Danger in the Cockpit
Improved risk management, advances in computer technology and an industry-wide focus on training and analysis transformed commercial aviation safety in recent decades, placing it among the safest industries in the world for both staff and customers.
Pilots now have their every input monitored and analyzed. This enables retraining of bad habits and a common aspiration to fly “the perfect flight.”
Improved airplane construction and in-flight safety systems also reduce the likelihood of system malfunction to a miniscule level.
However, a spate of unusual events in 2014 and 2015 serve as a tragic reminder of the ever-evolving challenges facing risk managers.
“Airlines are very determined when it comes to safety and security threats — they are constantly trying to mitigate risk, are very proactive in dealing with threats as they arise, and money is no object when it comes to implementing new safety measures.” — Nigel Weyman, CEO of aerospace, JLT
In July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by a rogue Russian missile, killing all 298 passengers> This occurred just four months after the same airline’s Flight 307 simply disappeared — prompting many to speculate that its pilot committed suicide, taking 239 passengers with him.
This once inconceivable scenario occurred again less than a year later. In March of 2015, Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz locked himself in the flight deck and deliberately crashed Flight 9525 into a mountain in the Alps, killing 150 people.
Lubitz reportedly endured severe depression in the weeks leading up to the crash, but his doctors never told Lufthansa, his employer.
Within days of the Germanwings disaster, the vast majority of airlines introduced a rule that there must always be two members of crew in the flight deck at any one time (“two-pilot rule”), while the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 prompted carriers to re-evaluate routes, security threats and safe altitudes over certain geographical areas.
“Airlines are very determined when it comes to safety and security threats — they are constantly trying to mitigate risk, are very proactive in dealing with threats as they arise, and money is no object when it comes to implementing new safety measures,” said Nigel Weyman, CEO of aerospace at JLT.
Malicious Acts Offset Operational Safety Achievements
“The whole airline industry is benefiting from an improved period of operational safety, but malicious acts, from pilot suicides to the deliberate or accidental shooting down of aircraft, seem to have taken the place of expected operational losses, creating a sad counterbalance to what would otherwise be a very encouraging period for the sector.
“Psychological and terrorist losses are difficult to predict,” Weyman said.
Aviation regulatory bodies are currently discussing, with input from airlines and pilots, whether to make the two-pilot rule mandatory, but not all airlines buy into the logic behind it, according to a pilot for one of the world’s leading airlines, who wished to remain anonymous.
“My airline has been reluctant to implement [the two-pilot rule], and even Lufthansa resisted it initially before backing down due to media pressure,” he said, warning that implementing a “knee-jerk reaction” could increase an aircraft’s vulnerability to terrorism.
“There are in excess of 35 million commercial flights globally each year and only one known case of pilot suicide in European airspace history, so you have to weigh up the risks,” he said.
“If a terror organization wanted to plant a sleeper on a plane, it is far easier for a radicalized person to be employed as cabin crew than to pass the pilot exams.
“Many of my colleagues feel safer trusting the pilot community, and keeping the flight deck a pilot-only environment, as the chance of a pilot committing suicide is so slim it is not worth the risks associated with giving crew access to the flight deck.”
It could be argued that some aspects of the Germanwings disaster are rooted in the industry’s reaction to 9/11.
Following that attack, all airlines installed armored flight deck doors to prevent terrorists entering the cockpit — making it virtually impossible to break in if a suicidal pilot decided to lock themselves in.
There’s the rub; in mitigating one risk, you often create new ones.
“You can’t eliminate every risk from every aviation operation, no matter how miniscule those risks might be, and that’s why people buy insurance,” said Weyman.
Insurance Protection for Malicious Acts
Malicious acts by either staff or third parties are currently covered under stand-alone hull war policies, though passenger liability is covered under airlines’ standard hull liability programs.
Weyman noted that, in spite of a number of significant losses between 2013 and 2015, rates continue to slide.
“This is partly because we brokers have argued that these were very unusual events, the industry has closed the door on this happening again, and the world moves on,” he said.
“Mathematically, rates probably should have increased, but the aviation market is very competitive and overserved with capacity, preventing underwriters from reacting to these events.”
“Insurers,” said Richard Power, founding partner of specialist aerospace underwriter Altitude Risk Partners, “must determine whether the recent spike in this kind of incident is a temporary anomaly or whether it is indicative of heightened risk going forward.”
Power noted that the subjective nature of the risk — and the fact that pilot trade unions have resisted the introduction of psychometric testing and the sharing of pilots’ medical information with employers — make it extremely difficult to predict how frequently malicious acts will occur or how effective new security measures will be in preventing future incidents.
“One option may be for the insurance industry to exclude malicious acts from the standard hull liability policy,” Power said.
“Unlike modeling the frequency of losses caused by mechanical failure or human error, underwriters are now faced with the challenge of pricing a much less tangible and quantifiable risk, and it may therefore be necessary to separate malicious acts out into its own separately rated policy, as is done with hull war.”
Power added, however, that brokers and clients have no incentive to accept such changes in the current environment.
The aviation insurance industry is awash with capacity and aviation insurers are under pressure to broaden terms while cutting their cost base, giving them little room for leverage.
Spotting the Warning Signs
So far, there has been no repeat of the Germanwings disaster.
While it is impossible to tell whether a similar incident would have occurred without the new two-pilot rule, the tragedy has undoubtedly brought pilot mental health firmly into the spotlight.
“The best way to prevent another Germanwings is to catch the problem at its source and stop troubled individuals from flying,” the pilot said.
His airline has increased the psychological component of its annual medical checks.
“The best way to prevent another Germanwings is to catch the problem at its source and stop troubled individuals from flying.” — anonymous pilot
It created a new “well-being officer” role, and encourages staff to “self-regulate” by coming forward with concerns about either themselves or others without fear of judgment or punishment.
French air crash investigators in March called on aviation authorities around the world to take this one step further by loosening existing privacy laws to allow doctors to inform airlines if a pilot is mentally unstable.
This clearly presents a complex ethical conundrum.
On a practical level, the pilot said, it is essential that troubled pilots are able to seek counseling confidentially.
“The emphasis has to be on the pilot being able to pick up the phone and talk about their problems and get advice,” he said.
“If they think what they say will be reported back to the airline, they may fear they are risking their careers and decide not to make the call at all, which is far more dangerous.”
However, he added, it is important to keep the risks in context.
“Aviation is so safe now,” he said.
“We dedicate a huge amount of time and resources to identifying and removing what minute risks exist, with the aim of making every flight so accurate that the chances of a crash are one in a billion.”
Technological advance has provided both consumers and businesses with a variety of shiny new gadgets and services. However, as the rise of cyberattacks has underlined, it has also provided society’s undesirable elements new means of creating nuisance or committing crime.
The growing popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — aka drones — is a case in point. Their powerful video cameras open up a whole new world of photographic opportunities. Insurers and loss adjusters are finding them a valuable aid in claims investigation. Unfortunately, drones are also increasingly intruding on people’s privacy, crashing into buildings and intruding on aircraft flight paths.
The problem of rogue drones is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK, the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) this month called for research by the government and safety regulator the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) into the impact of a drone hitting a plane or helicopter, following a spate of near-misses at Heathrow and other UK airports.
BALPA believes that the impact of a drone colliding with an aircraft could smash the windscreen or, worse, that their lithium batteries could trigger an engine fire.
Even more alarming was the January report “Hostile Drones: The Hostile Use of Drones by Non-State Actors Against British Targets” published by security think-tank Oxford Research Group, which warned that “drones are a game changer in the wrong hands.”
The report assessed the design and capabilities of more than 200 unmanned aerial, ground and marine systems and also how drones had been used by activists, terrorists and organised crime groups.
“Drones are a game changer in the wrong hands.”
“Drones are being used by individuals beyond authorized and accepted use,” the report’s authors concluded. “There is particular concern [they] will be used as affordable and effective airborne improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as concern regarding the decentralisation and democratisation of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.”
The list of potential targets for flying bomb attacks included foreign embassies, nuclear power stations, a G7 summit or the prime minister’s car. “The UK government, police, military and security services will need to introduce countermeasures to reduce or mitigate the risk of commercially available drones being used for attack,” the report concluded.
Those recommended included the licensing of drones and defenses such as laser systems to protect targets, radio frequency jammers and authorization for the police and army to shoot down any suspect drone.
From Eagles to Bazookas
Meanwhile, initiatives to defend against rogue drones are a mixture of the surreal and James Bond movie. Police in the Netherlands have joined forces with Guard From Above, which describes itself as “the first company in the world to use birds of prey to intercept hostile drones”.
GFA held an international press day earlier this month to demonstrate how trained eagles can be used to snatch a rogue drone in mid-air. This company assures doubters that this “lo-tech solution to a hi-tech problem” is perfectly feasible as the birds’ “incredible visual acuity” enables them to hit the drone without being injured by the rotors.
A more hi-tech solution has been developed by the European aerospace conglomerate Airbus, which last September unveiled its counter-UAV system. Based on a combination of radars, infrared cameras and direction finders, the system can identify possible rogue drones from a distance of up to 10 kilometres (6 miles), determine their threat potential and bring them down if needed.
“Furthermore, the direction finder tracks the position of the pilot who subsequently can be arrested,” Toulouse, France-based Airbus stated. “Since the jamming technology contains versatile receiving and transmitting capabilities, more sophisticated measures like remote control classification and global positioning system [GPS] spoofing can be utilized as well. This allows effective and specific jamming and also a controlled takeover of the UAV.”
More 007-type technology has come from this month’s UK launch of the SkyWall 100 anti-drone net bazooka. Developed by the Northumberland-based start-up OpenWorks Engineering, the concept behind the system is to capture a rogue drone in a net and deliver it intact with a parachute, via a combination of compressed gas-powered smart launcher and an intelligent programmable projectile.
SkyWall 100 is the first release in a planned series of systems; described as a “man-portable handheld launcher that is highly mobile and a cost effective way of dealing with the drone threat.” In the pipeline are SkyWall 200, a semi-permanent device that can be carried by two people and the SkyWall 300, a permanent installation with a fixed mechanical turret.
Each of these initiatives could be contenders for the S100,000 prize offered last November by MITRE Corp for novel ways to detect and identify suspicious small drones and “interdict those that present a safety or security threat”. Participants had until early February to submit a white paper outlining their approach and the most promising entries will be demonstrated early in the fall.
Commercial Auto Warning: Emerging Frequency and Severity Trends Threaten Policyholders
The slow but steady climb out of the Great Recession means businesses can finally transition out of survival mode and set their sights on growth and expansion.
The construction, retail and energy sectors in particular are enjoying an influx of business — but getting back on their feet doesn’t come free of challenges.
Increasingly, expensive commercial auto losses hamper the upward trend. From 2012 to 2015, auto loss costs increased a cumulative 20 percent, according to the Insurance Services Office.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow,” said David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
For companies with transportation exposure, costly auto losses can hinder continued growth. Buyers who partner closely with their insurance brokers and carriers to understand these risks – and the consultative support and tools available to manage them – are better positioned to protect their employees, fleets, and businesses.
Liberty Mutual’s David Blessing discusses key challenges in the commercial auto market.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow. As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
–David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
More Accidents, More Dollars
Rising claims costs typically stem from either increased frequency or severity — but in the case of commercial auto, it’s both. This presents risk managers with the unique challenge of blunting a double-edged sword.
Cumulative miles driven in February, 2016, were up 5.6 percent compared to February, 2015, Blessing said. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers are at the helm for a good portion of those miles.
A severe shortage of experienced commercial drivers — nearing 50,000 by the end of 2015, according to the American Trucking Association — means a limited pool to choose from. Drivers completing unfamiliar routes or lacking practice behind the wheel translate into more accidents, but companies facing intense competition for experienced drivers with good driving records may be tempted to let risk management best practices slip, like proper driver screening and training.
Distracted driving, whether it’s as a result of using a phone, eating, or reading directions, is another factor contributing to the number of accidents on the road. Recent findings from the National Safety Council indicate that as much as 27% of crashes involved drivers talking or texting on cell phones.
The factors driving increased frequency in the commercial auto market.
In addition to increased frequency, a variety of other factors are driving up claim severity, resulting in higher payments for both bodily injury and property damage.
Treating those injured in a commercial auto accident is more expensive than ever as medical costs rise at a faster rate than the overall Consumer Price Index.
“Medical inflation continues to go up by about three percent, whereas the core CPI is closer to two percent,” Blessing said.
Changing physical medicine fee schedules in some states also drive up commercial auto claim costs. California, for example, increased the cost of physical medicine by 38 percent over the past two years and will increase it by a total of 64 percent by the end of 2017.
And then there is the cost of repairing and replacing damaged vehicles.
“There are a lot of new vehicles on the road, and those cost more to repair and replace,” Blessing said. “In the last few years, heavy truck sales have increased at double digit rates — 15 percent in 2014, followed by an additional 11 percent in 2015.”
The impact is seen in the industry-wide combined ratio for commercial auto coverage, which per Conning, increased from 103 in 2014 to 105 for 2015, and is forecast to grow to nearly 110 by 2018.
None of these trends show signs of slowing or reversing, especially as the advent of driverless technology introduces its own risks and makes new vehicles all the more valuable. Now is the time to reign in auto exposure, before the cost of claims balloons even further.
The factors driving up commercial auto claims severity.
Data Opens Window to Driver Behavior
To better manage the total cost of commercial auto insurance, Blessing believes risk management should focus on the driver, not just the vehicle. In this journey, fleet telematics data plays a key role, unlocking insight on the driver behavior that contributes to accidents.
“Roughly half of large fleets have telematics built into their trucks,” Blessing said. “Traditionally, they are used to improve business performance by managing maintenance and routing to better control fuel costs. But we see opportunity there to improve driver performance, and so do risk managers.”
Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driver Performance tool helps clients parse through data provided by telematics vendors and apply it toward cultivating safer driving habits.
“Risk managers can get overwhelmed with all of the data coming out of telematics. They may not know how to set the right parameters, or they get too many alerts from the provider,” Blessing said.
“We can help take that data and turn it into a concrete plan of action the customer can use to build a better risk management program by monitoring driver behavior, identifying the root causes of poor driving performance and developing training and other approaches to improve performance.”
Actions risk managers can take to better manage commercial auto frequency and severity trends.
Rather than focusing on the vehicle, the Managing Vital Driver Performance tool focuses on the driver, looking for indicators of aggressive driving that may lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp turns and hard or sudden braking.
The tool helps a risk manager see if drivers consistently exhibit any of these behaviors, and take actions to improve driving performance before an accident happens. Liberty’s risk control consultants can also interview drivers to drill deeper into the data and find out what causes those behaviors in the first place.
Sometimes patterns of unsafe driving reveal issues at the management level.
“Our behavior-based program is also for supervisors and managers, not just drivers,” Blessing said. “This is where we help them set the tone and expectations with their drivers.”
For example, if data analysis and interviews reveal that fatigue factors into poor driving performance, management can identify ways to address that fatigue, including changing assigned work levels and requirements. Are drivers expected to make too many deliveries in a single shift, or are they required to interact with dispatch while driving?
“Management support of safety is so important, and work levels and expectations should be realistic,” Blessing said.
A Consultative Approach
In addition to its Managing Vital Driver Performance tool, Liberty’s team of risk control consultants helps commercial auto policyholders establish screening criteria for new drivers, creating a “driver scorecard” to reflect a potential new hire’s driving record, any Motor Vehicle Reports, years of experience, and familiarity with the type of vehicle that a company uses.
“Our whole approach is consultative,” Blessing said. “We probe and listen and try to understand a client’s strengths and challenges, and then make recommendations to help them establish the best practices they need.”
“With our approach and tools, we do something no one else in the industry does, which is perform the root cause analysis to help prevent accidents, better protecting a commercial auto policyholder’s employees and bottom line.”
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.