What are the various insurance requirements for an owner of a general aviation aircraft?
UPDATED: February 20, 2013
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The basic rule is that insurance is required in general aviation, and proof of that insurance has to be carried in the plane. In addition to having proof, one must have the correct amount of insurance for the planned flight or equipment. This is determined based on the aircraft's categorization (e.g. - maximum takeoff weight [MTOW]). Meeting all current requirements for flying a particular plane, including medical requirements and instrument ratings, licensing, logged flight time, etc. can all affect insurance. That said, a fairly typical liability-only (domestic) US insurance general aviation aircraft policy will provide $100,000 of coverage per passenger/injury.
General Aviation Insurance Rules
Some insurance requirements are common to all general aviation regardless of aircraft particulars. One common example is hangar insurance. The rates for such "supplemental" insurance requirements tend to change, especially as municipally-owned hangars try to find ways to increase revenue and reduce costs. Insurance may also be required for places in which a plane is stored or brought for maintenance. If the plane is being leased, the leasing company may also require its own determined set of insurance coverages. Finally, some aircraft have special insurance rules. For instance, "ultralights" are not "aircraft" according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): they are vehicles. This designation means that you should follow your state's laws just as you would with a car. For instance, If stopped on a public road, a police officer can give a ticket for failing to display vehicle insurance for the plane.
International Liability Insurance
For any flights that go outside of the United States, the insurance requirements not only become more expensive, but also more complicated. For one thing, insurance values are calculated in International Monetary Fund amounts, called SDRs. In Canada and the European Union, minimum liability coverage is at least one million US dollars, based on the lightest aircraft possible (under 1,103 pounds MTOW). For the heaviest general aviation planes, the total liability soars to more than $116 million. The bottom line is that it is now difficult for many US general aviators to obtain domestic insurance for flights out of the US. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association estimates that there are only 500 US general aviators who regularly operate their planes in Europe.