Coping with Cancellations
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.
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.
“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.”
A Special Broker
Aircraft clients are a varied group ranging from large airlines to small corporate fleets. However, a number of municipalities, especially on the West Coast, have significant risk associated with fleets of helicopters and other aircraft used for firefighting and other tasks.
“What makes Linda special,” a risk manager said, “is that for the past 15 years she’s been our broker, she’s been able to consistently beat back any kind of premium price increases from the excess casualty markets.”
He’s a big fan of hers, noting that if there is a problem with a claim, or safety or another issue, “she’s there. My people know she’s there for them.” Also, he said, “we’ve never had a major loss from an accident with the aircraft.” The commercial excess markets for aviation also remain competitive.
This client places about $200 million in liability ranging from aircraft coverage to property and liability coverage on the airports that they own. Workers’ compensation is also a significant risk and cost, but they are self-insured and self-funded.
The new wrinkle in the business is the commercial use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). We’re talking drones here. Two of Auch’s major clients in the entertainment industry needed coverage. Working with the traditional aviation insurers, Auch and the underwriters developed a manuscripted policy to cover the developing risks.
It’s also expected that as the use of drones becomes more common, the demand for coverage could dramatically increase.
Performance on Deadline
Aashish Chauhan and his client, one of the nation’s largest passenger airline companies, faced an insurance problem that could have grounded its operations if it were not resolved. The issue was the airline’s casualty program — a program that has a huge terrorism exposure. The airline’s insurance carriers relied on the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) to backstop possible losses. U.S. Congress, at the time of the company’s pending renewal, had not renewed the terrorism legislation and the airline’s insurance company failed to provide renewal terms for the policy that expired on Dec. 31 because it was becoming clear that the Congress might not act.
The airline and Aon lobbied Congress intensively, presenting legislators with the implications of what inaction would mean for the airline industry and the economy. It was a complex process with twists and turns. Although a new law was passed in January, without a solution the airline might have shut down in December. With a series of multiple negotiations completed before year-end, lots of sweat and some help from some senior leadership, Chauhan and the client were able to fashion a solution for a full renewal that became acceptable to the insurer, regardless of whether or not TRIA was renewed by December 2014.
Chauhan also has a background as an environmental broker, which proved to be of value to his airline client. In a contract, the airline was required to furnish an environmental policy. Chauhan created a manuscripted policy for use by the company’s captive that met the needed requirements and prevented a breach.
On Top of It
The challenge for a company that owns a fleet of more than 50 aircraft is the spectrum of risks associated with the different kinds of charter relationships it manages. When issues arise — as they do almost every day — one client of Nancy Gratzer’s said she and her team are always at the ready.
The client’s requirements can range from obtaining a certificate for closing on a new aircraft to handling a claim on a damaged aircraft to responding to an insurance-related issue raised by a customer.
“She’s always there,” the risk manager said. “It’s an essential role that isn’t always handled well by brokers, especially after the placements are completed.”
With another client, a major energy company with a fleet of jets and helicopters, the risks are varied and changing. “She’s been great on keeping us on top of the changing issues,” the risk manager said of Gratzer. That can range from international issues or contractual issues with charter companies to what may be their newest risk — drones and how to identify and manage the insurance risk associated with their different uses.
Gratzer also works hard to get new business. Recently, she submitted more than 50 recommendations to a consumer food products company on their aviation risk, as part of the process when the company went looking for a new broker. She used their data, and additional benchmarking data, to examine the company’s total cost of risk. The result: She received an immediate appointment as the aviation broker.
Somebody has to insure the manufacturers of rocket fuels and pyrotechnic systems used in satellites, missiles and other applications. One such client of Nilza Santos requires substantial and costly product liability insurance. Santos and her team secured about $300 million in coverage.
It’s a highly specialized market, almost entirely reached through the London market. There are only a handful of underwriters familiar with the risk and who have the ability to write coverage. Because of market conditions, the client’s business and revenues had recently declined, so the cost of the insurance was even more important.
For the renewal, the company was coming off a two-year policy. Santos pushed to have the terms of the policy reviewed. In the process she was able to achieve a 7.5 percent premium reduction. “Because she had recognized that our revenues had declined, she was able to negotiate the decrease,” the risk manager said.
For another client, a defense contractor, there were ongoing demands to adjust or add coverage because of special and new projects. In most of the cases, Santos was able to add the coverage to an existing program and also reduce a portion of the overall costs.
Another client, an aerospace manufacturer, had relatively high insurance costs attributed to a past loss history. The client wanted to see a significant reduction especially because the loss history had improved. In negotiations with the incumbent carriers, Santos was able to obtain an 18 percent premium reduction and added a new insurer to the placement.
A Star in Space
Willis Inspace, established in 1979, provides placement, consulting and risk management services to the space industry. Among Robert Scheige’s clients is a global satellite operator with accompanying ground facilities that serves a variety of markets and industries. Recently, in two launches, it deployed a low-earth orbiting (LEO) satellite constellation to support a global communications system.
Scheige tailored a state-of-art coverage structure and completed the placement in the global space insurance market. Satellite technology is constantly changing and must be addressed with custom coverage. The heart of the coverage was a manuscripted policy that addressed insurance issues related to satellite technology and the demands for a high degree of performance accuracy.
The network had to be able to communicate on a satellite-to-satellite basis and to ground facilities, adding further risk and performance standards to the assignment. Also, there were significant loan covenant requirements with insurance implications.
The policy that was developed defined a loss formula based on five different parameters including a number of performance-related parameters. The deductibles were adjustable and were calculated dependent upon satellite performance and loss experience. Also, the policy included a flexible coinsurance structure.
According to the client, the coverage for these unique and demanding exposures was placed to their complete satisfaction.
Big Project, Big Savings
Airports present large risks, especially during the construction phase of an expansion. These projects also have varied and complicated risk and insurance requirements and can be difficult and time consuming to arrange. The use of outside contractors is an additional complication. Delays are not unusual and can be costly.
For an airport authority, Richard Terlecki needed to secure a builder’s risk policy to cover the completion of the construction, including risks of property losses resulting from a fire or other events. The project included an intermodal train facility, an automated people mover, parking garage and other renovations — all at a cost approaching $1 billion. At the last minute, Terlecki was also brought in to secure owners’ professional liability coverage. All policies were needed to get construction underway on time.
Terlecki got it done in 57 business days. Coverage was obtained through the London and Bermuda markets, with five proposals coming through. The objective was to obtain substantial limits, lower deductibles and very broad coverage.
The result of Terlecki’s negotiations reduced the project’s cost by several million dollars. Because the facility was in a hurricane zone, windstorm coverage was required. Terlecki secured the needed coverage with lower windstorm deductibles. He also negotiated a modification to a “pilings conditions” exclusion that the risk manager said was a challenge. The whole package, the risk manager said, came in at a significantly lower premium than expected and it was completed on time without any delays to the major construction project.
A Modern Claims Philosophy: Proactive and Integrated
According to some experts, “The best claim is the one that never happens.”
But is that even remotely realistic?
Experienced risk professionals know that in the real world, claims and losses are inevitable. After all, it’s called Risk Management, not Risk Avoidance.
And while no one likes losses, there are rich lessons to be gleaned from the claims management process. Through careful tracking and analysis of losses, risk professionals spot gaps in their risk control programs and identify new or emerging risks.
Aspen Insurance embraces this philosophy by viewing the data and expertise of their claims operation as a valuable asset. Unlike more traditional carriers, Aspen Insurance integrates their claims professionals into all of their client work – from the initial risk assessment and underwriting process through ongoing risk management consulting and loss control.
This proactive and integrated approach results in meaningful reductions to the frequency and severity of client losses. But when the inevitable does happen, Aspen Insurance claims professionals utilize their established understanding of client risks and operations to produce some truly amazing solutions.
“I worked at several of the most well known and respected insurance companies in my many years as a claims executive. But few of them utilize an approach that is as innovative as Aspen Insurance,” said Stephen Perrella, senior vice president, casualty claims, at Aspen Insurance.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients. Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
— Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty Claims, Aspen Insurance
Utilizing claims expertise to improve underwriting
Acting as adviser and advocate, Aspen integrates the entire process under a coverage coordinator who ensures that the underwriters, claims and insureds agree on consistent, clear definitions and protocols. With claims professionals involved in the initial account review and the development of form language, Aspen’s underwriters have a full sense of risks so they can provide more specific and meaningful coverage, and identify risks and exclusions that the underwriter might not consider during a routine underwriting process.
“Most insurers don’t ever want to talk about claims and underwriting in the same sentence,” said Perrella. “That archaic view can potentially hurt the insurance company as well as their business partners.”
Aspen Insurance considered a company working on a large bridge refurbishment project on the West Coast as a potential insured, posing the array of generally anticipated construction-related risks. During underwriting, its claims managers discovered there was a large oil storage facility underneath the bridge. If a worker didn’t properly tether his or her tools, or a piece of steel fell onto a tank and fractured it, the consequences would be severe. Shutting down a widely used waterway channel for an oil cleanup would be devastating. The business interruption claims alone would be astronomical.
“We narrowed the opportunity for possible claims that the underwriter was unaware existed at the outset,” said Perrella.
Risk management improved
Claims professionals help Aspen Insurance’s clients with their risk management programs. When data analysis reveals high numbers of claims in a particular area, Aspen readily shares that information with the client. The Aspen team then works with the client to determine if there are better ways to handle certain processes.
“We do a lot of trending and data analysis to provide as much information as possible to our clients,” said Perrella. “Our analytics can help clients improve upon their own risk management procedures.”
For a large restaurant-and-entertainment group with locations in New York and Las Vegas, Aspen’s consultative approach has been critical. After meeting with risk managers and using analytics to study trends in the client’s portfolio, Aspen learned that the sheer size and volume of customers at each location led to disparate profiles of patron injuries.
Specifically, the organization had a high number of glass-related incidents across its multiple venues. So Aspen’s claims and underwriting professionals helped the organization implement new reporting protocols and risk-prevention strategies that led to a significant drop in glass-related claims over the following two years. Where one location would experience a disproportionate level of security assault or slip & fall claims, the possible genesis for those claims was discussed with the insured and corrective steps explored in response. Aspen’s proactive management of the account and working relationship with its principals led the organization to make changes that not only lowered the company’s exposures, but also kept patrons safer.
World-class claims management
Despite expert planning and careful prevention, losses and claims are inevitable. With Aspen’s claims department involved from the earliest stages of risk assessment, the department has developed world-class claims-processing capability.
“When a claim does arrive, everyone knows exactly how to operate,” said Perrella. “By understanding the perspectives of both the underwriters and the actuaries, our claims folks have grown to be better business people.
“We have dramatically reduced the potential for any problematic communication breakdown between our claims team, broker and the client,” said Perrella.
A fire ripped through an office building rendering it unusable by its seven tenants. An investigation revealed that an employee of the client intentionally set the fire. The client had not purchased business interruption insurance, and instead only had coverage for the physical damage to the building.
The Aspen claims team researched a way to assist the client in filing a third-party claim through secondary insurance that covered the business interruption portion of the loss. The attention, knowledge and creativity of the claims team saved the client from possible insurmountable losses.
Modernize your carrier relationship
Aspen Insurance’s claims philosophy is a great example of how this carrier’s innovative perspective is redefining the underwriter-client relationship. Learn more about how Aspen Insurance can benefit your risk management program at http://www.aspen.co/insurance/.
Stephen Perrella, Senior Vice President, Casualty, can be reached at Stephen.email@example.com.
This article is provided for news and information purposes only and does not necessarily represent Aspen’s views and does constitute legal advice. This article reflects the opinion of the author at the time it was written taking into account market, regulatory and other conditions at the time of writing which may change over time. Aspen does not undertake a duty to update the article.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Aspen Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.