving an extension from their insurance company.

“Pilots in this situation need to make sure their insurance carrier will honor the FAA exemption,” said Brogan. “Especially with training exemptions, it will depend on the policy language and the individual risk. An underwriter might look at a risk and say, this pilot has been flying this same aircraft for 10 years, has thousands of hours in it and has done this training every year for 10 years, so yes we can give him an exemption for this year. But that same underwriter might give a different answer to a pilot who has different experience, or has just transitioned into the aircraft.”