Wings of Freedom tour may skip Boeing Field

February 19, 2013

The Collings Foundation says it will decide by the end of February whether to dispatch its historic B-17 and B-24 bombers to Boeing Field in Seattle during its 2013 Wings of Freedom Tour, after an insurance dispute with local officials shot down plans to offer airplane rides to the public last year.

If no solution emerges, Collings will omit Boeing Field from the tour’s itinerary and bring the aircraft to Renton, Wash., instead, said Ken Miles, the Collings Foundation’s director of operations.

Six weeks of negotiations with King County officials on the insurance issue have been disappointing, he said, with the county insisting that Collings secure $15 million worth of coverage for giving rides in the bombers. The coverage amount is three times the pre-2012 requirement.

“That’s not something that the underwriters will write,” Miles said.

In 2012, facing the issue on short notice, Collings scrambled for an alternative, displaying the aircraft at Boeing Field and shuttling them to Renton to give rides. That was an expensive, patchwork solution that the foundation does not care to repeat, Miles said.

On Feb. 8, King County issued a news release noting its efforts to help find a sponsor to “assist in obtaining the necessary insurance coverage to fly paying passengers in these historic aircraft.”

But it’s not about money, responded Miles. The problem for Collings is that the insurance isn’t available at that level of coverage. Collings raised its coverage to $6 million, from $5 million, he said, and the organization was “hoping it would be sufficient.”

“It’s not exactly the middle,” said Miles, but neither has the county budged from its $15 million requirement. Miles added that the county’s action lumps in the aircraft with commercial operations, despite the FAA’s certification of the bombers in a noncommercial category, with an exemption for giving rides.

After last year’s impasse, Harold Taniguchi, King County’s transportation director, expressed to AOPA his “personal commitment” to find a compromise, a theme he reiterated in the recent news release.

“King County is proud to have been the birthplace for these symbols of our freedom, and we remain committed to preserving history and educating the public about our shared heritage. King County will continue to work with the Collings Foundation and assist them in any way possible to allow the Wings of Freedom Tour to safely operate at the airport,” he said.

Miles dismissed the news release as unhelpful.

“The press release was sent out as a way for the county to say that ‘We’re working with these guys,’ but they’re not really, because they’re still stuck at $15 million,” Miles said.