The new challenges facing the A&H market as aviation slowly returns to normal

The-accident-and-health-insurance-market-post-Covid-19

From air traffic and ground crew, to pilots and aircrew, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the aviation industry and, consequently, the personal accident insurance available for aviation industry employees.

The market for personal accident insurance for aviation industry employees has faced unique challenges over the past year and remains separate from the market for standard aviation insurance that provides cover to an airline’s operations and physical assets.

This AXIS Insights discusses how the pandemic has brought new challenges to Accident & Health insurance as the aviation industry slowly makes a return to normal (authored by Paul Fillbrook is a Senior Underwriter, International Accident & Health)

How has COVID-19 affected the aviation industry?

I can recall three recent events which could arguably be compared in some ways to how the current pandemic has affected the aviation industry:

  1. Y2K – this was a software issue that was expected at the turn of the millennium, so we were given time to plan for it and, ultimately, it caused little disruption.
  2. 9/11 – an unexpected and tragic event which caused immediate mass disruption to the world of aviation, but which did not ground planes for a prolonged period.
  3. The worldwide grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft in March 2019 after two fatal incidents.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has been economically far worse for the aviation industry. It is an unexpected event that has affected the entire world and which has lasted for a prolonged period.

9,690+ PLANES IN STORAGE - At least 9,690 planes – around 30% of the world’s commercial aircraft – have been in storage during the pandemic.i

$370 BILLION LOSS - The financial loss to date has been staggering, equating to around $370 billion across the whole industry.ii

i Barker, A. (2020, December 12). When planes return to the skies, some aviation experts fear a spate of incidents. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-13/coronavirus-means-some-pilots-may-be-out-of-practice/12957796

ii Air travel down 60 per cent, as airline industry losses top $370 billion: ICAO | | UN NEWS. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/01/1082302

What have been the challenges for Accident & Health aviation insurers?

The global aviation insurance market hardened in 2019 and early 2020. Plans were agreed and signed off, and reinsurance programs were purchased for 2020 with expectations of premium growth through rate increases. However, by the end of Q1 2020 it was apparent that underwriters’ books would shrink and premiums would dwindle. Underwriters who were accustomed to carrying the insurance risk now had to contend with the credit risk – e.g mid-term policy cancellations, bad debts, and clients defaulting on instalments yet still submitting claims. All of these are factors that add pressure to writing a profitable book. Other concerns, such as the mental health of aircrew, have instigated policy wording reviews.

With pilots having potentially not flown for over a year, how will this affect personal accident and loss of license coverage?

Pilots who have continued to fly during the pandemic should have no concerns, assuming that cover was maintained by their employer and premiums paid. Those who were furloughed may have seen their benefits reduced, in line with furlough payments, and will be keen to return to full-flight duties and full pay. Any lapses in cover may see underwriters tightening terms, increasing rates and refusing to offer premium instalments.

Less than half of commercial pilots actively flying i

  • 43% flying
  • 30% unemployed
  • 17% furloughed
  • 6% employed in aviation in non-flying role
  • 4% working in another industry

iFlight Global. (2021, January 28). Most commercial pilots no longer flying. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.flightglobal.com/jobs/most-commercial-pilots-no-longer-flying/142026.article

How do you see employers coping with the changes to coverage and rates?

At this point, employee benefits can and should be reviewed. There are many questions to consider, such as:

  • How well did their existing package respond during the pandemic?
  • Were their insurers flexible with a pragmatic view?

Money will remain tight for many operators. Insurers may push for rate increases to cover losses and increased expense costs. Where COVID is now excluded, how will this gap in cover be bridged? Are employers’ current packages of employee benefits overly generous? Some employers may suggest employee contributions to maintain benefits, while others may opt for lower wages or a wage freeze but a better package of benefits.

How is AXIS going further together to help the aviation industry prepare for the unexpected?

Here at AXIS, we can offer risk transfer solutions to airlines and operators who are gradually getting back to what they do best, ranging from budget options and pilot top-up schemes to comprehensive packages that offer complete peace of mind. We can tailor cover to suit employer budgets. AXIS stands ready to offer aviation operators flexible, relevant and sustainable levels of employee benefits.

AXIS Insurance offers a wide range of Aviation coverages in the airline, aerospace and general aviation sectors.

About the author

Paul Fillbrook is a Senior Underwriter, International Accident & Health, for AXIS Insurance. For the past 24 years he has specialized in providing Personal Accident and Loss of License insurance solutions for both general aviation and airline risks in the London market.

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