No ‘silver bullet’ for pre-owned market

 - March 30, 2009, 5:16 AM

The used business jet market has not yet reached equilibrium. That was the general consensus among industry experts at the National Aircraft Resale Association (NARA) forum in Dallas at the end of February.

Statistics compiled by JetNet support this. In fact, used business jet sales fell nearly 30 percent last year, and have shown signs of even greater stagnation so far this year, as transaction rates have sunk to levels not seen since 1991. A recent report from UBS found that available business jet inventory is now 69 percent higher than the prior year levels, while asking prices in most cases have dropped 20 to 25 percent from their recent heights.

While the forum included broker/dealer discussions that included topics such as “which aircraft are selling?” “where are the buyers?” and how to close a deal, the event’s main attraction was the aircraft financing session. “We knew we had to get the bankers in the room or no one would come,” said NARA president Susan Sheets, underscoring industry concerns regarding financial liquidity. About 200 members of NARA, the National Aircraft Finance Association (NAFA) and others in the aircraft industry attended the one-day event.

The aviation-finance panel, which was moderated by Michael Amalfitano, Bank of America’s managing director and executive head of corporate aircraft finance, focused on “who is financing?” and “how have the rules changed for getting credit?”
The panel explained some of the factors that are affecting the aviation sector, such as the high cost of capital, despite the low interest rates. “We gave them a little bit of an education about how banks raise capital, how they lend capital and how they risk-rate that capital,” Amalfitano told AIN.

One hundred-percent financing has become virtually extinct, panel members told the group, because lenders now require customers “to put some skin in the game” with substantial down payments and to assume greater responsibility in the aircraft purchase. Dealers and brokers must take a more active role in client selection and vetting potential customers, as banks move to ensure profitability on each transaction.

Processing loans now takes longer, too. “The days of finding out about a deal on Monday, moving the airplane by Friday and brokers celebrating their commission on the weekend are over,” Amalfitano said, noting the process has now become deliberate amid increased scrutiny.

As helpful and honest as the panel was it could not answer the most important question in the minds of those dealers who are struggling with carrying costs for unsold aircraft inventory. Said Sheets, “What the brokers and dealers mostly wanted to know was when the banks thought that liquidity would lighten up a little bit and that we would have some more funds. Nobody wanted to take a guess when that would happen, because we haven’t hit the bottom yet. It would seem that the bottom is in sight and that would dictate a turnaround shortly thereafter, but no one is saying anything for 2009.”

According to Sheets, her constituency is considering unorthodox methods of moving aircraft. Among the items meriting further discussion is that of NARA-sponsored auction, where aircraft would be flown to one location to be sold.