Aviation Pricing up Sharply
The horrors of airline disasters have been flashing on cable news for 24 hours, seven days a week, for months.
Four months ago, Malaysian Airlines Flight MG370 disappeared en route to Beijing with 239 passengers. Then on July 17, pro-Russian rebels apparently blasted Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 out of the sky over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers on board.
While The Guardian asked the legitimate question of whether Malaysian Airlines will survive the double-header disasters, the aviation insurance industry on the whole appears to be on solid ground.
“For the most part is, there hasn’t been a real knee-jerk reaction,” said Garrett Hanrahan, U.S. aviation practice leader for Marsh in Dallas. “The market has been rational in the way that it has approached what has happened.”
That’s saying something, given what the market is facing.
The war hull market takes in $60 million in worldwide premium but is looking at 10 times that in losses from recent events, estimated Hanrahan’s colleague, Brian Glod, Marsh’s U.S. airline practice leader in New York.
That includes paying out the full property value of MH17 as well as half of the missing Malaysian plane (with all-risk aviation taking the other half; common practice in these “unknown cause” scenarios).
Video: This report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. looks at how Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 ended up flying in the volatile Eastern Ukraine region.
Then, there’s the biggest event from a monetary standpoint: a two-day battle between rebel groups in July that destroyed up to 12 aircraft at Tripoli’s airport in Libya. This event’s total losses could be upward of $500 million, Glod said.
While war hull underwriters may not be panicking, as Hanrahan suggested, they are looking to collect.
Paul Tuhy, head of XL’s Global Aviation business, reported he’s heard of rate increases in the market of 300 percent to 1,000 percent.
The other aviation coverage impacted is primary hull and liability, and underwriters there can be expected to recover losses in upcoming premiums. They’re also getting hit with the July 24 crash of Air Algerie Flight 5017, where terrorism was ruled out, and the July 23 crash of TransAsia Flight GE222, mostly likely caused by weather.
“I do think the market will react with rate increases,” Tuhy said, indicating it’s been a soft market looking for a rationale to pivot.
Still, underwriters aren’t panicking because, as A.M. Best reported in a briefing on MH-17, no ratings actions will result from the losses.
That, and the competitiveness in the primary aviation market, means ample availability.
“There still is an enormous amount of capacity in the aviation insurance marketplace, and that is keeping a lid on the pot,” said Hanrahan, echoing the conclusions of the Best report.
Airlines appear to be handling the spate of incidents in stride as well. Recent news reports (such as this article in The Economist) have made much of airlines’ decisions to reroute (or not reroute) flights away from Ukraine and other war zones.
These decisions, said Glod, are coming from senior management, well above the risk manager’s head.
But risk managers will be the ones asked by underwriters about flight paths and whether their planes will come close to hotspots.
“They’re asking those questions now,” Glod said, of underwriters.
The result could be a tiered underwriting approach, Hanrahan said, where insurers will break down operators’ risk geographically — where do they fly to, over and from?
In such a system, U.S. operators — which are “extremely diligent and cautious,” said Glod — most likely will not pay a disproportionate amount of the rate increases.
XL confirmed that it has been asking about plane flight paths, said Tuhy.
These terrible incidents do not happen very often, he said, but “but when they do happen, they’re bad.”
Examining Claims Losses
Marine-related claims — skewed by the expensive Costa Concordia loss — resulted in the highest insurance claim losses, by dollar amount, according to a recent report by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty.
The top causes of claims losses between 2009 and 2013 were, in order: ship and boat grounding, fire, aviation crash, earthquake, storm, bodily injury (including fatalities), flood, professional indemnity, product defects and machinery breakdown, according to AGCS’ Global Claims Review 2014.
The report listed the top causes of loss and emerging trends, based on more than 11,000 major business claims in 148 countries, each costing more than €100,000 ($136,455).
“This report is the first of its kind, and it demonstrated the kind of technical understanding we have and the fact that we continue to invest in our claims departments and technical training,” said Terry Campbell, AGCS vice president, regional claims head, in New York City.
“While the losses analyzed are not representative of the industry as a whole, they give a strong indication of the major risks which dominate industrial insurance,” according to the report, which noted that the claims involve other carriers as well.
Within the marine industry, rising claims inflation along with the growing problem of crew negligence and the high cost of wreck removal have all contributed to a worrying rise in the cost of claims, according to the report.
However, frequency of claims, especially from cargo losses, appears to be declining.
Repair costs resulting from a grounding have increased in recent years due to improved technology of underwater machinery, said Rob Winn, area vice president, marine claims, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (AJG)
Items such as drop-down thrusters and multi-pitch props are often damaged in a grounding and are very expensive to repair, he said.
Video: This CNN segment shows some of the salvage operation involving the Costa Concordia.
While the grounding numbers in 2012 were skewed by the Costa Concordia loss in 2012, groundings were relatively infrequent (8 percent) in the insurer’s report. Crew negligence was more often a main driver of claims, with it being listed as a potential contributing factor in more than six in 10 claims over $1.4 million.
“Those companies that invest in training and education can see a significant reduction in the number of ship groundings and related incidents,” Campbell said.
Bumpy Triche, regional executive vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services Inc. in New Orleans, said shipping companies involved in global trade rely heavily upon foreign crews, and so it’s “imperative” that training and operational manuals are done in the preferred languages of their multinational crews.
Crew training also should be done on the particular navigational electronic system used on the vessel where the crew will be assigned, he said.
“Boats working in our local waters here in Louisiana need to be aware of the impacts of diminishing wetlands and coastal erosion and the effect on bayous and other inland waterways,” Triche said. “They may not realize they are now in much shallower water than what the navigational charts might depict, and can get stuck.”
Not only are the vessels operating in shallower water as a result of coastal erosion, but they are also encountering pipelines that were originally on land, Winn said. Those pipelines are not properly buried and are hazards to navigation.
As “blue water” vessels age and offshore vessels become larger and more sophisticated, companies should proactively address maintenance problems and “not use their hull policy as a maintenance program,” Triche said.
Aviation Claims Rising
Improvements in airline safety have led to far fewer catastrophic losses overall, despite 2014’s extraordinary loss activity, according to the AGCS report.
However, the cost of aviation claims is rising, driven by the widespread use of new materials and rising aircraft complexity, as well as more demanding regulation and the continuing growth of liability-based litigation.
Video: The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports on the shooting down of MH 17 over Ukraine, which may result in insurers’ insisting that airlines avoid “hot spots.”
While aviation crashes were the top causes of loss in terms of number of claims (23 percent) and value (37 percent), on-the-ground incidents accounted for 18 percent claims in number, and 15 percent in value, according to the report.
Bird strikes were a notable cause of loss, averaging $22.8 million every year from 2009 to 2013, with a total of 34 incidents.
Bradley Meinhardt, AJG area president and managing director, aviation, in Las Vegas, said that aviation safety innovations over the past several decades include enhanced ground proximity warning systems, terrain awareness and warning systems,and traffic collision avoidance systems.
Such systems offer pilots increased situational awareness in a semi-autonomous environment, reacting to synthetic voice instructions, he said.
“Even in a potentially disastrous situation contemplating an airspace controller’s error, the aircraft may be saved by these on-board systems,” Meinhardt said. “These innovations have literally changed the landscape of aviation safety.”
While all of these systems reduce workload, pilots still need to be prepared to fly the aircraft themselves if the systems go awry, he said.
“Pilots should manually fly their aircraft every so often – one airline pilot tells me he routinely flies one of the five flights he has on a given day,” Meinhardt said.
Aircraft manufacturers are using alternative, lightweight materials to make aircraft lighter and more capable to fly longer distances, said Peter Schmitz, chief executive officer of Aon Risk Solutions’ national aviation practice in New York City.
However, manufacturers need to continue to improve newer generation aircraft and perhaps consider making them more capable to withstand issues like severe turbulence and outside interferences, he said.
“Airlines also have to seriously consider whether they should fly over hot spots where there is conflict, after what happened to Malaysian Airlines over Ukraine this summer,” Schmitz said.
“But the commercial issue becomes, how far does the plane have to go around such hot spots. Is the public willing to spend longer periods onboard the plane and potentially pay more to satisfy those safety requirements?”
For the energy sector, the cost of claims is increasing due to higher asset values combined with increasingly complex and interrelated risks, according to AGCS. The rising cost of business interruption and emerging risks such as cyber threats and new technologies will also make for a more challenging future environment.
Fire is the No. 1 cause of energy losses, according to the report, both by number (45 percent) and value (65 percent), followed by blow-out (18 percent and19 percent, respectively).
Machinery breakdown, explosion, natural hazards such as storms and contingent business interruption, were the other main causes of loss, according to the report.
Bruce Jefferis, chief executive officer of Aon’s energy practice in Houston, said that because the energy sector has very high-valued assets, losses are typical more costly than losses in many other industries.
“Even if it’s a relatively minor incident at a refinery or a petrochemical plant, it doesn’t take much to lose a lot of dollars,” Jefferis said.
“Even with the best safety and loss control procedures, natural disasters and other incidents can still cause damage which results in significant loss of property and business interruption.”
Stuart Wallace, AJG area executive vice president, energy practice, in Houston, said the energy sector is growing “incredibly,” both in traditional markets like Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, and new areas of the country like the Bakken Formation in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and parts of Canada.
“But with the growth comes a higher demand for people, and at times, the hiring pool becomes a big challenge, and energy companies are likely not hiring the most experienced, trained, people to work on crews or drive vehicles — and that tends to lead to accidents,” Wallace said.
Moreover, energy companies are now in areas that historically haven’t had infrastructure such as pipelines and roads, he said.
With the lack of infrastructure, trucking accidents have seen an increase due to road conditions, less qualified drivers and start-up transportation companies with less experience in transporting oil or gas.
“To lessen accidents, it starts at the beginning with better hiring practices, then ongoing training, continuing education, and monitoring of employees’ performance and accident rates, particularly for workers’ compensation and automobile liability,” Wallace said.
Passion for the Prize
In his 1990 book, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power, Pulitzer Prize winning author Daniel Yergin documented the passion that drove oil exploration from the first oil well sunk in Titusville, Penn. by Col. Edwin Drake in 1859, to the multinational crusades that enriched Saudi Arabia 100 years later.
Even with the recent decline in crude oil prices, the quest for oil and its sister substance, natural gas, is as fevered now as it was in 1859.
While lower product prices are causing some upstream oil and gas companies to cut back on exploration and production, they create opportunities for others. In fact, for many midstream oil and gas companies, lower prices create an opportunity to buy low, store product, and then sell high when the crude and gas markets rebound.
The current record supply of domestic crude oil and gas largely results from horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods, which make it practical to extract product in formerly played-out or untapped formations, from the Panhandle to the Bakken.
But these technologies — and the current market they helped create — require underwriters that are as passionate, committed and knowledgeable about energy risk as the oil and gas explorers they insure.
Liability fears and incessant press coverage — from the Denton fracking ban to the Heckmann verdict — may cause some underwriters to regard fracking and horizontal drilling with a suppressed appetite. Other carriers, keen to generate premium revenue despite their limited industry knowledge, may try to buy their way into this high-stakes game with soft pricing.
For Matt Waters, the chief underwriting officer of Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy, this is the time to employ a deep underwriting expertise to embrace the current energy market and extraction methods responsibly and profitably.
“In the oil and gas business right now, you have to have risk solutions for the new market, fracking and horizontal drilling, and it can’t be avoidance,” Waters said.
Matt Waters, chief underwriting officer of Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy, reviews some risk management best practices for fracking and horizontal drilling.
Waters’ group underwrites upstream energy risks — those involved in all phases of onshore exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas from wells sunk into the earth — and midstream energy risks, those that involve the distribution or transportation of oil and gas to processing plants, refineries and consumers.
Risk in Motion
Seven to eight years ago, the technologies to horizontally drill and use fluids to fracture shale formations were barely in play. Now they are well established and have changed the domestic energy market, and consequently risk management for energy companies.
One of those changes is in the area of commercial auto and related coverages.
Fracking and horizontal drilling have dramatically altered oil and gas production, significantly increasing the number of vehicle trips to production and exploration sites. The new technologies require vehicles move water for drilling fluids and fracking, remove these fluids once they are used, bring hundreds of tons of chemicals and proppants, and transport all the specialty equipment required for these extraction methods.
The increase in vehicle use comes at a time when professional drivers, especially those with energy skills, are in short supply. The unfortunate result is more accidents.
“In the oil and gas business right now, you have to have risk solutions for the new market, fracking and horizontal drilling, and it can’t be avoidance.”
— Matt Waters, chief underwriting officer, Liberty Mutual Commercial Insurance Specialty – Energy
For example, in Pennsylvania, home to the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation, overall traffic fatalities across the state are down 19 percent, according to a recent analysis by the Associated Press. But in those Pennsylvania counties where natural gas and oil is being sought, the frequency of traffic fatalities is up 4 percent.
Increasing traffic volume and accidents is also driving frequency trends in workers compensation and general liability.
In the assessment and transfer of upstream and midstream energy risks, however, there simply isn’t enough claims history in the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania or the Bakken formation in North Dakota for underwriters to rely on data to price environmental, general and third-party liability risks.
That’s where Liberty Mutual’s commitment, experience and ability to innovate come in. Liberty Mutual was the first carrier to put together a hydraulic fracking risk assessment that gives companies using this extraction method a blueprint to help protect against litigation down the road.
Liberty Mutual insures both lease operators and the contractors essential to extracting hydrocarbons. As in many underwriting areas, the name of the game is clarity around what the risk is, and who owns it.
When considering fracking contractors, Waters and his team work to make sure that any “down hole” risks, be that potential seismic activity, or the migration of methane into water tables, is born by the lease holder.
For the lease holders, Waters and his team of specialty underwriters recommend their clients hold both “sudden and accidental” pollution coverage — to protect against quick and clear accidental spills — and a stand-alone pollution policy, which covers more gradual exposure that unfolds over a much longer period of time, such as methane leaking into drinking water supplies.
Those are two different distinct coverages, both of which a lease holder needs.
Matt Waters discusses the need for stand-alone environmental coverage.
The Energy Cycle
Domestic oil and gas production has expanded so drastically in the past five years that the United States could now become a significant energy exporter. Billions of dollars are being invested to build pipelines, liquid natural gas processing plants and export terminals along our coasts.
While managing risk for energy companies requires deep expertise, developing insurance programs for pipeline and other energy-related construction projects demands even more experience. Such programs must manage and mitigate both construction and operation risks.
Matt Waters discusses future growth for midstream oil and gas companies.
In the short-term, domestic gas and oil production is being curtailed some as fuel prices have recently plummeted due to oversupply. In the long-term, those domestic prices are likely to go back up again, particularly if legislation allows the fuel harvested in the United States to be exported to energy deficient Europe.
Waters and his underwriting team are in this energy game for the long haul — with some customers being with the operation for more than 25 years — and have industry-leading tools to play in it.
Beyond Liberty Mutual’s hydraulic fracturing risk assessment sheet, Waters’ area created a commercial driver scorecard to help its midstream and upstream clients select and manage drivers, which are in such great demand in the industry. The safety and skill of those drivers play a big part in preventing commercial auto claims, Waters said.
Liberty Mutual’s commitment to the energy market is also seen in Waters sending every member of his underwriting team to the petroleum engineering program at the University of Texas and hiring underwriters that are passionate about this industry.
Matt Waters explains how his area can add value to oil and gas companies and their insurance brokers and agents.
For Waters, politics and the trends of the moment have little place in his long-term thinking.
“We’re committed to this business and to deeply understanding how to best manage its risks, and we have been for a long time,” Waters said.
And that holds true for the latest extraction technologies.
“We’ve had success writing fracking contractors and horizontal drillers, helping them better manage the total cost of risk,” Waters said.
To learn more about how Liberty Mutual Insurance can meet your upstream and midstream energy coverage needs, contact your broker, or Matt Waters at email@example.com.
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.