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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Opportunities in Cuba

Greenberg on Cuba

The easing of travel restrictions to Cuba is bound to open up opportunities.
By: | May 6, 2015 • 3 min read
Havana

On a visit to Moscow in 1964, Hank Greenberg noticed a picture of a Havana office building on the desk of an official with the Soviet insurance company Ingosstrakh.

“That looks like the building where my company housed its insurance operations,” Greenberg — who was in Moscow seeking a travel risk reinsurance deal — told the official.

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The C.V. Starr Companies had an office in Havana – pictured above – between 1943 and 1958.

“That may be,” the Soviet official replied. “Now it is the building where Ingosstrakh houses the Soviet Union’s Cuban operations,” he added.

“Please take care of that building,” Greenberg told the official. “We will get it back … soon.”

More than 50 years after Greenberg made that bold statement, as recounted in his 2013 book “The AIG Story,” the day that Starr Companies takes possession of its former property in Havana is not yet here.

“Change must come about, but how fast? I can’t answer that.” – Hank Greenberg, CEO and Chairman of the Starr Companies.

With the recent easing of travel restrictions to Cuba by the U.S. government, however, Starr Companies’ executives are checking on the condition and ownership of the building just the same.

Untangling the history of that Havana building is just one of the opportunities that are on the minds of business people in the United States since travel restrictions to Cuba were eased in January.

Greenberg expresses the hope that his company can one day re-open an insurance operation in Havana. At the same time, Greenberg said that there is much work yet to be done, on the part of both the public and the private sector, before anything like that can happen.

“Both governments have got to agree on the speed by which normalization would come into being,” Greenberg said.

Hank Greenberg CEO and Chairman Starr Companies

Hank Greenberg
CEO and Chairman
Starr Companies

Since the restrictions were eased, Greenberg reports that the Starr Companies’ travel services subsidiary Assist-Card International Holdings, which it acquired in 2011, is already seeing an uptick in inquiries from businesspeople interested in its travel protection services in Cuba.

“From what we can discern, there is a great deal of interest and a pent-up need to travel,” Greenberg said.

The hotel and restaurant business, agriculture and travel-related industries like cruise shipping and aviation are just a few of the industries that will see opportunities in nearby Cuba as relationships between that country and the United States open up.

There will also be an intense interest, Greenberg said, for people of Cuban descent who are United States citizens eager to visit their origin country.

However, more evolution in government relations must occur before many of those dreams can become a reality.

“Change must come about, but how fast? I can’t answer that,” Greenberg said.

One thing Greenberg is certain of. Free trade is the quickest route to building lasting bonds between the United States and Cuba.

“I think that where trade increases between countries generally you see change in attitudes and building better trust between countries. You learn from each other, it’s a faster way to normalize relations than anything I can think of,” Greenberg said.

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Greenberg stressed that Assist-Card International isn’t the only U.S.-based insurance company or subsidiary in the travel risk business.

The Starr chairman indicated though that he expects his company to be a strong competitor.

“The challenges of doing business in Cuba are substantial,” Greenberg said.

“But Starr is well-positioned and prepared to leverage our relationships and global network to support our clients’ entry into this market.”

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at dreynolds@lrp.com.
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Sponsored: Liberty International Underwriters

Making the Marine Industry SAFE

A new initiative to help marine clients address safety risks leverages a customized, expertised approach.
By: | May 8, 2015 • 5 min read
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When it comes to marine based businesses there is no one-size-fits-all safety approach. The challenges faced by operators are much more complex than land based businesses.

The most successful marine operators understand that success is dependent on developing custom safety programs and then continually monitoring, training and adapting.

After all, it’s not just dollars at stake but the lives of dedicated crew and employees.

The LIU SAFE Program: Flexible, Pragmatic and Results Driven

Given these high stakes, LIU Marine is launching a new initiative to help clients proactively identify and address potential safety risks. The LIU SAFE Program is offered to clients as a value added service.

Richard Falcinelli, vice president, LIU Marine Risk Engineering

Richard Falcinelli, vice president, LIU Marine Risk Engineering

“The LIU SAFE program goes beyond traditional loss control. Using specialized risk assessment tools, our risk engineers function as consultants who gather and analyze information to identify potential opportunities for improvement. We then make recommendations customized for the client’s business but that also leverage our knowledge of industry best practices,” said Richard Falcinelli, vice president, LIU Marine Risk Engineering.

It’s the combination of deep expertise, extensive industry knowledge and a global perspective that enables LIU Marine to uniquely address their client’s safety challenges. Long experience has shown the LIU Risk Engineering team that a rigid process will not be successful. The wide variety of operations and safety challenges faced by marine companies simply cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Therefore, the LIU SAFE program is defined by five core principles that form the basis of each project.

“Our underwriters, risk engineers and claims professionals leverage their years spent as master mariners, surveyors and attorneys to utilize the best project approach to address each client’s unique challenges,” said Falcinelli.

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The LIU SAFE Program in Action

When your primary business is transporting dry and liquid bulk cargo throughout the nation’s complex inland river system, safety is always a top concern.

The risks to crew, vessels and cargo are myriad and constantly changing due to weather, water conditions and many other factors.

SCF Marine, a St. Louis-based inland river tug and barge transportation company and part of the Inland River Services business unit of SEACOR Holdings Inc., understands what it takes to operate successfully in these conditions. The company strives for a zero incident operating environment and invests significant time and money in pursuit of that goal.

SponsoredContent_LIUBut when it comes to marine safety, all experienced mariners know that no one person or company has all the answers. So in an effort to continually find ways to improve, SCF management approached McGriff, Seibels & Williams, its marine broker, to see if LIU Marine would be willing to provide their input through an operational review and risk assessment.

The goal of the engagement was clear: SCF wanted to confirm that it was getting the best return possible on its significant investment in safety management.

Using the LIU SAFE framework, LIU’s Risk Engineers began by sending SCF a detailed document request. The requested information covered many aspects of the SCF operation, including recruiting and hiring practices, navigation standards, watch standing procedures, vessel maintenance standards and more.

Following several weeks of document review the LIU team drafted its preliminary report. Next, LIU organized a collaborative meeting at SCF’s headquarters with all of the latter’s senior staff, along with McGriff brokers and LIU underwriters. Each SCF manager gave an overview of their area of responsibility and LIU’s preliminary findings were reviewed in depth. The day ended with a site visit and vessel tour.

“We sent our follow-up report after the meeting and McGriff let us know that it was well received by SCF,” Falcinelli said. “SCF is so focused on safety; we are confident that they will use the information gained from this exercise to further benefit their employees and stakeholders.”

“It was probably one of the most comprehensive efforts that I’ve ever seen undertaken by a carrier’s loss control team,” said Baxter Southern, executive vice president at McGriff, which also is based in St. Louis. “Through the collaborative efforts of all three parties, it was determined that SCF had the right approach and implementation. The process generated some excellent new concepts for implementation as the company grows.”

In addition to the benefits of these new concepts, LIU gained a much deeper understanding of SCF’s operations and is better positioned to provide ongoing loss control support.

“Effective safety management is about being focused and continuously improving, which requires complete commitment from top management,” Falcinelli added. “SCF obviously is on a quest for safety excellence with zero incidents as the goal, and has passed that philosophy down to its entire workforce.”

“SCF’s commitment to the process along with LIU’s expertise was certainly impressive and a key reason for the successful outcome,” Southern concluded.

There are many other ways that the SAFE program can help clients address safety risks. To learn more about how your company could benefit, contact your broker or LIU Marine.

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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 International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.




LIU is part of the Global Specialty Division of Liberty Mutual Insurance.
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