Ralph Hood, columnist
We don't get cards and letters anymore, but we do get quite a few e-mails. Must be a sign of the times.
Three pages came from Charlie Linenfelser, who describes himself as "president/owner/operator/bathroom cleaner/floor sweeper/etc." of Roanoke Aero Services, Inc., Roanoke, VA. (I can relate — my own conglomerate, Ralph Hood, Inc., consists of two people and a part-time dog.)
Charlie has been in the maintenance business in Roanoke since 1981, catering to, as he puts it, "mostly the single-engine crowd." During all of that time he has never had an insurance claim. That alone makes his story interesting. AVEMCO insured Charlie most of that time, then they dropped out of the commercial aviation insurance business. Charlie had a lot of trouble finding new insurance. His new policy costs roughly 40 percent more, and does not cover him for overhauling engines. Charlie ain't exactly delighted with the aviation insurance industry.
Well, I researched this a little bit, and all I can say is Charlie and others like him had better get used to it. As Jon Harden — formerly with AVEMCO, now with Aviation Insurance Resources — puts it, "There will always be carriers trying to get the business of big operations like Signature, but it's getting hard for the little general aviation business to find coverage. It's really a shame."
Bob Cannon, Cannon Aviation Insurance, says that a few years ago, he could go to 25 markets for competitive quotes on general aviation. Today, he can go to seven. Also, he points out that Lloyds of London no longer wants general aviation business. Part of this, he says, is because of the suit-happy nature of business in the United States. (Funny, the lawyers keep telling us that lawsuits aren't out of line in this country; business people keep saying they are.)
I surely do wish that I could offer some hope. Frankly, I don't even see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's a real problem, with no sign that it's going away anytime soon.
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On another subject, Brent Seifert, VP of GFK Flight Support, Grand Forks, ND, e-mailed about minimum standards for FBOs. Brent is unhappy about the difference in minimum standards for FBOs and flying clubs, which, he says, are in "direct competition" with his operation.
Now there's a can of worms. I doubt seriously if the FAA, in allowing for not-for-profit flying clubs, really envisioned them competing directly with FBOs. I've heard this complaint so often, however, that I believe there must surely be some fire with all of that smoke. I do know that airports use minimum standards to attract FBOs. "Come to our field, they say, and invest in a facility. Our minimum standards will protect you from unfair competition." To the extent that they use that as a selling point, they should obviously deliver as promised.
A final change of subject: My old laptop just died. I paid $1,500 for it five years ago, so depreciation has been roughly $300 per year. In the meantime, they say, the cost of computers has dropped like a rock. So how come my new laptop costs $2,750? The answer, of course, is that I am no longer satisfied with what my old laptop did. I want more. The new laptop will perform minor miracles immediately, and major miracles in five minutes. It will, they say, last a lifetime, but we all know that five years from now I will buy another. And thus grows a mighty industry.
Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he's insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. He currently serves as National CFI Marketing Mentor for AOPA's Project Pilot Instructor Program.
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