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Aviation Woes

Coping with Cancellations

Could a weather-related insurance solution be designed to help airlines cope with cancellation losses?
By: | April 23, 2014 • 4 min read
02282014Airlines

Airlines typically can offset revenue losses for cancellations due to bad weather either by saving on fuel and salary costs or rerouting passengers on other flights, but this year’s revenue losses from the worst winter storm season in years might be too much for traditional measures.

At least one broker said the time may be right for airlines to consider crafting custom insurance programs to account for such devastating seasons.

For a good part of the country, including many parts of the Southeast, snow and ice storms have wreaked havoc on flight cancellations, with a mid-February storm being the worst of all. On Feb. 13, a snowstorm from Virginia to Maine caused airlines to scrub 7,561 U.S. flights, more than the 7,400 cancelled flights due to Hurricane Sandy, according to MasFlight, industry data tracker based in Bethesda, Md.

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Roughly 100,000 flights have been canceled since Dec. 1, MasFlight said.

Just United, alone, the world’s second-largest airline, reported that it had cancelled 22,500 flights in January and February, 2014, according to Bloomberg. The airline’s completed regional flights was 87.1 percent, which was “an extraordinarily low level,” and almost 9 percentage points below its mainline operations, it reported.

And another potentially heavy snowfall was forecast for last weekend, from California to New England.

The sheer amount of cancellations this winter are likely straining airlines’ bottom lines, said Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade group for major U.S. airline companies.

“The airline industry’s fixed costs are high, therefore the majority of operating costs will still be incurred by airlines, even for canceled flights,” Connell wrote in an email. “If a flight is canceled due to weather, the only significant cost that the airline avoids is fuel; otherwise, it must still pay ownership costs for aircraft and ground equipment, maintenance costs and overhead and most crew costs. Extended storms and other sources of irregular operations are clear reminders of the industry’s operational and financial vulnerability to factors outside its control.”

Bob Mann, an independent airline analyst and consultant who is principal of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc. in Port Washington, N.Y., said that two-thirds of costs — fuel and labor — are short-term variable costs, but that fixed charges are “unfortunately incurred.” Airlines just typically absorb those costs.

“I am not aware of any airline that has considered taking out business interruption insurance for weather-related disruptions; it is simply a part of the business,” Mann said.

Chuck Cederroth, managing director at Aon Risk Solutions’ aviation practice, said carriers would probably not want to insure airlines against cancellations because airlines have control over whether a flight will be canceled, particularly if they don’t want to risk being fined up to $27,500 for each passenger by the Federal Aviation Administration when passengers are stuck on a tarmac for hours.

“How could an insurance product work when the insured is the one who controls the trigger?” Cederroth asked. “I think it would be a product that insurance companies would probably have a hard time providing.”

But Brad Meinhardt, U.S. aviation practice leader, for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., said now may be the best time for airlines — and insurance carriers — to think about crafting a specialized insurance program to cover fluke years like this one.

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“I would be stunned if this subject hasn’t made its way up into the C-suites of major and mid-sized airlines,” Meinhardt said. “When these events happen, people tend to look over their shoulder and ask if there is a solution for such events.”

Airlines often hedge losses from unknown variables such as varying fuel costs or interest rate fluctuations using derivatives, but those tools may not be enough for severe winters such as this year’s, he said. While products like business interruption insurance may not be used for airlines, they could look at weather-related insurance products that have very specific triggers.

For example, airlines could designate a period of time for such a “tough winter policy,” say from the period of November to March, in which they can manage cancellations due to 10 days of heavy snowfall, Meinhardt said. That amount could be designated their retention in such a policy, and anything in excess of the designated snowfall days could be a defined benefit that a carrier could pay if the policy is triggered. Possibly, the trigger would be inches of snowfall. “Custom solutions are the idea,” he said.

“Airlines are not likely buying any of these types of products now, but I think there’s probably some thinking along those lines right now as many might have to take losses as write-downs on their quarterly earnings and hope this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “There probably needs to be one airline making a trailblazing action on an insurance or derivative product — something that gets people talking about how to hedge against those losses in the future.”

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at riskletters@lrp.com.
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It’s All About Content

Sleeker. Bolder. More responsive. In a word - immersive.

A more immersive reading experience? We’re glad you asked. A cleaner layout and typographic design keeps your focus on the content. The “infinite scroll,” simplified navigation and Google search make finding interesting articles easier. And no matter your screen size – PC, tablet or phone – the site is optimized to ensure the same great experience.

The benefits of the site are mostly self-evident. But a few features are worth highlighting to help get you started:

Article Pages

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Current Section: Displays the issue, topic, author or section you are currently viewing.

Content Ribbon: Lists all of the articles in the current section. Easily browse the articles and click on any tile to load that article into the infinite scroll.

Infinite Scroll: Read each article from top to bottom without having to click to continue. The next article loads automatically so you can continuously read/browse an entire issue or section – similar to how you read a print magazine.

Full Screen: Click the arrow to hide the content ribbon and create a clutter-free article reading experience. Also handy for smaller screens or tablets.

More Ways to Explore

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Nav Bar: Click the gray bar to reveal several filters, sections and topics that tailor articles to your interests. 

Authors/Topics: Reading an article you like? Click on the author’s name to see all of their content or click on one of the topics to load that section.

Google Search: Still not finding what you want? The search bar slides out to help you find it.

Responsive Design (Mobile Optimized) 

The site utilizes a responsive design. That means the layout automatically adjusts to different screen sizes. You can see the technology in action by adjusting the size of your browser window. It’s pretty cool.

But responsive design is more than just a neat trick. It ensures that our new site looks great and works well on all screen sizes. Call us a website or, if you like, a web app – the site combines the benefits of the free and open web with the elegance of an application.

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More to Come

But we are not done yet. The site enables us to integrate new content types into our stories. Over the next year, you will see more charts, graphs, infographics, videos, photos, etc.

Be sure to sign-up for one of our newsletters to stay abreast of all these developments as well as the latest articles and content we publish.

In the meantime, we would love to hear your feedback about the new site or anything else we do. Write to us at riskletters@lrp.com.

Sponsored: Liberty Mutual Insurance

Construction’s New World

The underwriting of construction risk is undergoing a drastic change, one that may take many years to resolve.
By: | November 3, 2014 • 5 min read

Get off a plane at Logan Airport and cross the harbor toward Boston and you will see construction cranes, a lot of them.

Grab an Amtrak train from Philadelphia into New York and pulling into Penn Station, you will see more construction cranes, many more of them. The same scene repeats in Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago.

All that steel and cable in the skyline signifies a construction industry that is growing again, after having the rug pulled out from under it in the Great Recession of 2008-2010.

The cranes these days look the same as cranes looked in 2008, but the risk management and insurance environment in construction is anything but the same now.

A variety of factors are now in play that have drastically changed construction risk underwriting, according to Doug Cauti, a senior vice president and chief underwriting officer with Boston-based Liberty Mutual’s construction practice.

Doug Cauti characterizes the current construction market.

Talent and Margins

For one thing, according to Cauti, the available talent pool in construction is nowhere near what it was pre-recession.

“When the economy went into its downturn, a lot of talent left the business and hasn’t returned,” Cauti said.

Cauti said recent conversations with large contractors in Ohio and Pennsylvania confirmed once again that contractors are facing a workforce that is either aging or very inexperienced. That leads to safety management and project quality concerns at just the moment in time that construction is rebounding.

Doug identifies one of the top risk management issues facing construction firms today.

Workers compensation risks in construction, already a problematic area, are seeing an impact from that dynamic.

Contractors are also facing much more competition. In the past, contractors might have bid on 10 jobs to get one, now they have to bid on 50 or 60 jobs to get one. That’s putting pressure on margins.

“There are a lot of contractors out there competing for business,” Cauti said.

“Margins are going up but not at the same rate as the industry’s recovery,” he added.

Financing and Risk Transfer

Another factor impacting the way construction risk is being underwritten is the size of projects and the way they are being financed. Construction’s recovery from the recession might be slow and steady, but the size of projects requiring risk management and insurance has increased substantially.

In 2010, there were 85 projects under contract nationally that were worth $1 billion or more, according to Cauti. One year later, the percentage of projects of that value or higher had grown by 30 percent, and the trend continues.

A lot of those projects are design-build, a relatively new approach to construction that Liberty Mutual has grown comfortable underwriting over the years. But design-build is still an additional complication, blurring the traditional lines of responsibility.

SponsoredContent_LM“We did it when the growth in contractor-controlled insurance programs happened, we did it with the evolution in design-build and we’re laying the groundwork to be a thought leader in public-private partnerships and integrated project delivery.”
– Doug Cauti, Chief Underwriting Officer, Liberty Mutual National Insurance Specialty Construction

Given the funding demands of these much larger and more valuable projects — many of them badly needed public sector infrastructure improvements — public-private partnerships, otherwise known as P3s, are now coming into vogue as a financing option.

But deciding how risk should be allocated, underwritten and transferred in this new arrangement between contractors, the state, and private partners is a relatively new and untested science.

As a thought leader in the underwriting of the design-build approach – and the more traditional design-bid-build – Cauti said construction experts within Liberty Mutual are growing their knowledge to stay in step.

“We did it when the growth in contractor-controlled insurance programs happened, we did it with the evolution in design-build and we’re laying the groundwork to be a thought leader in public-private partnerships and integrated project delivery,” he said.

That means attending relevant industry conferences like the annual IRMI Construction Risk Conference where Liberty Mutual has maintained a significant presence, and engaging in dialogues with contractors and government officials, and maintaining clear and active lines of communications with brokers.

Doug discusses emerging approaches to construction.

Legal and Regulatory

Another change that is creating challenges for construction risk underwriting, according to Cauti, stems from what’s happening in United States courtrooms.

Across the country, how a court interprets coverage can vary widely, especially in the area of construction defect.

“In the past, many jurisdictions viewed construction defect simply as shoddy workmanship and they had to go back and redo it,” Cauti said.

But now, on a state by state basis, courts are ruling that a construction defect is an accident under certain circumstances that may be covered by a contractor’s general liability policy.

In 2014 alone, according to Cauti, Supreme Courts in West Virginia, Connecticut and North Dakota ruled that construction defects can sometimes be considered accidents.

Cauti said doing business with a carrier that pursues contract clarity whenever possible – and that possesses an experienced claims team that can navigate the wide variety of state interpretations – is absolutely essential to the buyer.

Having claim teams not only dedicated to construction but also to construction defect, adds a lot of value to a carrier’s offering.

Doug outlines another top risk management issue facing construction firms in today’s booming market.

Now, as never before, contractors are relying on experienced construction insurance teams to help them address these complexities.

Insurers need to have the engineering expertise to analyze a project, to make sure the right contracting team is in place and to insure that risk exposures are being properly assessed. Another key in a construction insurance team, according to Cauti, is the claims department.

A Strategic Approach

The legal and financing changes that are taking place in the construction market, from a risk transfer standpoint, aren’t going to get ironed out overnight.

Cauti said it could be 10 years until the construction and insurance industries fully understand the complications of public-private partnerships and integrated project delivery, these approaches gain traction, and the state-by-state legal decisions that are causing so much uncertainty can be digested.

In the meantime, an engaged, collaborative approach between carriers, brokers, contractors, and their financing partners will be necessary.

Doug discusses how his area can provide value to project owners and contractors.

For more information on how Liberty Mutual Insurance can help assess your construction risk exposure, contact your broker or Doug Cauti at douglas.cauti@libertymutual.com.

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This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.


Liberty Mutual Insurance offers a wide range of insurance products and services, including general liability, property, commercial automobile, excess casualty, workers compensation and group benefits.
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