Of all segments of the aviation industry, the one that is most affected by aviation safety may very well be insurance. Avemco Insurance Company is one of three aviation insurance companies owned by Tokio Marine HCC and the only direct general aviation insurer in the US. Avemco sells direct to the consumer through its national center in Frederick, Maryland, and online. They insure owners, renters and any other combination of flyers, even customizing policies to specific needs. Avemco invests considerable resources in loss prevention efforts and insurance education through a number of outlets, including airshows. We caught up at AirVenture, just to ask how simulators affect their risk reduction efforts. Since, as insurance underwriters, Avemco constantly evaluates and analyzes the risks involved in insuring pilots and aircraft, it’s quite understandable that they promote proficiency, recurrent and transition training and any activities that keep pilots safe and their risk low.
In Oshkosh, I spoke with Senior VP Marci Lyn Veronie. She is both very passionate and knowledgeable about aviation. Talking with her for a few minutes gave me the feeling that she almost knows every pilot and aircraft personally, tending to their experience, type of flying and safety like it was her own. Marci has spent over 30 years in the aviation insurance industry, rising from an administrative position to Senior VP of sales and marketing. She is a frequent speaker at air shows around the country, including in educational seminars. She is also the Chair of the Board of Directors of Women in Aviation International.
I asked Marci about training and how simulators can improve the level of proficiency. “We have a weekly claims meeting and almost every single Friday we would see the same accident over and over and over again. So we started something called a ‘safety rewards program’ for our policyholders because after looking at all the data we found that pilots who continuously train have better records than those that have thousands of hours but only take a BFR [biennial flight review]. I just talked to this pilot the other day. I’m trying to tell him he needs 10 hours of dual because he was buying a tail-dragger with over 200 horsepower. He is telling me: I’ve got more hours than you’ve been alive! And so I shared with him our results of what we see with high time pilots who have no tail-wheel time whatsoever transitioning into it. That’s a long way to go around but say in our industry if you have tens of thousands of hours people look at you like: wow you must know it all! And we found that there really is a difference between somebody that has 500 hours and continuously, every month is out there flying, versus the person that has 5000 and goes and gets a flight review every two years. Because of that, we created our safety rewards program and basically what we say is: if you go out and you do anything in the air go up with a CFI for two hours. We’ll give you a five percent credit. So we did that for a while and maybe 10 or 20 percent of our policyholders elected to do it. If you go out and do anything on the ground if you jump in a simulator with a CFI, or in any training session, we’d still give them the discount. We said you go on and do some sim work or do anything on the ground, sit through an FAA FAST team webinar and we’ll give you another five percent. So with a little effort, you could get up to 10 percent premium credit on your renewal every year, if you just proved to us that you do something [about training]. This has been going on since 2012 and still to this day only about 50 percent of our policyholders take it. And it’s simple to do, we have a renewal update form that we send out every year and we basically have a line that said tell us what you’ve done. If you tell me you did training in a sim, I would give
you that credit.”
I wondered how they do assess that, but Marci cut me short: “Pilots are pretty honest compared to the general public. Right. They really are!”
What do you tell pilots who want to be and remain safe? ” Often pilots they tell me a story where they scared the hell out of themselves at one time or another. So I always say: go practice that in the sim. Practice in-flight emergencies, any risky situation. A sim is an affordable and powerful tool to enhance what you’re actually doing when you are in the real world with your family in the airplane.”
That is music to our ears since we believe that for many pilots, sims are a sure way to practice and improve your skill set, especially during long months of inactivity due to weather or life taking you in other directions. Moreover, learning on a simulator starting at primary training sets the habit to keep using simulators through your aviation career.
I asked if Avemco uses sims internally as well. Marci: “We started something called aviation university here in our office where we literally created an aviation insurance university for our employees to go through. Basically every department learned about underwriting and we brought pilots from the outside to talk to us about experimental airplanes, how to build an airplane and seaplanes and one of the guys said: Have you ever thought about getting a sim for the office? So we went out and looked and we found a Redbird, when it first came out and got it. Our sim’s not full motion, but it has wrap-around visuals and real flight controls as a Cessna 172S with six-pack gauges. We did that purposely because at the time the local flight schools had this older configuration in their training fleet. John and Martha came from King Schools and helped us with our risk safety rewards program, and offered us the ability to put our employees through their King ground school training tapes. So we put all of the employees through the ground school and then they all took flight lessons in the simulator. Ours is a cyclical business with slow winter months. November to January our employees are in the center and everybody goes through the training. We teach them how to do stalls and turns, how to take-off and how to land.”
That sounds like a great approach to get everybody in the company more sensitive to issues that concern pilots. She continues: “And then we started flying a couple of claim scenarios that we had processed. As an example, we find out that pilots on the East Coast who want to fly out to the West Coast may not know that, say, maybe the winds are different in the mountains. We showed the many ways somebody may get in trouble. That’s how it started and now most of the people here have been at it for a while. What we also do in the sim now is that any time there’s a show like in Oshkosh, we put all our employees who are going in a room and we have them fly into Oshkosh or Lakeland Florida for Sun&Fun or other events like that. That way they are aware of what’s involved and how to do it.”
Marci thinks that these efforts empower employees a little bit because it helps them “get it”. She says: “We can joke we also flew to Oshkosh because we did it in the simulator! All of our internal training helps with conversations on the phone too because we can talk about flying more competently. We had a gentleman one time that got his private ticket and then went out and bought a Cessna Caravan. And so we we talked to him about how it’s really important to go out and load that thing up and do a couple of takeoff and landings with a fully loaded plane, because he made mention to one of our employees that he bought it, got signed off and was taking his whole family to Florida. We’re trying to explain to him that hey it’s like completely different when the plane is full, you know, with his wife, three kids, and the dogs. So we flew that scenario in the center for our employee to see the difference and be able to better advise our client.”
I asked what about her? Does she fly? She said: “Every time I get in the sim I get soaking wet, it’s so realistic. I brought my kid here, he is 13 years old and plays all of these games, and boom, he took off on the sim like a dream and landed it no problems.”
Marci is a leader in her field and she has a direct and most realistic understanding of the ration between risk and reward when flying. We hope that sims will increasingly play a role in general aviation basic-level proficiency. Safe, fun and, as we heard from Marci, in the short term they will save you money and in the long term may even save your life.