Private Aircraft Finance
Financing a Private Aircraft Purchase
With its dedication to helping clients buy and sell aircraft, The Private Jet Company (TPJC) realizes that clients sometimes need financing in order to complete a timely transaction. To meet these customer needs, TPJC can assist and at times provide financing to help expedite a private aircraft purchase. Financing the purchases of private aircraft is similar to mortgage or automobile loans, though the details of the agreements are much more complex, and the aircraft purchase price usually much greater than a home or car. TPJC’s in-house financing specialists can assist with all aspects of transaction financing, but the basic transaction process of a private jet aircraft acquisition is often as follows:
Private Aircraft Finance
Financing the purchase of private aircraft is similar to a mortgage or automobile loan. A basic transaction for a private jet aircraft may be as follows:
- The borrower provides basic information about themselves and their prospective aircraft to the lender.
- The lender performs an appraisal of the aircraft’s value.
- The lender performs a title search based on the aircraft’s registration number, in order to confirm that no liens or title defects are present. In many cases, a title insurance policy is procured to protect against any undetected defects in title.
- The lender then prepares documentation for the transaction:
- A security agreement, which establishes a security interest in the aircraft, so that the lender may repossess it in the event of default on the loan
- A promissory note, which makes the borrower responsible for any outstanding loan balance not covered by repossession of the aircraft
- If the borrower is deemed less credit-worthy, a surety from a third party (or from multiple third parties)
- At closing, the loan documentation is executed and then funds and title are transferred.
Private Aircraft Financing
Private aircraft financing may use sophisticated leases and debt financing schemes depending on the price and the buyer’s preferences. The three most common schemes for financing private aircraft are secured lending, operating leasing and finance leasing. However, there are other ways to pay for the aircraft:
- Operating leasing and sale/leasebacks
- Bank loans/finance leases
- Export credit guaranteed loans
- Tax leases
- Manufacturer support
These schemes are primarily distinguished by tax and accounting considerations, particularly tax-deductible depreciation, interest and operating costs which can reduce tax liability for the operator, lessor and financier.
Because the cost of a high-end modern private aircraft may be tens of millions of dollars, lending for aircraft purchases is accompanied by a security interest in the aircraft, so that the aircraft may be repossessed in event of nonpayment. It is generally very difficult for borrowers to obtain affordable private unsecured financing of an aircraft purchase, unless the borrower is deemed particularly creditworthy (e.g. an established carrier with high equity and a steady cash flow).
By directly owning their aircraft, operators may deduct depreciation costs for tax purposes, or spread out depreciation costs to improve their bottom line.
Operating leases are generally short-term (less than 10 years in duration), making them attractive when aircraft are needed for a start-up venture, or for the tentative expansion of an established carrier. The short duration of an operating lease also protects against aircraft obsolescence, an important consideration in many countries due to changing noise and environmental laws. In some countries where airlines may be deemed less creditworthy (e.g. the former Soviet Union), operating leases may be the only way for an airline to acquire aircraft. Moreover, it provides the flexibility to the airlines so that they can manage fleet size and composition as closely as possible, expanding and contracting to match demand.
Conversely, the aircraft’s residual value at the end of the lease is an important consideration for the owner. The owner may require that the aircraft be returned in the same maintenance condition (e.g. post-C check) as it was delivered, so as to expedite turnaround to the next operator. Like leases in other fields, a security deposit is often required.
One particular type of operating lease is the wet lease, in which the aircraft is leased together with its crew. Such leases are generally on a short-term basis to cover bursts in demand, such as the Hajj pilgrimage. Unlike a charter flight, a wet-leased aircraft operates as part of the leasing carrier’s fleet and with that carrier’s airline code, although it often retains the livery of its owner.
US and UK accounting rules differ regarding operating leases. In the UK, some operating lease expenses can be capitalized on the company’s balance sheet; in the US, operating lease expenses are generally reported as operating expenses, similarly to fuel or wages.
A related concept to the operating lease is the leaseback, in which the operator sells its own aircraft for cash, and then leases the same aircraft back from the purchaser for a periodic payment. The operating lease can afford the airlines flexibility to change their fleet size, and create a burden to the leasing companies.
Finance leasing, also known as “capital leasing”, is a longer-term arrangement in which the operator comes closer to effectively “owning” the aircraft. It involves a more complicated transaction in which a lessor, often a special purpose company (SPC) or partnership, purchases the aircraft through a combination of debt and equity financing, and then leases it to the operator. The operator may have the option to purchase the aircraft at the expiration of the lease, or may automatically receive the aircraft at the expiration of the lease.
Under American and British accounting rules, a finance lease is generally defined as one in which the lessor receives substantially all rights of ownership, or in which the present value of the minimum lease payments for the duration of the lease exceeds 90% of the fair market value of the aircraft. If a lease is defined as a finance lease, it must be counted as an asset of the company, in contrast to an operating lease which only affects the company’s cash flow.
Finance leasing is attractive to the lessee because the lessee may claim depreciation deductions over the aircraft’s useful life, which offset the profits from the lease for tax purposes, and deduct interest paid to those creditors who financed the purchase. This has made aircraft a popular form of tax shelter for investors, and has also made finance leasing a cheaper alternative to operating leases or secured purchasing.
The various forms of finance leasing include:
- Equipment trust certificate (ETC): Most commonly used in North America. A trust of investors purchases the aircraft and then “leases” it to the operator, on condition that the airline will receive title upon full performance of the lease. ETCs blur the line between finance leasing and secured lending, and in their most recent forms have begun to resemble securitization arrangements.
- Extendible operating lease: Although an EOL resembles a finance lease, the lessee generally has the option to terminate the lease at specified points (e.g. every three years); thus, the lease can also be conceptualized as an operating lease. Whether EOLs qualify as operating leases depends on the timing of the termination right and the accounting rules applicable to the companies.
- US leveraged lease: Used by foreign airlines importing aircraft from the United States. In a US lease, a Foreign Sales Corporation (FSC) purchases and leases the aircraft, and is tax-exempt so long as at least 50% of the aircraft is made in the US, and at least 50% of its flight miles are flown outside the US. Because of the extensive documentation required for these leases, they have only been used for very expensive aircraft being operated entirely outside the US, such as Boeing 747spurchased for domestic routes within Japan.
- Japanese leveraged lease: A JLL requires the establishment of a special purpose company to acquire the aircraft, and at least 20% of the equity in the company must be held by Japanese nationals. Widebody aircraft are leased for 12 years, while narrowbody aircraft are leased for 10 years. Under a JLL, the airline receives tax deductions in its home country, and the Japanese investors are exempt from taxation on their investment. JLLs were encouraged in the early 1990s as a form of re-exporting currency generated by Japan’s trade surplus
- Hong Kong leveraged lease: In Hong Kong, where income taxes are low in comparison to other countries, leveraged leasing to local operators is common. In such transactions, a locally incorporated lessor acquires an aircraft through a combination of non-recourse debt, recourse debt, and equity (generally in a 49-16-35 proportion), and thus be able to claim depreciation allowances despite only being liable for half of the purchase price. Its high tax losses can then be set off against profits from leasing the aircraft to a local carrier. Due to local tax laws, these investments are set up as general partnerships, in which the investors’ liability is mainly limited by insurance and by contract with the operator.
Private aircraft finance options provide a variety of ways to purchase or lease an aircraft that can be tailored to meet the financial needs of almost any business or individual with ongoing need for access to a business jet. The aircraft financing professionals at TPJC stand ready to discuss all your options and arrange a financing solution to meet your business jet purchasing needs. Please contact us at 561-691-3545. A global company, TPJC professionals are available 24/7/365.