AINsight: Should You Finance or Lease a Bizjet?

 - November 8, 2018, 5:21 PM

Lenders and lessors often lament that cash is the main and most frustrating competitor for financing or leasing business jets. Lessees or borrowers often retort that these transactions cause too much “brain damage” to undertake, especially when they have cash available to buy the jet. What then should customers consider in deciding whether to lease or finance business jets—before, or even after, they close their cash purchase?

It is true that, compared with cash purchases, financing and leasing private jets require extra time, effort, professional cost, and negotiations, not to mention patience while financiers conduct diligence and obtain credit approvals. Despite the additional hassle, potential customers should not be too quick to dismiss financing or leasing, including monetizing currently owned jets in sale-leaseback and post-closing financing transactions, as these financing structures might prove to have substantial value.

Many customers have overcome any such misgivings about leasing or borrowing—and for good reason. Today’s customers range from large multinational companies to ultra-high-net-worth individuals usually represented by talented family office teams, accountants, or counsel.

Correspondingly, financiers exist that can meet the needs of virtually every qualified customer with acceptable aircraft. Importantly, lenders and lessors realize the reduction in market inventory of quality preowned jets requires them to consider somewhat older (10 to 15 years old), higher-time jets as worthy collateral or leased assets if the customers can satisfy credit and other required regulatory criteria. Some lenders are able to finance even older jets and small ticket or light aircraft, including propeller or certain turboprops.

While some clients are concerned about the costs associated with entering into an aircraft loan or lease, the transaction costs should, with exceptions, be immaterial compared to the value or cost of the jet. Further, in acquiring jets that could be eligible for 100 percent bonus depreciation, the all-in value for a customer, on an after-tax basis, might compete well against or even be superior to a cash purchase.

With leases, customers eliminate the risk of ownership because the lessor actually buys the aircraft. The lessor’s funding of the cost then preserves customer cash for working capital, reinvestment in the customer’s business, and/or funding other capital equipment. Customers can arrange a lease where a lessor purchases the aircraft from the seller and leases it to the customer.

A lessor can also monetize a jet when the customer sells the jet to the lessor and leases back. Such a sale-leaseback can occur immediately after the purchase or at such later time as meets the customer needs.

Leases also enable lessees to customize when the lessee can, during the lease term, buy the jet from the lessor or terminate the lease. A lessee may be able to obtain some benefit of 100 percent bonus depreciation from the lessor under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that they might not otherwise be able to claim. The lessor can take the write-off in any direct purchase of the new aircraft from the manufacturer or, for the first time under the act, a preowned aircraft from the customer or third party seller. In addition, the customer can deduct the rent without the same limitation as interest deductions under the tax law.

To illustrate the investment aspect, suppose a company enters into a five-year lease with an aircraft cost of $10 million. The customer typically earns 18 percent on its investments and can obtain a fixed rent payment that implies a 7 percent “run” rate. By deploying the $10 million into its investments, the customer earns the 18 percent return while paying the 7 percent rent over a five-year period instead of paying $10 million up front. In its simplest form, the customer would achieve a pre-tax, net return of approximately 11 percent under this example.

Loans offer similar and other features. For the same $10 million jet, the customer would pay, depending on various factors, between 10 percent ($1 million) and 50 percent ($5 million) of the value or purchase price of the aircraft, with the lender financing the balance. The customer can take 100 percent bonus depreciation under the tax law if the aircraft is eligible for it and deduct the interest subject to limitations.

Like the lease, the customer can use the remaining cash for other investments, working capital, and/or purchases of capital equipment. Lenders can make the loan concurrent with the purchase or, like a lease, fund the loan in a “back leverage” transaction after closing the purchase.

In both loans and leases, customers with available cash to purchase an aircraft can, by executing an appropriate post-closing financing or leasing strategy, alleviate the tension of closing a loan or lease concurrently with completing a purchase.

Although one may think that, when a lender or lessor delivers its “cookie cutter” loan and lease “forms” to its customer, the negotiated deals across all customers would fit within a narrow band of final terms. Such a conclusion is far from reality.

Every negotiation differs as much as the unique personalities of the customers. Most customers ask about, if not conform to, “market” terms as a reference point in making judgments in negotiations. Lenders and lessors expect their customers to negotiate the documents, but, of course, prefer to close deals faster and easier whenever possible.

Certain parallel legal terms arise in most financing and leasing deals, which deserve attention by customers. Broadly speaking, customers should consider negotiating provisions that include unreasonably broad representations, unrealistic time limits in which to perform obligations, and no or inadequate cure rights; allow lenders or lessors to transfer the customer’s lease or loan transaction to anyone they choose without notice to, or the consent of, the customer; call for burdensome or unnecessary financial reports or establish reporting based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) when the financier did not need GAAP financials for its credit approval; demand that lender or lessor consents to, or approves, business or corporate changes unrelated to the aircraft financing (taking a seat at the table for the larger business of the customer than merited by an aircraft financing); limit when, how much, and where the customers can operate their aircraft; trigger defaults for any customer acquisition, merger or corporate reorganization; grab for extra collateral unrelated to the aircraft, such as security in cash accounts or other tangible assets of the customer or guarantor; and require, solely with respect to leases, often complex and one-sided, though indispensable, federal income tax indemnification provisions in tax leases pertaining to a loss of depreciation by the lessor, including 100 percent bonus depreciation.

Negotiating these provisions, among others, might look like a daunting task for customers, but the right integrated team of business people, lawyers, risk management, tax, and other professionals can negotiate through and close a mutually beneficial transaction with minimal involvement of the true customer. The best results normally occur when the team possesses market knowledge, negotiates the customer’s material issues, and understands where financiers have little wiggle room to negotiate provisions forced into documents by internal policies and regulatory mandates.

Basic Rules for a Successful Financing Experience

Most customers enjoy good relationships with their financiers. As a customer, you can too, if you follow three basic rules:

First, your relationship with the financier does not end at closing; it begins at closing. Financiers usually like to develop relationships that lead to other business with you and build mutual trust. Your transparency, fairness, and reasonable document compliance will go a long way toward building a strong and lasting relationship.

Second, never surprise your financiers. Financiers tend to keep open minds about giving consents, which inevitably arise, work out problems, or amend documents, if you keep them informed early and often about your business or personal situations that might adversely affect the aircraft or your compliance with the transaction documents.

Third, pay your debt or rent when due, without making excuses that worry the lenders or lessors. When financiers become nervous about a non-performing transaction, their cooperation and flexibility may dissipate quickly. They tend to focus on impediments to getting paid and reporting internally about a troubled lease or loan, which may bring unwanted scrutiny on the deal team.

As easy as a cash purchase of a jet might be, the value proposition for financing or leasing it could ultimately make more sense than a cash deal. Many customers, large and small, have elected to finance or lease jets for good reasons based on their individual needs. Customers should at least consider financing or leasing a jet before they stroke a check to buy one.

David G. Mayer is a partner in the global Aviation Practice Group at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP in Dallas, which handles worldwide private aircraft matters, including regulatory compliance, tax planning, purchases, sales, leasing and financing, risk management, insurance, aircraft operations, hangar leasing and aircraft renovations. Mayer frequently represents high-wealth individuals and other aircraft owners, flight departments, lessees, borrowers, operators, sellers, purchasers, and managers, as well as lessors and lenders. He can be contacted at dmayer@shackelfordlaw.net, via LinkedIn, or by telephone at (214) 780-1306.