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.”
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.
A New Dawn in Civil Construction Underwriting
Pennsylvania school children know the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by name — Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny.
San Francisco owes much of its allure to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Delaware Memorial Bridge commemorates our fallen soldiers.
Our public sector infrastructure is much more than its function as a path for trucks and automobiles. It is part of our national and regional identity.
Yet it’s widely known that much of our infrastructure is inadequate. Given the number of structures designated as substandard, the task ahead is substantial.
The Civil Construction projects that can meet these challenges, however, carry a unique set of risks compared to other forms of construction.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project. If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance.”
– Paul Hampshire, Vice President – Civil Construction, LIU
The good news is that recent developments in construction standards and risk management techniques provide a solid foundation for the type and risk allocation of Civil Construction projects they are underwriting. Carriers need to be able to adequately assess the client and design and construction teams that are involved.
For Builder’s Risk Programs, a successful approach prioritizes a focus on four key factors. These factors are looked at not only during the underwriting phase of the project but also in the all-important site construction phase, under the umbrella of a Risk Management Program, or RMP.
Four key factors
Four key factors that LIU focuses on in underwriting and providing risk management services on a Civil Construction project include:
1. Resource knowledge and experience: When creating a coverage plan, carriers work to understand who is delivering the project and how well suited key staff members are to addressing the project’s technical and management challenges. Research has shown that the knowledge and experience of those key players, combined with their ability to communicate effectively, is a big factor in the project’s success.
“We look to understand who is delivering a project, their expertise and experience in delivering projects of similar technical complexity in similar working conditions, even down to looking at the resumés of people in key positions,” said Paul Hampshire, Houston-based Vice President with Liberty International Underwriters.
2. Ground conditions and water: Soil and rock composition, the influence of ground and surface water, and foundation stability are key additional considerations in the construction of bridges, tunnels, and transit systems. If a suitable level of relevant ground (geotechnical) investigation and study has not been undertaken, or the results of such work not clearly interpreted, then it’s a red flag to underwriters, who would then question whether the project risk profile has been adequately evaluated and risks clearly and transparently allocated via suitable contract conditions.
“As we all know, ground is very rarely a homogenous element within Civil Construction projects,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
“It tends to vary from any proposed geotechnical baseline specification with the consequential potential for changes in behavior during construction. We need to understand who has assessed the condition of the ground, its behavior and design parameters when compared with a particular method of construction, and all importantly, who has been allocated the ground risk in a project and the upfront mechanisms for contractual ground risk sharing, if applicable,” he said.
Knowing how much water is associated with the in-situ ground conditions as well as the intensity, distribution and adequate accommodation (both in the temporary as well as in the permanent project configurations) of rainfall for a site location and topography are also key. Tunneling projects, for example, can be hampered by the presence of too much or unforeseen quantities of groundwater.
“In major tunneling infrastructure projects, the influence of in-situ groundwater pressures and /or water inflows is a major factor when considering the choice of excavation method and sequence as well as tunnel lining design requirements,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
According to a recent article in Risk & Insurance, tunneling under a body of water is one of the most challenging risk engineering feats. Adequate drainage layouts and their installation sequence for highway projects and, in particular, the protection of sub-grade works are also important. “But under all circumstances, we need to understand how the water conditions have been evaluated,” Hampshire said.
3. Technical Challenges: This risk factor encompasses the assessment of the technical novelty or prototypical nature of the project (or more often, specific elements of it) and how well the previously demonstrated experience of both the design and construction teams aligns with the project’s technical requirements and the form of contract determined for the project. The client can choose the team, but savvy underwriters will conduct their own assessment to see how well-suited the team is to technical demands of the project.
4. Evaluation of Time and Cost: With limited information generally provided, we need to be able to verify as best as possible the adequacy of both the time and cost elements of the project. Our belief is simply that projects that are insufficient in either one or both of these elements potentially pose an increased risk, as the construction consortium tries to compensate for these deficiencies during construction.
Small diameter Tunnel Boring Machine designed for mixed ground conditions and water pressures in excess of 2.5 bar.
In the 1990s and early years of this millennium, a series of high-profile tunnel failures across the globe resulted in major losses for Civil Construction underwriters and their insureds.
In the early 2000s, both the tunnel and insurance industries worked together to create new standards for high-risk tunneling projects.
A Code of Practice for the Risk Management of Tunnel Works (TCoP) is increasingly relied on by project managers and underwriters to define the best practices in tunnel construction projects. This process ideally starts at project inception (conceptual design stage or equivalent) and continues to the hand-over of the completed project.
LIU’s Hampshire said alongside TCoP, the project-specific Geotechnical Baseline Report and its interpretation and reference within the project contract conditions gives the underwriter greater clarity as to who recognizes and carries the ground risk and how it’s allocated.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project,” Hampshire said. “Is the risk transparently allocated or is it buried? If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance,” Hampshire said.
Paul Hampshire can be reached at Paul.Hampshire@libertyiu.com.
To learn more about how Liberty International Underwriters can help you conduct a Civil Construction risk assessment before your next project, contact your broker.
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.