A (very short) guide to financing business jets or helicopters

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte May 8, 2010 12:10

A (very short) guide to financing business jets or helicopters

Aircraft finance has become increasingly scarce in recent years, but there are still a number of willing lenders with substantial aviation experience.

Choosing a lender is just as complicated as choosing a business jet or helicopter – but not as much fun. Depending on whether you are an individual, a company or a charter operator (or even a combination of all three), there are a number of specialist financial institutions out there for you. Many can also help you find or select an aircraft, so it is often worth talking to lenders at the same time you talk to manufacturers or sellers of aircraft.

The types of people who will lend money largely depends on: where you, or your assets, where you are based, what aircraft you are buying and what type of borrower you are. 

Lenders have different appetites for risk and look at high-net worth individuals (and ultra-high net worth individuals), companies and charter operators differently.

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Historically one of the biggest sources of business jet finance has been using cash or treasury funds. Highly rated companies may be able to borrow unsecured cash in the bond market at comparable rates to secured corporate jet loans and many have used part of their corporate debt to buy aircraft outright.

However, financing aircraft in this way means that the aircraft are treated as on-balance sheet and also can clearly be identified as owned by the corporate.  It may also not be the best use of your capital.

Leasing an aircraft or choosing fractional jet ownership gives you anonymity. It is relatively easy to identify who owns an aircraft but much harder to work out whom is flying in a fractional jet. Fractional expenses also appear in a company’s travel and expenses line along with hundreds of other items.  Goldman Sachs – one of the world’s most secretive banks – does not own a private jet. But it is rumoured to be an enthusiastic NetJets user.

Entrepreneurs and owners of private companies should also talk to their private bankers. It is also worth considering export credit if you will be operating the aircraft in a different country to where the aircraft was manufactured. The US Export-Import Bank guaranteed loans for aircraft worth $1 billion in 2009 at the height of the credit crunch.

High-net-worth individuals

Although they can afford to buy an aircraft, the majority of high and ultra-high net worth individuals chose to finance their aircraft. As Felix Dennis, an entrepreneur and publisher, says in his book ‘How to be Rich:’ “If it flies or floats… lease it. It works out cheaper in the end.”

Most high and ultra-high net worth individuals start by asking their private banks to finance their assets and many of the most active business jet finance teams are part of private banks.  Specialist finance companies like GE Capital and CIT are also happy to work with high net individuals. US based individuals can also benefit from tax savings.

Of course, many high-net-worth individuals also own companies. If these businesses are not listed it may be cheaper to use a private bank relationship.

While your private bank may be happy to lend as with anything it is worth asking around and talking to several specialist teams at other banks and leasing companies.

Charter operators

Entrepreneurs setting up charter airlines or fractional jet companies have always had the toughest challenge (NetJets was created partly because Rich Santulli was having trouble finding finance). Many of the mainstream lenders find this the scariest part of the market, largely because commercial airlines have trouble making money.

Local banks are often the best option – as they usually have a mandate to help start-up businesses – and there has been increased interest from private equity and hedge funds (Warren Buffet can’t be wrong).  Some successful entrepreneurs have also been able to get their private banks to help them finance aircraft.

The best source of start-up financing is often from an ultra-high net worth individual.

Alasdair Whyte
By Alasdair Whyte May 8, 2010 12:10

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