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There is no doubt that the pilot who was operating the aircraft when it crashed was a well-experienced (more than 15 years) commercial pilot and flight instructor with airplane single and multi-engine and instrument ratings. The problem was that, after his death, only a single logbook could be found among the pilot’s effects. The logbook could document only 236 pilot hours, all of which, according to the logbook, had been flown in single engine aircraft within approximately a two-month period earlier that same year. Obviously, the pilot had logged more hours, otherwise how did he get a commercial certificate and the additional instrument and multiengine ratings? Even the insurance company conceded that the pilot had flown more than was reflected in the logbook. Where there missing logbooks? Did the pilot fail to record his other time?
Whatever the possible explanations, the issue came down to the meaning of the term “logged” as used in the policy. The policy does not define the term. Given the situation, the aircraft owner predictably argued that the term should be interpreted to mean hours actually flown but not necessarily recorded. After all, the actual time is what the insurance company should be interested in. The owner was adamant that the pilot had told him, and he believed, that the pilot had logged well over 1,500 hours of multiengine flight time, and over 50 hours in a Cessna 414, “and, indeed, much more than that.” As such, the amount of flight time the pilot actually had was a question of fact that the owners wanted the opportunity to prove in a trial. Not a bad argument considering that all flight time is not required to be recorded, and many pilots don’t record all of their flight time.
FAR 61.51, the regulation that deals with “pilot logbooks,” provides that the only flight time that a pilot must log is the training and aeronautical experience used to meet the requirements for a certificate, rating, or flight review--and the aeronautical experience required for meeting the recent flight experience requirements. That’s all.
The owners’ argument failed, both before the trial court that granted summary judgment to the insurance company (i.e., no trial), and on appeal. The courts’ decisions rested on the interpretation of the term logged in the policy. Both courts concluded that the term means “hours actually flown and reliably recorded in a flight time log.” If no reliable record could be produced, the insurance company wins, no need for a trial.
In reaching this interpretation the appellate court noted that the obvious intent of the insurance company was to limit its liability for losses associated with inexperienced pilots. It is not unreasonable for an insurance company to require a record, said the court. “Human memory is so frail that a record needs to be made of the time, duration, point of departure, and destination of flights during which the [minimum] hours are accumulated. It is the record that gives reliability to the required time.”
The appellate court’s interpretation also rested on what the court said was the accepted meaning of the term “logged” within the aviation industry.
So, a “disastrous” result to seemingly innocent aircraft owners. When many of us, each year, are called upon to complete an application for aircraft insurance, note particularly that the application typically asks for “logged” pilot time, a term easily missed or misunderstood. That term should have special significance to us in light of this case. It’s also worth noting that if you are an aircraft owner who allows other pilots to fly your aircraft, visually check the pilot’s logbook to ensure that he or she has logged the flight time that will satisfy your insurance policy’s requirements. You may even consider making copies of the pertinent logbook pages for your records.
Copyright © Yodice Associates 2005. All rights reserved.
John Yodice is the Senior Partner of the Law Offices of Yodice Associates, a law firm experienced in aviation legal matters involving DOT, FAA and TSA certification and compliance, corporate governance, aircraft transactions and more. www.yodice.com
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