When insurance company Allianz announced it was pulling out of the Australian aviation insurance market last December, it raised questions about the sector and whether other insurers might follow suit.
The announcement put in doubt the future of 3,000 aviation-related insurance policies the company underwrites in the Australian market across all aspects of the industry. It comes at a time when industry body AOPA is urging the government regulator to “dismantle the inappropriate regulatory framework that is driving up costs to the industry”.
The climate may also be affected by the Perth seaplane crash which claimed two lives in January 2017, and the light aircraft crash in Melbourne in February, which claimed five lives.
In this article we’ll look at the risks around light aircraft operation, and ways in which these can be mitigated.
SAFETY RISK MANAGEMENT AND INSURANCE COSTS
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines safety risk management as “the projected likelihood and severity of the consequence or outcome from an existing hazard or situation.”
Risks associated with flying are low; according to the AGCS Global Aviation Study, there were fewer than two passenger deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in 2014.
But although it seems bizarre, the cost of aviation insurance claims has increased alongside these improvements in safety risk management. According to Allianz, this is driven by costly new materials in hull design, as well as ever-more demanding regulation and growth of liability-based litigation.
In fact, the AGCS study predicts that rising fleet values and passenger numbers will push the value of risk exposure past the $1 trillion mark by 2020.
Crashes are the major factor behind claim generation and claim costs (23% and 37%), but almost as many aviation claims by number (18%) relate to ground handling claims, while 16% arise from mechanical failure.
IDENTIFYING AVIATION HAZARDS
CASA’s Safety Risk Management guide identifies hazards as anything that can cause harm or damage – bad weather, dangerous terrain, FOD (e.g. bird strikes), absence of emergency equipment, high workload, fatigue and use of alcohol and other drugs.
CASA recommends the following for identifying hazards:
- Brainstorming – discussion groups meet to generate ideas.
- Formal review of standards, procedures and systems.
- Staff surveys or questionnaires.
- One person standing back from the operation and monitoring it critically and objectively.
- Internal or external safety assessments.
- Hazard reporting systems.
Once the risks are identified they should be ranked in order of severity. A bird strike or a fire are both hazards. But fires, though rare, have the potential to be far more damaging than bird strikes, which according to the AGCS study are the most commonly reported incidents involving light aircraft.
Operators can then identify how to prevent hazards from occurring. For example, a fire in the cockpit can be put out with a fire extinguisher. Risk prevention strategies for bird strikes include pyrotechnics and mechanical scare devices, the use of dogs and raptors, and the removal of vegetation adjacent to the runway.
Taken into account when assessing the severity of any risk are:
- Fatalities/injury. How many lives may be lost (employees, passengers, bystanders and the general public)?
- Damage. What is the likely extent of aircraft, property or equipment damage?
A safety risk management assessment can then be made to take measures to reduce the organisation’s exposure to the particular risk, reduce the severity of consequences related to the hazard, or cancel the operation if mitigation is not possible.
It is in these analyses that the term As Low As Reasonably Practical (ALARP) appears. ALARP means that a risk is so low that attempting to make it lower would be more expensive than the cost likely to result from the manifestation of the risk.
FLIGHT DATA GATHERING AND ANALYSIS
Aircraft risk mitigation as an ongoing process relies on the constant collation and assessment of flight data. Flight crew incident reports, aircraft flight data and confidential reports are tools for gathering risk assessment data for a Flight Data Analysis Program.
CASA defines this as “a pro-active non-punitive program for gathering and analysing data recorded during routine flights to improve flight crew performance, operating procedures, flight training, air traffic control procedures, air navigation services, or aircraft maintenance and design.”
Data such as flap retraction altitude/speed, climb speed and airspeed at 1000 feet AAL on approach can be gathered and a comparative analysis made between any given flight and the established profile for normal procedures. Through data mining and computer analysis, concerning trends are identified before trigger levels that indicate risk are exceeded.
THE IMPACT OF LIGHT AIRCRAFT ACCIDENT
It remains to be seen what sort of impact the latest light plane crashes might have, and whether wider challenges will force other insurers to follow Allianz out of the market.
What is certain is that a broker who understands the industry, its trends and disruptions must be able to talk the language of risk. It must be able to turn changing conditions to its clients’ advantage, since in a volatile market, experience and staying power are more valuable than ever.