HONG KONG/ FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Insurer Allianz SE could be exposed to claims of at least US$100 million linked to the AirAsia jet missing off the Indonesian coast with 162 people on board, which would be the third major airline accident it has been exposed to this year.
Allianz said on Monday it was lead reinsurer on the flight, having previously been the main reinsurer to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 which disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March, as well as to flight MH17, shot down in July while flying over Ukraine.
In an emailed statement, Allianz confirmed it had lead the provision of aviation hull and liability cover, adding: "It is much too early to comment on reports of this incident ... except to say that our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this missing flight."
One aircraft insurance broker estimated total costs would depend on liabilities for passengers and could be between US$100 million and US$200 million, including around US$45 million for the plane. Not all the costs would be borne by Allianz but the insurer declined comment on the extent of its exposure, or to identify others exposed to the missing Airbus A320-200.
Aviation incidents accounted for four of the top 10 major insurance losses not linked to natural catastrophes in the first eight months of 2014, putting pressure on aviation claims that are already rising due to the use of expensive materials and demanding safety regulation, an Allianz report said.
As with the two Malaysia Airlines crashes, Allianz and its co-insurers will have to foot the bill for the cost of the missing aircraft, as well as for payments due to the relatives of passengers aboard the flight.
The Airbus 320 sells for an average price of US$94 million, according to Airbus's website. However, according to the age of the aircraft, the hull is likely to be insured for a lower sum.
For passenger liability, an international agreement called the Montreal Convention caps initial payouts at around US$165,000 per passenger at current exchange rates, or a total of about US$27 million for the 162 passengers aboard the AirAsia flight.
But if the airline is found to have been at fault, such as through pilot error, claims could be much higher.
"This is going be identical to MH370 and MH17 in the sense there are standard minimum insurance obligations which all carriers have to have, but if negligence can be demonstrated the sky's the limit in terms of claims," said Mr John Ribbands, an independent Melbourne-based lawyer expert in aviation insurance. JLT Group was the insurance broker for the AirAsia plane, the company told Reuters in a separate statement.
In a recent aviation safety study, Allianz said there are currently fewer than two passenger deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights, compared with 133 deaths for every 100 million in the 1960s.