‘Space Activities and Relevant Insurance Implications'
14th International Space Insurance Conference - 22nd & 23rd March 2007, Milan
The 14th edition of the Space Insurance Conference was held on 22nd and 23rd March 2007 in Milan at the Atahotel Quark. The first edition was held in Trieste in 1979, at that time just 79 people attended, including representatives from NASA, ESA and the major Italian operators. From there on, the number of countries and speakers has grown year by year. This year the speakers were 52 which exceeded by far the number of the previous events.
At the speakers' dinner held on the 21st of March, a plaque was awarded to Arianespace and Pino & Associates LLP for their active participation to 13 of the 14 Space Insurance Conferences already held. The same recognition was awarded in 2005 to NASA and ESA at the 13th Space Insurance Conference held in Stresa.
This year the Conference was opened by Mr Benito Pagnanelli, President of Pagnanelli Risk Solutions Ltd, who thanked the participants for contributing to the success of the meeting with their numerous presence. The number of participants exceeded 300 and new countries, such as Turkey and Malaysia were represented, along with the traditional ones, for a total of twenty-seven countries. Mr. Pagnanelli reminded that again this year the Conference aimed at putting together different professional experiences (technological, industrial, commercial, financial, legal and insurance), in order to answer the question that was chosen as the theme of this year's edition: "Space and private enterprise: is the environment ripe for expansion?". Even if the new private space activities are extending the spectrum of insurance demands and new insurance opportunities will be offered by new applications made feasible through the utilisation of space technologies, the insurance sector remains extremely volatile and is not, as yet, self founding.
To quote a few passages from Mr Pagnanelli's opening remarks: "The theme chosen this year is " Space & Private enterprise: is the environment ripe for expansion?" The answer to the question will come from the following speakers representing different interests and experiences.
However, it is evident that there is a necessary complementarity among these answers. Aspects involved are technological, industrial, commercial, financial, insurance and, in particular, legal and legislative. Regulations of the various countries should be adopted to favour space privatisation aiming at creating a harmonised regime. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already made a significant step with the adoption on the 13th of February 2007 of final rules for space tourism operators. Speakers in the Conference will give us details later.
If the new private space activities extend the spectrum of insurance demands, there are other areas that should attract the attention of the insurance community. For example, the possibility to provide special covers for military space projects, or better for space projects financed by governments, which has rarely been explored in the past. It is evident that some restrictions to the risks protected must be considered to avoid entering into particular performance guarantees or pure military operations.
In the future, interesting insurance opportunities will be offered by new applications made feasible through the utilisation of space technologies. An example is given by the efforts made by the European Commission to promote, within the Galileo Project, a series of researches, such as "Monitor", Cuspis", "VeRT", "Giroads", and others, to evaluate the benefits of space technology applications in various sectors such as, for example, facilitating motor circulation or preventing natural disasters.
The scope is always the same: to prevent or to mitigate losses. PRS has actively been involved in these researches looking at the risk management and insurance aspects. In our view, the insurance opportunities opened by these applications will be numerous and stimulating.
However, the space insurance market, in its current feature, remains fragile and extremely volatile, which means that it is not self founding yet. It needs to find new ways to create continuity of its business. In January of this year, a total loss occurred. The NSS-8 satellite failure will cost some US$ 250M to space insurers and, in addition to that, the damages suffered by the launch pad will probably indefinitely post-pone 5-6 insured launches.
Against this loss scenario, the expected total premium for the year is estimated to be in the region of US$ 500-550M. A second loss would be disastrous and the profits of 2004 to 2006 might be at risk of erosion. Here is the need to extend the basis of space insurance.
The next debates will probably suggest how, for example, the increasing phenomenon of self-insurance can be faced and reduced: although the tendency of the launch numbers is on the increase, the number of insured satellites stagnates since long at an average of 20 per year. In-orbit risk covers show a similar trend. In this context, what is the impact of the industry consolidation on the insurance demands? This and many other questions are expected to be debated.
I am not allowed to further abuse my time, but, before I end my introduction, let me repeat once more the answer to the old basic question: "Why this Conference?". Since the first event in 1979, the basic concept has always been to create a space forum for all stake-holders, manufacturers, operators, agencies, investors, public institutions, lawyers, brokers, insurers, reinsurers, and so on. A forum where to debate, in full "transparency", any technical, financial, commercial, institutional and insurance aspects related to a growing new sector, characterised by an always advancing technology, which requires high capital investments and international co-operations. In other words, an occasion to publicly debate and possibly help solve the respective problems."
After a short presentation of the activity that the Geneva Association performs to promote the understanding of the insurance industry, Mr. Walter Stahel, Vice-Secretary General and Head of Risk Management at the Geneva Association, stressed the importance of the new satellite applications in tackling the green house emissions, e.g. by watching over and easing traffic in the cities, and in building a sustainable economy. At the same time he called upon more transparency in the space sector, as different actors working independently and often in secrecy may increase the risk of negative coincidences. As for the risk management, it is possible that the space sector will follow what has been done in other sectors by implementing new business models that internalize the cost of risk, keeping it on the manufacturer and/or on the owner-operator and providing him with strong financial incentives for loss prevention and high business continuity.
Christopher Kunstadter, Vice President of XL Insurance analysed the reasons for the high volatility of the insurance sector, which descends from the excess of liquidity in the financial market, the uncertain global economic situation, the risks posed by natural disasters. With specific reference to the space insurance arena, the volatility of the underwriting results mainly stems from the constant changes in the technology, the serial nature of the anomalies, the fact that each space risk has unique technical characteristics, the risks posed by the many threats in space, not least of all the space debris problem. The peak of the risk still lies in the launch phase and deployment, and decreases remarkably after the first year in space. In the last decade some technologies have performed poorly, e.g. high power solar array, ion propulsion and NiH2 batteries, while other ones were successful, like lithium ion batteries and active antennas. The market appears to be divided between the five biggest operators on one side, which held 55% circa of the world GEO satellites fleet, amounting to more than 260 machines, and 41 small operators on the other side. The big operators especially tend to shy away from insurance and prefer to self-insure. The space insurance market capacity for the year 2007 has been $ 500 million, and due to the loss of NSS-8 satellite, which was worth $ 250 million, early this year, the market is on track to have a marginal year at best. In the last ten years, the profit margin in the space sector has been only 5% of the premiums collected, which is a very poor result in a catastrophe market.
Mr. Ramin Khadem, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the International Space University in Strasbourg and former Chief Financial Officer of Inmarsat, opened the risk and finance managers panel, which he moderated.
It was then the turn of Mr. Philippe Cotelle, Head of EADS Astrium Insurance and Management, who presented the company profile of EADS Astrium and remarked in the importance of risk management, as capital market providers require from private companies to assess the potential exposure and mitigate it systematically. Mr Cotelle also introduced the theme of vertical marketing, which is now applied in some placements where the various insurers do not offer the same terms and conditions and which implies more flexibility and some saving on the insured side. On the other hand, one of the major issues in the insurance field remains the low claim settlement efficiency. The experience shows that the payment of claims is normally too long. Another disadvantage is that the consequences of a loss for the insured are always in excess of the insured amount, as it produces loss of customers, image impact on future sales, potential rating impact and financial security issues and other inconveniences that insurance cannot cater for. In conclusion, space appears to be ripe for the expansion of the private investments.
For Ted Ignacy, Chief Financial Officer at Telesat Canada, insurance is an important part of the risk management plan, especially in-orbit insurance in a fleet with high capacity utilisation. Nonetheless, insurance has some downsides, as the premium rates are very high and the settlement of a claim doesn't allow the insured to go back in the position he was when the loss happened. Moreover, operators do prefer long term policies, as they bring stability, but the insurers generally propose only 12 month policy periods. Telesat's policy is to rely on proven heritage hardware in order to enhance reliability. At the same time, Telesat's clients are demanding more capable and powerful satellites. With regards to vertical marketing, Mr. Ignacy took a question from the public and answered that vertical marketing can entail some savings but can be very inconvenient for the insured when a loss occurs as he may have to deal with various insurers separately on the basis of different policy terms and conditions.
Mr. Padraig McCarthy, Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President at SES Astra S.A., stated that one of the main problems in the space insurance sector is that on the insurers side it is seen mainly as a spot market, as the insurers prefer to offer short-term commitments, while on the operators side, long terms coverages are sought most of the times. Moreover, the value of the coverage may strongly decreased in the case exclusions and deductibles are introduced. Notwithstanding this, SES policy is to continue to insure externally the launch and the first year of operation, even if self-insurance is becoming an increasingly attractive option for an operator with a good track record like SES.
The legal panel was moderated by Mr. Rudolph Vic Pino Jr., partner of Pino & Associates LLP. Mr. John A. Ordway, partner at Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP, was the first to speak. He addressed the International Traffic in Arms Regulation in the USA and reported about the progress of the State Department in clearing up the backlog of the last year, although ITAR restrictions in exporting and re-exporting technical information regarding satellites are still a hurdle to a prompt settlement of the claims and heavily interfere with the arbitration phase. Moreover, when an applicant for a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) seeks approval to export preparatory data, the State Department may ask him to obtain the approval of the owner, thus forcing him to disclose his strategy. Coming to reinsurance, when a technical issue that may have ITAR implications arises regarding a commercial space-related reinsurance policy, the easiest way to obtain authorisation is usually for the insurer to request that the U.S. person who initially obtained the TAA seeks the State Department approval of an amendment to the TAA. Unfortunately, many US persons who hold a valid TAA are unwilling to have it amended to the described purpose, as they are liable for any violation a party to the TAA commits. In conclusion, to a certain extent ITAR makes resolution of a commercial space-related reinsurance issue complicated and time consuming, but if well-managed it should not preclude resolution of any such issue.
Stephen Tucker, Senior Partner at Mendes & Mount LLP, expanded on the US regulation of space tourism. It is known that starting in 2009, Virgin Galactic plans to commercially fly 500 passengers per year at costs ranging somewhere between $ 100,000 and $ 200,000 per passenger to an altitude of roughly 68 miles, offering about 6 minutes of weightlessness. On February 13, 2007, the US Federal Aviation Administration adopted final rules for space tour operators, which will apply to American companies launching from anywhere in the world and to foreign companies launching from US land. The rules require: (i) passengers to be informed in writing of risks, including death; (ii) passengers to accept a "fly at your own risk liability regime", as they will be legally required to waive liability claims; (iii) mandatory training for passengers; (iv) specific qualifications and training for crew besides informed consent of crew itself; (v) crew waiver of claims against the US government; (vi) the licensee to demonstrate no significant environmental impact and an acceptable level of safety to the general public; (vii) the licensee to cover the Maximum Probable Loss to third parties in the event of an accident in compliance with the general legislative framework regarding traditional commercial launches.
Nicholas Hughes, partner in the Aerospace Department at Barlow Lyde & Gilbert, presented a speech about the main topics of the space insurance sector from a legal standpoint. Unquestionably, the space risk is a catastrophic one, as it is more likely to happen in the first phase of the life of the satellite. Moreover, insurance has a price that may not always be affordable for the operators. Even if generally speaking there is no mandatory insurance in the space sector, some compliance issues may arise from time to time (in respect of liability towards third parties and governments) and affect the choice to buy insurance. Most of the time the choice whether to buy insurance or not is mainly a commercial decision. The biggest operator may easily afford self-insurance, especially when they can rely on sufficient capacity and technical redundancy in their fleet.
The finance panel was moderated by Peter D. Nesgos, partner at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, who reminded that in the last two years the market has been approached by substantial private investors, including hedge funds, and has been characterised by various mergers and acquisitions. Robert E. Diemar, managing director at Coady Diemar Partners, investigated this scenario and reported on the substantial growth opportunities going forward in the satellite market, such as the growth in demand for home digital television, satellite radio and other consumer-based technologies as well as for security systems for Governments and enterprises. These opportunities have drawn capitals to the market, which in 2005 and 2006 saw IPO activity in excess of $ 1.55 billion and a steady growth in equity investing. Many large operators are consolidating, such as Telesat Canada and Loral, SES Global and NSS, Intelsat and Panamsat, Sirius and XM, and this is expected to provide numerous benefits for operators and distributors. Similar concepts were expressed by Wim Steenbakkers, director of ING Bank, while Hank Courson, Director, Capital Markets & Management Intelsat, reminded that on average the typical equity funds have ten years before returning the money to the investors, and so they will seek for five to seven year investments.
The Space Agencies panel started with the opening remarks of Anthony Bolton, Director at A.H.B. Consultants Ltd. While Agenzia Spaziale Italiana didn't present any speaker, David Greves, Head of Corporate Risk and Insurance at ESA, focused on the issue of product liability and presented the activity of ESA. He further reminded that insurance still remains an afterthought for many operators and invited the insurers to consider to a greater extent the reliability record of a client when assessing a risk. Brigadier General Michael C. Wholley, General Counsel at NASA, reported on the change in NASA's attitude towards the private sector in the last two years. Today the US vision for space exploration relies also on private initiative and NASA is willing to promote international and commercial participation in exploration. A major part of this project is to entrust private operators with commercial orbital transportation services (cots) such as delivery of cargo and crew to lower earth orbit and to the International Space Station. In the future Cots will be run by private entities and launches will no longer be governmental but commercial ones. The FAA will be in charge of watching over licensing and insurance requirements.
The Satellite Operators panel was moderated by Peter Jackson, Chief Executive Officer of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Co. Ltd. While in most businesses if you have an asset you insure it, in the space field self insurance is a valid option for many operators. Exclusions and delays in the settlement process still keep many operators at distance. Loss of revenues and damage to the corporate credibility are risks more likely to be of interest for operators wishing to take insurance.
Richard Denny, Vice President, Satellite and Network Operations at Inmarsat Global Ltd., expounded Inmarsat's achievements and goals, such as aero passenger connectivity in the frame of new EEC regulation agreed in November 2006. Inmarsat so far has more than 120 years of in-orbit satellite life experience and an impeccable record that they try to have reflected in the rating of premiums when negotiating with insurers. Even if Inmarsat is traditionally a purchaser of insurance, Mr. Denny reckons that for Inmarsat insurance is not properly a need.
After the speech of the last delegate in the Satellite Operators panel, Mr. Vladimir Glebsky, Director of Investment Projects at Russian Satellite Communications Company, who illustrated the main features of business in his company, the Brokers panel (moderated by John Howes, Consultant to Aerospace & Aviation Division of Benfield Corporate Risks) and the Insurers and Reinsurers panel (moderated by Stephen J. Riley, Chairman of the International Underwriting Association) took place concurrently, a speaker from one side and one from the other alternating. Roger Bathurst, Chief Executive Officer of International Space Brokers depicted a very positive picture of the status of health of the market. As a matter of fact, almost all the major players in the space insurance field are remaining in the business and some are increasing their commitments, while new players have recently entered the market. Profits since 2002 have totalled more than $ 1.8 billion. On the other hand, Bruno Ritchie, Executive Director at Hiscox Global Markets, resolutely opposed this analysis, which didn't take into account the many losses insurers had to indemnify. Moreover, not only is it almost impossible to build a reliable loss ratio in the satellite sector, but also various new launch providers and satellite operators have entered the business, who do not provide any past reliability track at all. Obviously this situation may be highly risky for insurers.
John Howes' remarks on vertical marketing led Peter Elson, Managing Director at AON, to comment that vertical marketing may be an issue in the settlement process, due to many people having a say on the policy wording that leads to differences in conditions. Philippe Montpert, Managing Director at Willis Inspace, provided the audience with a general picture of the market, while Simon Clapham, Director at Sciemus Ltd reminded that space business is still a small venture and it is difficult to apply to it the basic rule of insurance, i.e. the losses of few are paid by many. Indeed, the basis of space insurance is narrow and losses are high. He also criticised the pricing policy of certain insurers and expressed the view that good risk management should be reflected in lower insurance premiums.
Neil Stevens, Vice President at Marsh Ltd outlined the UK Financial Services Authority requirements about contract certainty and how they may impact the space sector. More specifically, the traditional way of transacting insurance business, i.e. by signing the slip and detailing the wording later (deal now, detail later), caused many disputes to arise after the losses of September 11, 2001, as the policy wording had not been agreed at the time of loss. As a result the FSA has introduced a code of practice to foster contract certainty, that means that all contract terms have to be agreed prior to commencement of cover. However, on the balance contract certainty may imply various disadvantages that outweigh the real benefits, as it causes useless delays in agreeing change of wordings even when the content remains more or less the same. Moreover, a space insurance dispute is very unlikely to be litigated, as it will be normally submitted to arbitration, which is conducted in private and may be decided by people that know the business. Mr. Stevens also suggested mediation clauses to be introduced in the policy wording. As a matter of fact, mediation is cheaper and quicker to organise than arbitration, it is not adversarial and preserves commercial relationships, provides flexible solutions preserving confidentiality.
Philip Ruari McDougall, Senior Underwriter at Munch Re, agreed with the views expressed by other speakers in regards to the potential loss rate in the space sector, which is highly disproportionate to the premium collection. Loss experience swings dramatically from one year to the other and insurers are constantly at risk of losing in one bad year what they where able to put aside in the years before. Non-flight tested equipment may be tricky, but insurers may accept that they are implemented when reliability is sufficiently proved. Lastly, insurers also have to pay attention not to subscribe too many risks in one year.
While Stephen J. Riley noted that the satellite market has reached a certain stability and is less amenable to fluctuations than in the past, Pierre-Eric Lys, managing director at SpaceCo, emphasised that today 54% of the world insurance capacity is in Europe as is the large majority of the reinsurance capacity. The insurance community moves at a slow pace, especially if compared to telecommunications and other space-related industries, which are globalising faster and faster.
According to Mr. Kyoichi Shirai, Head of Space Risks at Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance Co. Ltd, technical reliability in the space arena is still far from the airline industry failure ratio. Even if the launch vehicle failure rate has steadily decreased, on the whole space risk's current rate level is comparable to 20 years ago, while the hull rate for Boeing 747 aircrafts has reduced by 95% during the same lapse of time. In an underwriters' perspective, less frequency of losses is not necessarily the ultimate priority, provided that the risk is stable and the market promises continuous growth of insurable interest. Unfortunately, neither of these two conditions appear to be taking place, as volatility is still high and the growth of insured launches is not entirely promising. Having said the above, new entrants in the space industry are an opportunity for underwriters if well managed.
After the opening remarks of Mr. Pagnanelli, the second day of the proceedings started with a speech by Mr. Paul Flament, administrator at the European Commission, who illustrated the Galileo project, that will entail a constellation of 32 satellites providing a set of services of unparalleled accuracy, ranging from open access services to commercial ones, to safety of life/ search and rescue services and public regulated schemes. Galileo is a public private partnership, but it has come up against some hurdles in the last months, as the private and the public entities involved in the project were unable to agree some contractual terms relating to design risk, delay in completion and liability risks.
Therefore, in the past few days political pressure has brought to the incorporation of a new specific company dedicated to the Galileo project. It has yet to be seen if this will suffice to overcome the mentioned difficulties. Another issue is to avoid any redundancy with the GPS network, which is cheaper and has proven to be efficient.
The first panel of the day, which was moderated by Mrs Janet E. Sadler, Senior Vice President in the Aviation Division at AIG Europe, gathered some of the most prominent players in the manufacturing industry.
Patrick Agnieray, Vice-president of marketing at Alcatel Alenia Space, focused on the new generation of Globalstar satellites and on the company attitude towards new technological solutions. Tony Colucci, Vice President of marketing & sales, at Space Systems/Loral, spoke about the ongoing transactions with Telesat Canada and stressed that, as reliability depends much on transponder capacity, Space Systems/Loral provides its customer with 20 years of average transponder life, which is beyond the average request from the market for 16 years.
Barry Noakes, Chief Technical Officer at Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, summarised the main achievements in the long industrial experience of Lockheed Martin, whose activity is split between the private sector (broadcast industry and media) and the public sector (security, surveillance, etc.). He was also of the view that innovation, if properly managed, assists in reducing the overall satellite risk and that, contrary to what is commonly thought, ITAR shall not cause any serious inconvenience as they are just a question of timing.
According to Stephen T. O'Neill, President of the Boeing Satellite Systems International Inc., notwithstanding any restriction, nowadays it is very difficult to control the confidentiality of information related to space activities. The images of the NSS 8 failure early this year were available on the internet shortly after the accident took place. It is still a common feeling among operators that insurance is mainly a waste of money, as operators prefer to look for spare capacity that enables them to overcome any accidental shortcoming and to provide their customer with a constant and consistent service.
Mr. Shoichiro Asada's speech opened the panel of the Launch providers. Mr. Asada is General Manager of H-2A Launch Services Office in Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., that by this year provides its launch services not only for government missions but also for commercial ones. H-2A is an insurance buyer.
Mr. Kjell J. Karlsen, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Sea Launch Company LLC reported on the damages the launch platform operated by his company suffered from the NSS 8 launch failure and on how it may impact the company's scheduled activity for the next months.
In the words of Mr Jean-Yves Le Gall, Chief Executive Officer, at the root of the success of Arianespace (more then 26 years in the launch service business with a tradition of high reliability) is the excellent tempo of its performances. Risk mitigation is achieved by means of a mix of back-up launch capability and insurance.
The conclusive remarks of Philip Slack, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of International Launch Services, closed the ninth panel of the conference. Mr. Slack outlined the business activity of International Launch Services, which is a stand-alone one product company that has recently abandoned the orbit of influence of its former major stakeholder, Martin Lockheed Corp.
The last panel of the conference focused on space tourism and new technologies and was chaired by Mr Sean Gates, Senior Partner at Gates and Partners.
Jonathan Firth, Virgin Galactic's Project Director, illustrated the headways made by Virgin Galactic (an US based company), which aims at becoming the first space airline within 2009. Space flight implies taking care also of medical aspects, as space tourists are people who have a very different profile from astronauts and who are exposed to "G" forces. Space tourism also calls for insurance protection in respect of hull, passengers liability, third party liability and business interruption. Informed consent almost sounds as a paradox, being pretty much difficult to describe for information purposes phenomena that are well beyond the common experience, such as "G" forces.
Brian Binnie, Astronaut at the command of SpaceShipOne in the test flights of the new planned space tour service, caught the attention of the attendees with the description of the sensations of space flights. He also pointed out that space activities have a very low impact in terms of green gas emissions.
Tim Hughes, Chief Counsel at SpaceX, outlined the activity of Space X, an emerging launch services provider which has currently three launches contracted with NASA to ferry cargo and crew to the International Space Station under the Cots program.
Finally, Sean Gates, Senior Partner at Gates and Partners, expanded on the legislative framework
concerning space activities in the private sector. International law doesn't cater for commercial launches, such a situation being very similar to the one of the aviation industry at its beginnings.
Some air law rules may also probably apply to the space flights, but it is unclear which ones and to which extent. As for passenger liability, for example, the Montreal Convention provides for strict unlimited liability up to 100,000 special drawing rights, while in the space sector the Liability Convention 1967 may be inadequate in regulating the new commercial activities. Time is possibly ripe for a new international convention on the new frontiers of space business.
Following the conclusive remarks of Mr. Pagnanelli, who stressed the importance of communication and transparency among all the players of the space arena, a roundtable, during which the issues of vertical marketing, competition, mediation and reinsurance were debated, was chaired by Mr. Harold Caplan of Quadrant Chambers with the participation of Mr. Lys, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Peter De Selding, Paris bureau Chief for Space News.