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.
Preparing for and Navigating the Claims Process
All of a sudden – it happens. The huge explosion in the plant. The executive scandal that leads the evening news. The discovery that one of your company’s leading products has led to multiple consumer deaths due to a previously undiscovered fault in its design. Your business and its reputation, along with your own, are on the line. You had hoped this day would never come, but it’s time to file a major claim.
Is your company ready? Do you know – for certain – how you would proceed, both internally with your own employees, and externally, with your insurance provider? What data will you need to provide, and how quickly can you pull it together? Do you know – and understand – the exacting wording of your policy? Are you sure you are covered for this type of incident? And even if you are a multinational with a global policy, how old is it, and is your coverage in concert with any recent changes in the laws of the country and local jurisdiction in which the incident occurred?
As should be clear from these few questions, if you organization is hit with a major event and you need to make a claim, just knowing that you are current with your premium payments is not enough. Preparation before the event ever occurs, strong relationships with your insurance team, and a thorough understanding of what needs to happen throughout the claims process are all essential to reaching a satisfactory claim settlement quickly, so that a long business disruption and further damage are avoided.
Get Ready before Disaster Strikes
The Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared,” applies equally well to organizations that may suddenly be faced with the need to navigate the complexities of the claim process – especially for large claims following a major crisis. Crises are by nature emotional events. Taking the following steps ahead of time, before disaster strikes, will help avoid the sense of paralysis and tunnel vision that often follows in their wake.
Open up a dialogue with your insurer – today.
For risk managers and others who will be called upon to interface with your insurer in the event of a crisis, establishing open and honest lines of communication now will save trouble and time in the claims process. Regular communication with your insurance team and keeping them up to date on recent developments in your organization, business and manufacturing processes, etc., will provide them with a better understanding of your risk profile and make it easier to explain what has happened, and why, in the event you ever have to file. It will also help in the process of updating and refining the wording in existing policies to reflect important changes that may impact a future claim.
Conduct pre-loss workshops to stress-test your readiness to handle a major loss.
Firefighters conduct frequent drills to ensure their teams know what to do when confronted with different types of emergencies. Commercial airline pilots do the same. Your organization should be no different. Thinking through potential loss scenarios and conducting workshops around them will help you identify where the gaps are – in personnel, reporting structures, contact lists, data maintenance, etc., before a real crisis occurs. If at all possible, you should include your insurance team and broker (if you have one) in these workshops. This will not only help cement important relationships, but it will also serve to further educate them about your organization and on what you will need from them in a crisis; and vice versa. The value to your organization can be significant, because your risk management team will not be starting from zero when you have to make a claim. Knowing what to do first, whom to call at your insurer, what data they will need to begin the claims process, etc. – all of this will save time and help get you on the road to a settlement much more quickly.
Know what your policy covers, before you need it.
This advice may sound obvious, but experience has shown that all too often, companies are not aware, in detail, of what their policies cover and don’t cover. As Noona Barlow, AIG head of financial lines claims Europe has noted, particularly in the case of small to mid-size organizations, “it is amazing how often directors and risk managers don’t actually know what their policy covers them for.” This can have dire consequences. In the case of D & O insurance, for example, even a “global” policy many not cover all situations, because in some countries, companies are not allowed to indemnify their directors. Obviously, these kinds of facts are important to know before rather than after an incident occurs. So it is important to have an insurer with both a broad and deep understanding of local laws and regulations wherever you have exposure, in addition to an understanding of the technical details of working through the claims process.
Make sure your data management policies are in order.
Successful risk management depends on having consistent, high-quality data on all of your risk-sensitive operations (manufacturing, procurement, shipping, etc.), so that you can quantify where the greatest risks sit in the organization and take steps to reduce them. Good data, complemented by strong analytics, will also help you to identify potential problems before they occur. It will also help you to maximize the effectiveness of your insurance purchasing decisions. Frequent, detailed conversations with your insurer will help you to identify any areas where additional data might be needed in the event of a crisis.
No one ever wants to find themselves in the midst of a crisis. But if and when such an event does strike, if you have taken the steps above you will be much better positioned to work through the claims process – and reach an effective resolution – as quickly and as smoothly as possible.
For more information, please visit the AIG Knowledge and Insights Center.