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 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.