'Bombs away' over insuring B-17

June 28, 2012

A spat over insurance disrupted a stop in Seattle, Wash., for two World War II bombers scheduled to give sightseeing rides from King County International Airport-Boeing Field during the Collings Foundation’s Wings of Freedom Tour.

Then it was bombs away on Facebook, as the foundation tapped the social network to vent its frustration.

The Stow, Mass.-based nonprofit learned on short notice that King County, Wash., operator of Boeing Field—home of the Seattle Museum of Flight—had changed its insurance requirements, essentially tripling the liability coverage Collings would be required to have in place for giving rides in its B-17 and B-24 bombers.

Coverage requirements are based on aircraft weight, a county official told AOPA. The coverage requirements for the two bombers applied to all aircraft over 15,000 pounds.

Scrambling to make other arrangements, Collings sent the bombers to Renton, Wash., instead for sightseeing flights.

Then it called in support via the social network.

“Over the past twenty-two years with over 2,600 stops including over eighteen stops at Boeing Field, we have never previously encountered such an outlandish request,” said the post, noting that shuttling the aircraft back and forth between the two airports imposed “a huge increase in costs to the Collings Foundation.”

“Unless this decision is reversed, the Collings Foundation will not be able to return to Boeing Field and it is very likely that no historic aircraft, and in particular B-17s, will ever fly out of Boeing Field again,” it said.

King County Transportation Director Harold Taniguchi told AOPA in a phone interview that the county made the call on insurance coverage based on recommendations from risk-management staff, who had consulted their providers.

As department director, Taniguchi could waive the requirement, but did not feel comfortable leaving such a “big gap” in the coverage that was recommended.

There were also time constraints. The county had to get its paperwork in order about 10 days before the event, he said.

“I am certainly mindful of the importance of entities like the Collings Foundation, but at that moment we were down to the wire. It didn’t work out in terms of timing,” he said.

Taniguchi said he understood the frustration at Collings, which he described as “a well-oiled machine.”

He sounded a conciliatory note about the future, noting that he has made a personal commitment to address the liability-coverage issue.

“If they are to come back, we have to find some kind of happy medium,” he said.

Modern military campaigns being what they are, by June 28, the Collings Foundation’s Facebook post had scored 117 comments, 42 likes, and 86 shares.