Pilots are a special breed of worker.
I honestly don’t know any other employee group that is required to jump through more physical and mental hoops just to get to work. But I get it…most aircraft don’t land themselves and since 35,000 feet is no place to have a medical hiccup, we really do have to be at the top of our game.
Because of this, most pilots limp through their entire career with the nagging fear that an unexpected injury or illness could throw their finances into a tailspin. A broken leg, a cancer diagnosis, the rogue chest pain…all could easily cause the FAA to snatch our medical and leave us without the means to pay for our pilot lifestyles.
Unless you are fortunate enough to have the recommended 6 months (or more) of your salary stashed away, it might be wise to do some pre-planning to navigate any unexpected rough spots that may be waiting for you. Most insurance companies do not offer disability insurance to pilots because of the “risks” associated with our careers (too many ways for us to be grounded), but there are still options out there if you do your research.
According to the Harvey Watt Insurance Company, 1 in 20 pilots will become disabled at some point in their career with a long-term grounding of 4 months or longer. Surveys also report that 31% of families would feel a financial impact in just one short month after an unexpected loss of an income. So what are we supposed to do???
Actually, there are insurance companies that understand the “uniqueness” of the aviation profession. The problem is that not enough pilots know who they are, what they offer, and what benefits they provide. Being a pilot is stressful enough…a little knowledge and proactive planning might help you sleep better at night!
Disability vs. Loss of License
One of the first things to consider is the distinction between a standard “disability” insurance policy (available to the general public) and an aviation specific “Loss of Medical” or “Loss of License” policy. The definition of a disability means different things to different industries, but the strict regulations governing professional pilots creates a slippery slope for those affected by the inability to work.
For example, a bank teller with a broken leg would be cleared to return to work when the cast is set and the pain is manageable, but a pilot is not able to return to flying until the cast is off and the leg is healed. An accountant may be able to work while undergoing chemo treatments, but a pilot would be grounded for the duration and it may take a year or longer before they can regain their medical certificate, if ever.
So it’s critical to ensure that your chosen policy defines disability as it pertains to your health and your ability to fly as a career. A general disability policy may expect you to get a desk job or find work in another industry if you are unable to fly, but a “Loss of Medical” policy recognizes the uniqueness of aviation and begins the benefit payments as soon as the specified waiting period expires.
Each company has their own products and pricing, but the following will give you a general guide for pilot disability options:
Short Term Loss of Medical:
Generally a relatively short benefit period (usually less than 3 months) designed to help bridge the gap between the injury/illness and the waiting period of long-term insurance.
Long Term Loss of Medical:
Intended for temporary disabilities between 18 and 48 months, with waiting periods up to 1 year. The policy holder expects to return to flying status when their health returns and they once again qualify for a medical certificate.
Extended Long Term Loss of Medical:
This policy picks up when the long-term disability ends. Coverage can continue for a specified number of months after the traditional long term policy expires.
Lump sum catastrophic Loss of License:
This policy is payable when a pilot is determined to be permanently disabled and unable to return to work as a pilot. As the name implies, it is payable in a lump sum and will help the disabled pilot adjust to life without his/her salary.
The decision to buy an aviation-specific insurance policy is a personal choice and is dependent on the risk tolerance of each pilot. Unfortunately, when you need it, it’s too late to buy it, so like every other type of insurance product, it’s best to do your own research and make an informed decision. Whether you need help during a temporary illness or after a permanent disability, the extra money from insurance can only make the transition easier.