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From the Front Lines: Aviation

Independent agent Thomas Coughlin cautions that trends like increasing air commerce and drone usage could pose challenges for the aviation insurance market in the years ahead.
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Tom Coughlin

Thomas Coughlin

President & CEO
Air-Sur, Inc.
Ormond Beach, Florida

How did you get started at your agency?

After graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University with a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical studies, I worked for about a year and a half as an admissions counselor, traveling around the country doing career fairs. I met an aviation insurance broker at an aviation event in Kansas and began learning about the aviation insurance industry.

Then, I began discussing the possibility of opening an independent aviation insurance agency with my college friend, who was working as an underwriter for the United States Aircraft Insurance Group. In 1976, we opened Air-Sur, Inc.

Why focus on aviation?

With my interest and experience in both aviation and business, opening an independent aviation insurance agency just seemed like a natural fit.

Biggest aviation changes?

One of the biggest changes in aviation has been an increased emphasis on simulator-based training, which means pilots spend less time flying an actual aircraft before becoming licensed. Over time, the technology and the sophistication of today’s modern aircraft have naturally had an impact on insurance. Additionally, the growth in fractional ownership of business aircraft, such as NetJets, has had an impact on the way we insure the industry.

Biggest aviation challenges?

By 2020, 7 million drones are expected to be in operation. Meaningful regulation and enforcement will be essential for the safety and security of airports and aircraft. In my view, it’s only a matter of time before a rogue drone causes a major aviation tragedy.

Also, as air commerce continues to increase, our air traffic control system needs to urgently modernize to keep pace with the demand. This will enhance the safety and efficiency of moving air cargo and passenger aircraft through the system.

Future of aviation?

The future is bright. There is a shortage of pilots and airframe and powerplant mechanics, but overall, more and more people are flying, and I don’t see that abating any time soon.

Aviation advice for a fellow agent?

If you’re interested in it, commit to learning more about it. Join the Aviation Insurance Association and work toward getting a Certified Aviation Insurance Professional designation.

Also, if you only handle a couple of aviation risks and come across a risk you’re not completely comfortable with, place it through a wholesaler that has the specific aviation expertise—don’t dabble in something and create unnecessary errors & omissions exposures for your agency.

Favorite aviation success story?

We were tasked with placing an aviation product liability policy for a startup aircraft engine manufacturer. They were manufacturing a liquid-cooled, high-output V-8 engine, which was unlike any in the world. Trying to place the coverage for this one-of-a-kind business was nearly an impossible undertaking, but we managed to get it done.

Will Jones is IA assistant editor.