Liability insurance for a self designed bird?

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Ahlgrenator

Member
Hello Everyone,

Been lurking for months and finally decided to join and post. I've been really impressed by what I've seen of the knowledgebase here, it's been an amazing resource already!

If this has been discussed before, please redirect me because I failed to find it. So far insurance questions don't seem directed towards the liability side of things but mostly about coverage related to aircraft damage itself.

I'm in the early stages of planning for my admittedly lofty, and LONG term goal of designing and building my own airplane that is heavily influenced by established airplanes. Currently don't have my PPL but do have a little flying experience from years ago. Depending on this insurance question, and a few others, I'll soon start working towards that PPL. I know this dream might seem overly ambitious, but really don't want to dwell on convincing me this is crazy If there is anyone that feels strongly that this is a guaranteed disaster, I'd be happy to discuss it via PM.
Construction won't start without getting lots of eyes to look it over first.
No passengers until lots of testing has been completed (probably beyond what's required by the FAA)!

Design/engineering is my lifelong passion, my interest in woodworking, welding, machining, etc. is only a means to support the design/engineering side of things. This is why I don't simply go for a kit or plans. I know I'd loose interest and end up selling it on barnstormers.

At this point I'm mostly drawn to something similar to the bearhawk 5 with the ability to carry 6, though it would most typically carry 2 with generous room for gear. The biggest divergences from the original plans would be making the wings fold and using an auto engine conversion.

Is it even conceivable to get liability coverage on something like this?

Are there any specific companies I should reach out to?

What are the biggest reasons to get (or not to get) liability insurance?
from my reading it seems like many PPLs don't even bother... but obviously that doesn't make it a good idea.

Also, I've started reading Pazmany's book on airplane design, are there any other suggestions for good reading material?
If anyone is interested in a discussion about the general design goals and such, I'd certainly welcome it, though not sure the best place to have that discussion

Thanks!
Austin

Wanttaja

Well-Known Member
If you're intending to market the design, then liability insurance will be extremely expensive and very difficult to get.

If you're just looking at a personal aircraft, liability insurance shouldn't be a problem. All homebuilts, technically, are one-of-a-kind aircraft. If you're not looking for the insurance company to reimburse you if the plane gets damaged, the companies shouldn't have that big of an issue.

Should you get liability insurance? Depends on your personal wealth, and your personal condition. Liability insurance is to protect you from others' claims over damage your airplane did to them or their property. If you're single and don't live through the accident, it liability insurance doesn't give you anything. If you're married or you DO live through the accident (a 75% probability), this gives you or your spouse some protection.

People tend to forget that, if they crash, it's their legal responsibility to remove the wreckage from other people's property. That's one of the things liability insurance covers. If you're single and dead, they can try recover the cost from your estate. But if you're married or still living, a lawsuit might result.

Ron Wanttaja

BBerson

Light Plane Philosopher
HBA Supporter
Fly solo only over rural areas and the risk to others is very low.

Dana

Super Moderator
Staff member
My uneducated guess is that liability insurance will be available, but hull insurance is unlikely, at least until the 40 hour test period is complete. Avemco and Falcon are two insurance companies I've dealt with, both are good.

I figured I needed liability insurance just in case a gust of wind caught me as I was taxiing past somebody's expensive airplane. But when I had the accident in my Starduster, I had no hull insurance, but as Ron pointed out the liability paid the $3K for offroad recovery. rv7charlie Well-Known Member I'm on expert, but I have flown exp a/c since 1994. My opinion is that your biggest issue will be the 6 seats. Liability on known designs with a decent safety record and one or two seats is very affordable (what I did with multiple RVs, until I bought one with enough value that I didn't want to run 'neckid'. But when you get above 2 seats, rates tend to go up because the underwriter has more 'exposure'. Most insurers of exp-s also limit 'per passenger' coverage to around$100K as well, so if you have assets worth going after, you're going to still have significant exposure. If the insurer thinks they will likely lose a suit, they can (and have) just paid their policy limit and walked away from the insured, leaving him without the biggest real value in insurance, the lawyers between him and the plaintiff.

Having said all that, if you're just now considering the idea of doing your own design, any answer you get from an ins co today will have little to no relation to reality when the plane is ready to fly. Right now, rates are going up a lot because underwriters are seeing significant losses in a lot of non-aviation areas, but an even bigger deal is that although they've seen over a decade of growth from investing our premiums (which keeps rates low), they are getting really antsy about the odds of growth continuing. Economic cycles typically run in 5-7 year cycles, and we've been going up since 2009. The last several years have been a 'sugar high' from the massive injection of our tax dollars into corporate bottom lines (stock buybacks) with the last tax cut law, and another from the huge Covid related giveaways to corps. Ins co investment depts know that it can't go on forever; there *will* be a market correction, and their investment profits are going to disappear for a while. Of course, by the time your design flies, all this will likely be in the past.

Charlie

Vigilant1

Well-Known Member
Another reason you might need liability insurance: At many airports, liability insurance is required from anyone keeping a plane in one of their rental hangars.

HBA Supporter
Log Member

Ahlgrenator

Member
This is excellent information and I really appreciate the constructive feedback!

Makes sense that the market would have a big influence on rates. I'll keep that in mind.

Would there be a practical method to switch between 2-6 seats after I go through initial paperwork with FAA? For example, maybe insurance is high when initially purchased, and I'm not flying with more than one passenger. Then my needs change and I want to carry 4-6. Could I then change insurance to allow for more passengers or is it set in stone? maybe I just need to talk to the company...

Good point about the hanger but the big reason for needing to fold the wings is that i'd be able to put it in a family members barn for storage.
Can I just use a field as a runway if it's private property? that's why i'm leaning towards a bush type craft.

Always been interested in aviation but never had the resources to get into it. The realization that I could keep it on family land and use a field for a strip is a big win (hopefully). Also the experimental class seems much more affordable so this whole thing might just be possible.

Any ballpark for what I might pay each year? hundreds or thousands?

Maybe I need to have all passengers sign a consent/waiver?

Marc Zeitlin

Exalted Grand Poobah
If you're just looking at a personal aircraft, liability insurance shouldn't be a problem. All homebuilts, technically, are one-of-a-kind aircraft. If you're not looking for the insurance company to reimburse you if the plane gets damaged, the companies shouldn't have that big of an issue.
You would think that would be the case, wouldn't you? A year and a half ago, I worked on a customer's Aerocanard aircraft. This is a 4-seat canard pusher, that from 20 ft. away looks to the marginally trained eye to be identical to a COZY MKIV, and in reality, it IS 98% identical to a COZY MKIV - I've worked on COZY MKIV's that were more different from COZY MKIV's than an Aerocanard is (and this was the original Aerocanard). When the time came to get insurance for the plane, it was almost impossible to even get a QUOTE on the thing, and there are 5 - 10 of these flying - it's NOT a one off. After a lot of arm twisting, and favor gathering, we were able to get insurance on the thing (liability AND hull), but even asking for liability only was a PITA.

We even considered deregistering it and re-registering it as a COZY MKIV, because getting insurance for a COZY MKIV is NOT a nightmare - I pay $550/yr for liability only on my plane, and with a few hundred flying, there's enough of a history that a couple of underwriters are willing to write policies. Doing that would have been only slightly more painful than what we had to do to get insurance. So, for a new design, for which insurance companies have zero history or information, I would NOT say it's a given that one could get either hull or liability insurance, and as others have pointed out, the more seats you have the harder, and who knows what the situation will be 5 - 10 - 15 years down the road. BBerson Light Plane Philosopher HBA Supporter Insurance rates are based on aircraft type history and pilot flight time and history. Much like car insurance but much worse. TFF Well-Known Member You would have to build the plane with two seats and it can be insured as a two seater. To convert it to more seats would require letting the FAA know and flying off some more test flights. That part is not a big deal. Once you convert it to more seats, I doubt you can go back FAA or insurance. Once you declare you have the space, they expect you will be using it. They are not going to let you toggle between possibilities because they are not going to trust you to do the right thing. Age is becoming an issue for insurance. It’s not suppose to discriminate but the algorithm puts a price on every year and crosses it with what you fly. There are quite a few at age 70 who are getting turned down. J Galt Active Member Lifetime Supporter Hello Everyone, Been lurking for months and finally decided to join and post. I've been really impressed by what I've seen of the knowledgebase here, it's been an amazing resource already! If this has been discussed before, please redirect me because I failed to find it. So far insurance questions don't seem directed towards the liability side of things but mostly about coverage related to aircraft damage itself. I'm in the early stages of planning for my admittedly lofty, and LONG term goal of designing and building my own airplane that is heavily influenced by established airplanes. Currently don't have my PPL but do have a little flying experience from years ago. Depending on this insurance question, and a few others, I'll soon start working towards that PPL. I know this dream might seem overly ambitious, but really don't want to dwell on convincing me this is crazy If there is anyone that feels strongly that this is a guaranteed disaster, I'd be happy to discuss it via PM. Construction won't start without getting lots of eyes to look it over first. No passengers until lots of testing has been completed (probably beyond what's required by the FAA)! Design/engineering is my lifelong passion, my interest in woodworking, welding, machining, etc. is only a means to support the design/engineering side of things. This is why I don't simply go for a kit or plans. I know I'd loose interest and end up selling it on barnstormers. At this point I'm mostly drawn to something similar to the bearhawk 5 with the ability to carry 6, though it would most typically carry 2 with generous room for gear. The biggest divergences from the original plans would be making the wings fold and using an auto engine conversion. Is it even conceivable to get liability coverage on something like this? Are there any specific companies I should reach out to? What are the biggest reasons to get (or not to get) liability insurance? from my reading it seems like many PPLs don't even bother... but obviously that doesn't make it a good idea. Also, I've started reading Pazmany's book on airplane design, are there any other suggestions for good reading material? If anyone is interested in a discussion about the general design goals and such, I'd certainly welcome it, though not sure the best place to have that discussion Thanks! Austin Hi Austin, regarding your suggestions for reading material. If you have any physics, math, or basic engineering knowledge, skip all the others and get Snorri Gudmundson's book. I have and have worked through virtually every design book, including both of Raymer's books, Nicolai (early and later version), Heinz, etc etc and Snorri's is the best for GA. It's not perfect and I've had to reference most of the others for various things but you'll know when you need a supplement as you go through Snorri's books. One thing to note is that a lot of these design books are copied directly out of some earlier work so there's a lot of crossover but with a lot of symbol switching so it can get confusing ("a" used to mean 3D lift slope but now CL alpha is more common, etc.). Good luck! Justin Doran Jaffas Well-Known Member Hello Everyone, Been lurking for months and finally decided to join and post. I've been really impressed by what I've seen of the knowledgebase here, it's been an amazing resource already! If this has been discussed before, please redirect me because I failed to find it. So far insurance questions don't seem directed towards the liability side of things but mostly about coverage related to aircraft damage itself. I'm in the early stages of planning for my admittedly lofty, and LONG term goal of designing and building my own airplane that is heavily influenced by established airplanes. Currently don't have my PPL but do have a little flying experience from years ago. Depending on this insurance question, and a few others, I'll soon start working towards that PPL. I know this dream might seem overly ambitious, but really don't want to dwell on convincing me this is crazy If there is anyone that feels strongly that this is a guaranteed disaster, I'd be happy to discuss it via PM. Construction won't start without getting lots of eyes to look it over first. No passengers until lots of testing has been completed (probably beyond what's required by the FAA)! Design/engineering is my lifelong passion, my interest in woodworking, welding, machining, etc. is only a means to support the design/engineering side of things. This is why I don't simply go for a kit or plans. I know I'd loose interest and end up selling it on barnstormers. At this point I'm mostly drawn to something similar to the bearhawk 5 with the ability to carry 6, though it would most typically carry 2 with generous room for gear. The biggest divergences from the original plans would be making the wings fold and using an auto engine conversion. Is it even conceivable to get liability coverage on something like this? Are there any specific companies I should reach out to? What are the biggest reasons to get (or not to get) liability insurance? from my reading it seems like many PPLs don't even bother... but obviously that doesn't make it a good idea. Also, I've started reading Pazmany's book on airplane design, are there any other suggestions for good reading material? If anyone is interested in a discussion about the general design goals and such, I'd certainly welcome it, though not sure the best place to have that discussion Thanks! Austin Don't let anyone steal your dream. Many start and stop before finishing their project and end up selling them. This applies to kits of all types as well as scratch built. In your case, the " odds" may be even higher but .... Big but here...if you look at proven design methods, have your mission thoroughly set, are building within the confines of your skill set or have the determination and financial resources to expand both and look at the aircraft as a job gigsaw puzzle ( one part at a time ) and are willing to dedicate a specific amount time each week then you can beat the odds. This being said, please don't take this wrong, I personally think you should start with a single or two seat smaller project to get a very real time experience of the amount of time and dedication it takes to build and fly an aircraft. You will stand a much better chance of completing a smaller project and still have the pride of having built it. The insurance issue is something that I would talk directly to the insurance companies and the EAA about. Also, the piloting skills need to be prepared and that is another expense and then time commitment. ALL doable with determination. Doran N625MS Turd Ferguson Well-Known Member Can I just use a field as a runway if it's private property? The only restriction you will run into there is local. The city, township, county whatever the case may be could have ordinances that restrict aircraft operations. Might want to quietly research that before getting too far along. I would avoid calling it an airport, airfield or runway. Maybe I need to have all passengers sign a consent/waiver? You might get a passenger to sign a piece of paper saying they will hold you harmless if something goes awry but you'll never get every single person in the liability chain on board. That person's family or next of kin can still sue you into oblivion if something happened. Not something I would lose sleep over. I would just minimize risk and go. Last edited: Pops Well-Known Member HBA Supporter Log Member Takes about as much time designing as building. If its work to you , don't. If its fun for you, do it. If you just want an airplane to fly, Buy. Rockiedog2 Well-Known Member HBA Supporter My original design is a one seater. 1M liability is about$400 a year. Pilot experience will be a factor.

When I finished my strip in 92, I was told the Feds wanted to know about it. They sent me a buncha mostly info requested type forms. Length, obstacles, open to the public type things. I sent it all in and they came back with this "approved" reply. And then they put it on the chart! I didn't want that.
So the neighbor, one of those who can't be outdone by anybody; decided he had to have a strip. Right next door and obviously conflicting traffic patterns. They "disapproved" his. I got a kick outa that. It's still in operation today.
I don't know the "rules" concerning that but what I got out of it was they didn't care about it other than they wanted to know it's there. That was the JAN FSDO.

Rockiedog2

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Takes about as much time designing as building. If its work to you , don't. If its fun for you, do it. If you just want an airplane to fly, Buy.
What Pops said. Most of the builders who just want the plane never finish it.

Ahlgrenator

Member
... I personally think you should start with a single or two seat smaller project to get a very real time experience of the amount of time and dedication it takes to build and fly an aircraft. You will stand a much better chance of completing a smaller project and still have the pride of having built it.
The insurance issue is something that I would talk directly to the insurance companies and the EAA about.
Also, the piloting skills need to be prepared and that is another expense and then time commitment.
ALL doable with determination.

Doran
N625MS
Funny you mention this. I actually started out down the ultralight route and when I confessed the plans to my parents, my dad was mostly just disappointed that I wouldn't be able to take him up in it. This started a long chain of "mission creep" that has me investigating how realistic a 6 seater would be. My dad is recently retired and loves a good project. Wondering/hoping this to be a perfect father son adventure.

Maybe i'm wrong, but my feeling is that the biggest jump in my chain-o-concept-creep is going from 1 to 2 seats. That get's the FAA involved and everything that follows. From a design and construction perspective, it seems like going from 2 to as many as 6 seats doesn't add that much to the design or building time/cost (especially if at first I only have 2 seats plus cargo area) I'd imagine the part count won't skyrocket as many just get bigger. Bigger parts will be more expensive and require more time to make though... am I missing anything?

Also, thanks everyone for taking time to give some quality replies. I couldn't have asked for better feedback!

-Austin

BJC

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
There aren’t very many 6 seat homebuilt plans or kits. Comp Air kitted a few very tough trucks, but, AFAIK, don’t now. Please note that not only am I not recommending a Comp Air project, I would not even consider a free kit.

One consideration is workshop size. A 6 seat, or even a 4 seat will require a bigger building space than a single or most 2 seat HBA.

BJC

Rockiedog2

Well-Known Member
HBA Supporter
Six place? I missed that.
You better hurry. We only here for a short time.