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Summer Is the Season of Thunderstorms: Do You Have Pilot Liability Insurance?

Summer Is the Season of Thunderstorms: Do You Have Pilot Liability Insurance?

Summer is the time of year when pilots like to enjoy the freedom of the skies with their small aircraft. The pilot need not worry about the snow and ice storms of winter. But summer brings the risk of thunderstorms, which are more likely to catch pilots off guard. Winter storms give more advance warning because they take longer to develop and move more slowly. By contrast, thunderstorms form rapidly, move fast, and grow quickly in size.

According to the FAA, commercial flight delays peak during the summer months. The predominant reason is the convective weather associated with thunderstorms. Flying in a thunderstorm is every bit as dangerous as flying in a hurricane except that hurricanes take time to gather strength, and move in from somewhere else. Thunderstorms often pop-up locally.

Thunderstorms present the worst dangers to aircraft both large and small. However, small aircraft are the most vulnerable to their effects. These include:

  • Hail. The strong updrafts associated with thunderstorms draw moisture high in the atmosphere where the temperature is below freezing. This moisture freezes and coalesces into hail. Hail can break windshields and cause other damage.
  • Turbulence. In thunderstorms, warm air rises up, cools and then moves down. The mixture of upward and downward air currents create turbulence that have been known to tear airplanes apart. Turbulence isn’t limited to the storm itself, but can occur in the clear air near the storm.
  • Lightning. Aircraft either have aluminum skin or use composite materials with conductive additives. This forms a Faraday “cage” that directs lightning around and then away from the plane. The plane and its occupants are generally safe because of this. However, some damage can occur at the entry and exit points of the lightning strike. Perhaps the greatest danger from a strike is its effects on the plane’s electrical systems and instruments.
  • Downbursts and microbursts. Downbursts occur when a strong down draft hits the ground and spreads out in all directions. Planes flying into the resulting horizontal wind flow experience strong wind shear. A microburst is like a downburst except that it affects a smaller area.

Whether you are taking people up for rides or are planning a cross-country adventure with a best friend, make sure you have all of your liabilities covered. Don’t trust your financial well-being to luck, because the dangers of summer flying are real. Thunderstorms are dangerous, frequent, and can catch you off guard. Anyone suffering injury or property loss as a result of a flying accident can take you to court. For information about pilot liability insurance and whether it applies to your situation, contact us.

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