By S. Clayton Moore
Aviation savvy insurance agent George Westfall has opened a new business specializing in providing insurance coverage for the country’s aviators and aviation companies. The longtime veteran of the insurance industry and the aviation world has over 30 years’ experience in negotiating coverage.
His clients range from private pilots to the biggest corporations in the world, and he wants to put that know-how to work for new clients. His company, Private Jet Insurance Services, Inc., was formed in 2004 and operates near Van Nuys Airport in Calabasas, Calif.
“I think I’m unusual because I’ve had a broad flying background,” Westfall said. “I spent nearly 20 years flying fast and slow airplanes and it’s given me an appreciation for flying, but also for the underwriting side of the equation.”
Westfall knows the perils of aviation firsthand. He graduated from Cal State University at Hayward in 1966, took a week off, and then reported to Pensacola to begin two tours of duty in the U.S. Navy. He served as a fighter pilot, flying F-8 Crusaders and F-4 Phantoms. His second tour took him to the USS Coral in the Gulf of Tonkin, where he was assigned to the VF-51 “Screaming Eagles” from January to July of 1972.
“It was the very peak of the air war,” Westfall remembered. “I certainly brought a few F-4s back full of holes. I was in the air the same day that (fighter ace and current California congressman) Randy Cunningham shot down three aircraft. We took out the docks of Haiphong for the first time. We did everything that the Air Force and Navy wanted to accomplish when Nixon took the wraps off. I was fortunate enough to be part of that effort.”
He returned to the states intending to sign up as an airline pilot for Delta but a snafu with his separation papers kept him from the opportunity. Instead, he took a job with U.S. Aviation Underwriters in 1973. Over the next decade, he became a highly qualified broker, working out of offices in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and finally Minneapolis, where he opened and managed an office until 1984.
In 1984, he left the company to begin a 20-year career with Johnson and Higgins in Los Angeles. His clients included huge aviation players like Teledyne and Continental Motors. Working for such a large firm gave Westfall the experience to place insurance deals for major airlines and aircraft engine and airframe manufacturers.
“I got a chance to handle small and large airlines from a service standpoint,” Westfall said. “At that level, accounts are based on a global basis. It’s not just a U.S. insurer that supports them. It’s the U.S. and Bermuda and London and Munich and Zurich. What brokers do is put together a consortium of insurance companies into a syndicate where each company contributes the percentage of coverage that they can handle.”
He later worked for Marsh & McLennan but left the company in 2003 to start his new business. Last year, Private Jet Services, Inc., an emerging aircraft management firm based at Van Nuys that needed help with their insurance coverage, approached Westfall. Westfall agreed to manage the company’s insurance agreements and get them better rates on their coverage.
Today, Private Jet Services, Inc. is the parent company of Westfall’s new venture, Private Jet Insurance Services, Inc. Westfall’s company was incorporated in 2004, and the aircraft management firm is backing him financially. While he continues to manage the insurance needs of Private Jet Services, Inc., Westfall’s extensive experience and contacts in the world’s aviation industries have led to a quick expansion of his clientele.
Westfall’s extensive experience and contacts in the world’s aviation industries have led to a quick expansion of his clientele. One area he has focused on is the emerging market for very light jets. He made the initial insurance placement for Adam Aircraft in 2002. He’s also been responsible for the initial and ongoing placement of insurance for Aircraft Technology Group, the manufacturers of the state-of-the-art Javelin aircraft.
“With new manufacturers and really anyone with new products, it’s hard to get the world’s attention and get an initial insurance placement made, simply because a lot of them fail,” Westfall explained. “It’s a complex issue and it only makes sense over the long term. Making the placements for these new companies is a feat that really takes credibility in the marketplace and a proven track record making these kinds of deals. I and the people behind me have had unique success.”
Westfall is also anticipating new business from the many VLJ customers who are awaiting their new jets.
“Part of handling a VLJ manufacturer is setting up the market for their clientele,” Westfall said. “It’s a big issue.”
To secure coverage, Westfall is constantly on the phone with insurance underwriters in the world’s great financial cities, especially London.
“London is where the insurance business grew up historically,” Westfall observed. “There’s a whole conglomeration of insurance companies that provide coverage for aviation, and they’re located uniquely in one spot in the world. My London contacts literally walk the streets of London until they get a full subscription to the policy.”
On this side of the ocean, Westfall makes contacts with America’s national underwriters, as well as working with his own contacts in London and Paris. He doesn’t just focus on major manufacturers. Private Jet Insurance Services is a full service operation, offering innovation and practical solutions to many different insurance needs. Westfall will secure hull and liability insurance for general aviation and corporate aircraft, airport liability coverage for private or municipal airports, aviation products liability for airframe and engine manufacturers, and aviation workers compensation.
“I’m soliciting business from all sorts of areas,” Westfall said. “I’m very familiar with everything from large manufacturers down to the individual with a Bonanza.”
He warned that all facets of the insurance industry will see increased rates due to the massive consequences of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
“We’ll definitely see the consequences of these storms in the marketplace,” he said. “Prices are going to go up. These companies are going to seek to recover their losses, and they’re going to do that by raising prices on property insurance and other disciplines. I can’t change the nature of the news, but I can keep my clients educated.”
Westfall recommends that aviators shopping for their insurance find a broker they trust and stick with that person.
“If people are going to shop their insurance and benefit from the best price, they should allow one broker to handle their insurance needs,” he said. “Two brokers working this small aviation market can’t play the market off itself. One broker can.”
He also says that experience counts when it comes to insurance.
“It doesn’t hurt to have someone with a little grey hair to plead your case,” Westfall said. “So very often the big insurance firms have technical assistance and every other amenity, but all they’re doing is shipping off the facts and figures to different providers. There’s a best place for each different kind of risk, and the best way to accomplish your insurance goals is through the personal attention of someone like myself.”
For more information about Private Jet Insurance Services, visit [http://www.aviationinsurancebroker.com].