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Nosedragger vs Taildragger (Why Don't They Cost The Same To Insure?)

By Bob Mackey, Vice President, Falcon Insurance Agency, Inc.

It's a fact: Insurance for a tailwheel airplane costs more than insurance for a nose-gear airplane. Why? Before you answer, first take a couple of steps back and look at some other facts.

In the 1950s Cessna and Piper each decided to begin building aircraft with nose gears in addition to conventional, or tail wheel aircraft. Two main reasons cited in aviation history books were easier takeoff and landing operations, which translated to safer new pilot training. Also, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, more and more airports were adding hard-surface runways, which any tailwheel pilot will tell you are less forgiving for conventional gear landings and taking offs. Keep in mind both Cessna and Piper were competing for the flight school and private ownership markets. Their marketing plans were designed to show their aircraft were easy and fun to fly. The subliminal message may have been that both Cessna and Piper wanted people to feel safer and more comfortable in their easier-to-fly airplanes.

So Cessna launched its 150 and 172 models while Piper developed and released their PA-28 Cherokee series. Today flight schools and individuals all over the world operate these aircraft and their many derivatives.

Insurance companies calculate their premiums based on two primary factors: how much they pay for liability claims and how much they pay for aircraft repairs and total losses. Losses associated with landing and takeoff accidents have a propensity to not involve serious liability claims, but they likely include major airframe damage. Look at your aircraft insurance policy. If you own a standard category nose gear equipped 4-place aircraft worth $50,000, you are probably paying somewhere between $250 and $350 for your liability insurance ($1,000,000 for bodily injury and property damage with a $100,000 per-passenger sub-limit) and you are paying anywhere between $650 and $1,000 for your $50,000 aircraft physical damage, or "hull" insurance. So you can see the majority of the premium you pay is for hull insurance.

When insurance companies set their pricing they look at past losses, which clearly show that tailwheel-configured aircraft experience more takeoff-and-landing losses that nosewheels. So they charge more for insurance on a Cessna 170 than for a Cessna 172.

The difference in insurance costs depends on many factors, but the bottom line is: more losses mean higher premiums. Are there cases where the premiums are identical between, say, a Cessna 182 and a C-180 or 185? Probably not. However, when you have highly qualified pilots in both aircraft the differences do get smaller.

Now, before the taildragger pilots of the world unite and start a fund to have me "bumped off," please understand I personally have owned a Cessna 150 (tailwheel conversion), which I wish I still owned; a Cessna 140A, another great airplane I really enjoyed; and a Cessna 170A that I flew for several years until I rebuilt a Cessna 182.

All of these aircraft were great airplanes and I scared myself more than once in each, however there were days I felt more comfortable flying my Cessna 182 than I did flying the taildraggers I owned. Tailwheels are great airplanes; however insurance companies pay for more landing and takeoff accidents involving taildraggers than nosedraggers, so they charge more premium dollars to insure them.

EAA INSURANCE TIPS is a special EAA Member benefit. If you have an insurance related topic you’d like to see addressed or if you have any comments, please email Bob Mackey. If you need an insurance quotation call 866-647-4EAA (4322) or submit the online quote request form.

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