Sending unpiloted vehicles into manned airspace may sound like a joyride to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who’s speculated that when fully developed, commercial drones may be able to deliver an Amazon order to one’s door in 30 minutes.
But let’s face it: Some possible outcomes of the predicted exponential growth of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are not all that pleasant to entertain.
Because it’s managed remotely by computer, a UAS could be hacked and its mission bent to destructive purposes. Or it could simply go awry due to operator error.
“What if a UAS shoots thousands of feet into the air and gets ingested into a commercial aircraft engine full of passengers?” asked Barton Duvall, assistant vice president with Starr Aviation’s West Coast office in Carpinteria, Calif.
Such a scenario “puts an entirely new outlook on the limit needs of UAS operators and the non-owned aviation liability limit needs of customers of UAS operators,” said John Geisen, an Aon aviation senior vice president in Minneapolis.
The loss involved is known as a foreign-object-damage loss or FOD, he said.
Video: Watch this Lakemaid Beer drone delivery.
“The airline’s hull underwriters would pay for the engine and other physical damage as well as any liability that ensues, but in this case you would also have a cause for subrogation to go after the UAS owning and operating parties as well as, I suppose, the customer of the UAS.”
Where adequate coverage limits for negligence actions are not secured, one can expect a search for “deep pockets,” said Geisen.
“Subrogation for FOD losses occurs today when a negligent party responsible for clean up or the owner of the object that is ingested can be clearly identified,” Geisen said.
“Today, it is often hard to identify who owned the foreign object that was left on the tarmac and damaged the engine at takeoff or landing or maybe you eat a bird that no one owns — the hull insurer pays the claim and has nowhere to turn to try and mitigate it — file closed.”
However, should another aircraft “eat or ingest a UAS,” it will be easier to determine who’s responsible, he said.
Starr Aviation’s Duvall said that the worst-case scenario could have the lives of hundreds of passengers at risk as well as damage to the aircraft — some valued at well over $100 million — besides potential grave bodily injury and serious property damage on the ground.
“The chain of liability could span from the operator of the UAS, to the prime manufacturer and subcomponent manufacturers to, depending how these systems end up integrated, the entities responsible for control and safety of the National Airspace System (NAS).
“The actuality of a catastrophic event such as this may be improbable, but it’s not entirely out of the scope of possibility,” said Duvall.
Besides the obvious navigational challenge of sending unpiloted commercial vehicles into the stratosphere, hijacking enabled by cyber terrorism is another real threat.
The Cyber Terror Threat
In 2012, University of Texas professor Todd Humphreys and a group of students intercepted a GPS-guided UAS, using a GPS device created by Humphreys and his students.
Video: Humphreys explains how he hacked the drone.
If that can occur, then what is to prevent a terrorist hacker from directing a drone to pick up a bomb and fly it into a university football game or some similar target, asked Geisen.
In such a situation, “plaintiffs are going to look for the deep pockets,” said Roberta Anderson, a partner in the Pittsburgh office of law firm K&L Gates.
Anderson, who represents policyholders in commercial insurance coverage disputes, said those tapped for indemnification in the terrorist plot described here would likely include “companies that manufactured or designed the software applications, or owned or controlled the networks that allowed a hacker to penetrate the [drone’s] system and gain control.”
“Managers and owners of the stadium would also be targeted for potential negligence and insufficient security, and you’d see cross claims and counterclaims as well, with the stadium pointing the finger at their own security vendors.
“There could be tens of thousands of wrongful death claims” as well as “loss of reputation, property damage and business interruption for the stadium, which will represent a deep-pocket certain to have liability insurance,” Anderson said.
And yet, there are clearly mitigating factors to help prevent things from going terribly wrong.
A lot of these aircraft are building in “triple redundancies,” with “some even having automatic return-to-base features if there are any control interruptions,” Aon’s Geisen said.
Still, there is little doubt, he said, that commercial drones currently represent “a big area of emerging risk and growth.”
The U.S. military’s use of drones “went from like 50,000 flight hours in 2006 to some 550,000 by the end of 2011,” said Geisen.
“So in just five years you had an 11-fold increase,” he said, suggesting that the growth trajectory on the commercial side could be similar. One reason for growth in drone use: Cost per flight hour “is suggested to be 75 percent less with a UAS than a manned aircraft,” he said.
The U.S. military’s use of drones “went from like 50,000 flight hours in 2006 to some 550,000 by the end of 2011.”
– John Geisen, senior vice president, Aon
One forecast of global UAS demand by the Teal Group showed worldwide annual spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation, and procurement in this area rising from $6.6 billion in 2013, to $11.4 billion in 2022.
And in March, Dallas-based global market research and consulting firm MarketsandMarkets reported that the small UAS market alone is set to reach $582.2 million by the end of 2019.
Accelerating insurers’ and brokers’ efforts to assess and effectively bind risks in this space, meanwhile, was a National Transportation Safety Board administrative law judge’s March 6 ruling overturning the FAA’s first-ever fine against a drone operator.
NTSB Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that when Raphael Pirker flew an unmanned Styrofoam drone over the University of Virginia in 2011, “there was no enforceable FAA rule or FAR [federal aviation regulations] applicable to model aircraft or for classifying model aircraft as an UAS.”
Pirker reportedly sold photos and video collected during the flight to the university to help it create a promotional video.
Reports about the ruling immediately went viral, leading the science and technology site Motherboard to boldly state that commercial drones had become “unequivocally legal” in American skies — at least temporarily.
Motherboard noted that UAS operations previously sanctioned by the FAA included beer deliveries, aerial photography, tornado watching, and equipment inspections.
The FAA appealed the ruling, saying “the agency is concerned that this decision could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of people and property on the ground.”
Industry experts are trying to be patient.
A Feb. 26 post on the FAA’s website, titled Busting Myths about the FAA and Unmanned Aircraft, clearly stated: “Anyone who wants to fly an aircraft — manned or unmanned — in U.S. airspace needs some level of FAA approval.”
Commercial UAS flights are only authorized on a case-by-case basis, the agency emphasized, adding that “to date, only two UAS models (the Scan Eagle and Aerovironment’s Puma) have been certified, and they can only fly in the Arctic.”
According to Duvall, the September 2015 UAS integration deadline “may be quite difficult to meet,” considering that the preliminary notice of proposed rulemaking and public solicitation on the issue has been pushed back to November 2014.
Elsewhere, “this industry is growing by leaps and bounds,” with Japan, Greece, Canada and parts of Africa now using the technology for everything from farming to mapping to anti-animal poaching efforts, Duvall said.
On the other hand, Geisen said, the FAA is likely to propose some rules for commercially operating drones under 55 pounds before the end of this year.
Insurance carriers said they will not be asleep at the switch.
“Once the FAA have completed their work on integrating unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace, I would assume that we will very quickly see their commercial use proliferate, particularly in relation to agricultural and utility operations,” said Chris Proudlove of aviation underwriter Global Aerospace Inc.
Complete coverage on the inevitable cyber threat:
Risk managers are waking up to the reality that the cyber risk landscape has changed.
Cyber: The New CAT. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Cyber risk is a foundation-level exposure that must be viewed with the same gravity as a company’s property, liability or workers’ comp risks.
Critical Condition. The proliferation of medical devices creates a host of scary risks for the beleaguered health care industry.
Disabled Autos. It’s alarmingly easy for a hacker to take control of a driverless vehicle, tampering with braking systems or scrambling the GPS.
An Electrifying Threat. There is a very real possibility hackers could devastate the nation’s power grids — for a potentially extended period of time.
Latin America Not Too Risky for U.S. Business
The risks of doing business in Latin America are worth taking, according to a presentation at the RIMS annual conference in Denver.
Rob Osha, global director of risk management for mineral exploration company Boart Longyear, and Carlos Caicedo, senior principal analyst at IHS Country Risk, acknowledged social unrest and drug-related violence as two of the top dangers throughout the region, but expressed confidence in the growth of opportunities for U.S. business.
Caicedo highlighted Mexico as one emerging region. There, drug cartels pose the greatest risk, but their power may be decreasing. “Over the past five months, top leaders of the cartels have been arrested or killed,” he said.
However, a reduction of violence directed by drug lords could be replaced by extortion.
“We are seeing more risk in Mexico on the extortion side,” Osha said. “Cartels are looking to diversify their revenue streams.”
Caicedo conceded that extortion has increased against domestic Mexican businesses. He also said that cartel retaliation could lead to greater frequency of arson against commercial establishments. Despite these threats, though, he said security in Mexico has stabilized and the economy shows promise, thanks to a growing middle class and lower poverty rates.
“The economy is expected to grow at the end of 2014 and pick up even more in 2015,” he said.
Brazil, on the other hand, received a less favorable review. The region, in the view of IHS, is “a costly country to do business in.” The economy there has been poor since 2011, with inflation on the rise and a widening fiscal deficit. Social unrest, including World Cup protests, has been increasing this year.
In addition, state interventionism has undermined investor confidence, with domestic businesses stalling due to government influence in pricing.
Caicedo also addressed the terrorism threat in Colombia, where FARC continues to pose a danger, particularly to the country’s oil and energy infrastructure. However, the revolutionary faction and the government appear to be “very close to reaching a peace agreement,” Caicedo said.
FARC’s manpower has dropped from 20,000 at its peak to 8,000, and has been pushed into isolated areas of the country. The progression of peace talks will be critical in securing Colombia’s status as an emerging market and attractive place to do business, he said.
Even terrorist activity, however, didn’t scare off Boart Longyear from opening an office in Medellin, Colombia, where it had no prior experience.
“My first impression was, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I wasn’t sure we could do business there,” Osha said. The company established a “High Risk Country Committee” to examine the political, physical and travel risks in the region.
They identified general crime, bribery, extortion, and dangerous travel as the top risks facing the launch of a new facility.
“We gave [the project] the green light,” Osha said, as long as certain precautions were taken.
As part of the process, Boart Longyear hired a third-party firm to conduct a security review of the proposed location. “Don’t rely on your corporate real estate guy to tell you your location is safe,” Osha said.
After the review found the facility to be seriously under-guarded, the company added security cameras, remote locks, key cards, and after-hours guards.
They tackled travel risk next, by examining every route their workers could potentially take between sites and color-coded them by level of danger, establishing some “no-go” areas that were entirely off-limits.
Osha pointed to security assessments by IHS Country Risk and iJET, a travel risk provider, as vital resources for determining the safety of a travel route.
The company also hired a contractor to drive over every travel route and pinpoint areas with poor infrastructure or hazardous conditions like steep grades. Boart Longyear also established travel policies for its crew, instructing them to travel only by daylight and always with a partner.
Finally, they implemented a strict Foreign Corrupt Practices Act training and compliance program to address bribery attempts. Thanks to these efforts, the Medellin office was opened two years ago and has had no safety issues to date, Osha said. Follow-up assessments and ongoing monitoring have contributed to that success.
“We have to monitor the environment to make sure it is still stable,” he said. “Things can change in an instant with an election, a riot … things can get out of control.”
Should that happen, Boart Longyear put together a crisis plan that identifies the nearest resources like hospitals and police stations, and includes an emergency hotline.
While Latin America still presents big safety challenges to U.S. companies looking to capitalize on its emerging markets, those intrepid companies willing to take on the expense and effort of extensive risk planning and mitigation can expand to the area in a secure way.
A Renaissance In U.S. Energy
America’s energy resurgence is one of the biggest economic game-changers in modern global history. Current technologies are extracting more oil and gas from shale, oil sands and beneath the ocean floor.
Domestic manufacturers once clamoring for more affordable fuels now have them. Breaking from its past role as a hungry energy importer, the U.S. is moving toward potentially becoming a major energy exporter.
“As the surge in domestic energy production becomes a game-changer, it’s time to change the game when it comes to both midstream and downstream energy risk management and risk transfer,” said Rob Rokicki, a New York-based senior vice president with Liberty International Underwriters (LIU) with 25 years of experience underwriting energy property risks around the globe.
Given the domino effect, whereby critical issues impact each other, today’s businesses and insurers can no longer look at challenges in isolation one issue at a time. A holistic, collaborative and integrated approach to minimizing risk and improving outcomes is called for instead.
Aging Infrastructure, Aging Personnel
The irony of the domestic energy surge is that just as the industry is poised to capitalize on the bonanza, its infrastructure is in serious need of improvement. Ten years ago, the domestic refining industry was declining, with much of the industry moving overseas. That decline was exacerbated by the Great Recession, meaning even less investment went into the domestic energy infrastructure, which is now facing a sudden upsurge in the volume of gas and oil it’s being called on to handle and process.
“We are in a renaissance for energy’s midstream and downstream business leading us to a critical point that no one predicted,” Rokicki said. “Plants that were once stranded assets have become diamonds based on their location. Plus, there was not a lot of new talent coming into the industry during that fallow period.”
In fact, according to a 2014 Manpower Inc. study, an aging workforce along with a lack of new talent and skills coming in is one of the largest threats facing the energy sector today. Other estimates show that during the next decade, approximately 50 percent of those working in the energy industry will be retiring. “So risk managers can now add concerns about an aging workforce to concerns about the aging infrastructure,” he said.
Increasing Frequency of Severity
Current financial factors have also contributed to a marked increase in frequency of severity losses in both the midstream and downstream energy sector. The costs associated with upgrades, debottlenecking and replacement of equipment, have increased significantly,” Rokicki said. For example, a small loss 10 years ago in the $1 million to $5 million ranges, is now increasing rapidly and could readily develop into a $20 million to $30 million loss.
Man-made disasters, such as fires and explosions that are linked to aging infrastructure and the decrease in experienced staff due to the aging workforce, play a big part. The location of energy midstream and downstream facilities has added to the underwriting risk.
“When you look at energy plants, they tend to be located around rivers, near ports, or near a harbor. These assets are susceptible to flood and storm surge exposure from a natural catastrophe standpoint. We are seeing greater concentrations of assets located in areas that are highly exposed to natural catastrophe perils,” Rokicki explained.
“A hurricane thirty years ago would affect fewer installations then a storm does today. This increases aggregation and the magnitude for potential loss.”
On its own, the domestic energy bonanza presents complex risk management challenges.
However, gradual changes to insurance coverage for both midstream and downstream energy have complicated the situation further. Broadening coverage over the decades by downstream energy carriers has led to greater uncertainty in adjusting claims.
A combination of the downturn in domestic energy production, the recession and soft insurance market cycles meant greatly increased competition from carriers and resulted in the writing of untested policy language.
In effect, the industry went from an environment of tested policy language and structure to vague and ambiguous policy language.
Keep in mind that no one carrier has the capacity to underwrite a $3 billion oil refinery. Each insurance program has many carriers that subscribe and share the risk, with each carrier potentially participating on differential terms.
“Achieving clarity in the policy language is getting very complicated and potentially detrimental,” Rokicki said.
Back to Basics
Has the time come for a reset?
Rokicki proposes getting back to basics with both midstream and downstream energy risk management and risk transfer.
He recommends that the insured, the broker, and the carrier’s underwriter, engineer and claims executive sit down and make sure they are all on the same page about coverage terms and conditions.
It’s something the industry used to do and got away from, but needs to get back to.
“Having a claims person involved with policy wording before a loss is of the utmost importance,” Rokicki said, “because that claims executive can best explain to the insured what they can expect from policy coverage prior to any loss, eliminating the frustration of interpreting today’s policy wording.”
As well, having an engineer and underwriter working on the team with dual accountability and responsibility can be invaluable, often leading to innovative coverage solutions for clients as a result of close collaboration.
According to Rokicki, the best time to have this collaborative discussion is at the mid-point in a policy year. For a property policy that runs from July 1 through June 30, for example, the meeting should happen in December or January. If underwriters try to discuss policy-wording concerns during the renewal period on their own, the process tends to get overshadowed by the negotiations centered around premiums.
After a loss occurs is not the best time to find out everyone was thinking differently about the coverage,” he said.
Changes in both the energy and insurance markets require a new approach to minimizing risk. A more holistic, less siloed approach is called for in today’s climate. Carriers need to conduct more complex analysis across multiple measures and have in-depth conversations with brokers and insureds to create a better understanding and collectively develop the best solutions. LIU’s integrated business approach utilizing underwriters, engineers and claims executives provides a solid platform for realizing success in this new and ever-changing energy environment.
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.