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TAMPA, Fla.-The Aviation Insurance Assn. is coming into its own.

Once considered more of social club, the AIA now attracts all the major aviation underwriters in the world, a few airline risk managers and many brokers and lawyers in the aviation insurance field.

For the first time this year, the AIA's membership also includes two of the largest aviation underwriters in the United States, namely Associated Aviation Underwriters of Short Hills, N.J., and U.S. Aviation Underwriters Inc. of New York, part of the U.S. Aircraft Insurance Group.

The AIA's increased professionalism is in part due to its emphasis on education for its members. Each year at its annual conference one day is devoted to Continuing Insurance Education where agents and brokers can earn up to eight hours credit toward their continuing education requirements in many states.

In addition, the association has established the AIA Educational Institute and this year introduced its own comprehensive program to achieve a new professional designation known as the Certified Aviation Insurance Professional.

The course textbook has been written and the final details of the program will be ready by the autumn, said Bruce D. Chadbourne, professor of aviation business administration at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. Mr. Chadbourne and Alexander T. Wells, senior professor of the Aviation Technology Department of Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, are the co-authors of "Introduction to Aviation Insurance and Risk Management" and coordinators of the new CAIP course. Total estimated cost to take the course is expected to be between $550 and $825.

The new designation may not mean much in the first five to seven years of its life, acknowledged C.H. "Corky" Nason, president of aviation broker Nason Associates in Overland, Kan., who has worked hard to get this project off the ground. "But we're going to give it a try" and its prestige will grow over time, he said.

This year's 21st AIA conference attracted about 500 people from around the world to Tampa. The delegates came mainly to talk about general aviation but also to find capacity for airlines and aviation reinsurance programs.

Among them was Alexander V. Goussarov, general director of CINCo Group in Moscow, who visited the conference seeking hull insurance capacity for some of the 200 airlines that have cropped up in Russia.

In the United States, there are now 176,000 active general aviation aircraft from business jets to commuters to helicopters to personally owned aircraft, said Robert E. Breiling, a business aviation consultant in Boca Raton, Fla.

Over the years, corporate aviation has become safer and the number of fatalities have reduced, but hull insurance costs have increased, Mr. Breiling said. For example, in 1988, there were 13 business jet accidents in which 14 people died, while in 1996 there were 11 accidents in which 11 people died. But the insured hull losses for business jets last year totaled $66 million, more than double the $27.3 million in losses in 1988.

One of the largest hull insurance losses last year involved the crash of a corporate jet that killed Arthur F. Quern, chairman and chief executive of Aon Risk Services Co. and three crew on board (BI, Nov. 4, 1996). The Gulfstream IV was insured for $28 million, according to Mr. Breiling. New Gulfstreams are now being built that will be worth between $36 million and $40 million, he said.

Next year's AIA conference will be held May 2-5 in Vancouver, British Columbia. For further details and information on the new professional aviation insurance designation, contact the Aviation Insurance Assn., P.O. Box 2966, Redmond, Wash. 98073; phone: 800-354-7918 or 206-869-9522; fax: 206-861-6499.