NAFA member Amanda Applegate, Partner with Aerlex Law Group, explores the risks associated with closing before the aircraft is ready.
More often than I would have thought possible, buyers and sellers are motivated by a variety of reasons to close on the purchase and sale of a pre-owned aircraft before the pre-purchase inspection is complete or before the inspection discrepancies are rectified. Sometimes it is because the buyer wants to close in order to start a major refurbishment to the aircraft and there is a long lead time on the correction of certain discrepancies and/or it would be more efficient to fix the discrepancies simultaneously with the refurbishment. Other times the seller wants the aircraft sold by a specific date for financial reasons, to make room for their newly acquired aircraft, or so the seller’s crew can leave for training on a replacement aircraft. Regardless of the reason, as a buyer there are certain risks that should be considered.
If the inspection isn’t complete at the time of closing, the risk to the buyer may be substantial because there could be unknown issues with the aircraft which haven’t yet been discovered. Additionally, if closing takes place while the discrepancies are in the process of being repaired then additional, significant discrepancies could be found, but the buyer no longer has the option to walk away from the purchase.
If the parties understand the risks and elect to move forward and close before the aircraft is in the contractually agreed-upon delivery condition, then there are two options. The parties can agree on a purchase price reduction based in part on the estimated cost to repair the discrepancies or the parties can agree on a holdback amount to be held by the escrow agent after closing, with those funds used to pay for the repair the outstanding discrepancies.
A reduction in purchase price allows the parties to complete the transaction and have no further dealings with one another. The price reduction should not only be for the amount of the outstanding discrepancies but should also include an amount that represents the risk that the buyer is assuming by accepting an aircraft which is not in the required delivery condition at closing. A short amendment should be drafted and signed by the parties which indicates the buyer is accepting the aircraft even though it does not meet the delivery conditions in exchange for the price reduction. The amount of risk being assumed under this option depends on the status of the inspection and/or the extent of the unrepaired discrepancies. One understated benefit of the price reduction over a holdback is that the transaction is completed, thus the seller has no further responsibilities and the buyer is free to do whatever they want with the aircraft going forward.
A holdback allows the seller to remain responsible after closing for paying the cost of the repairs necessary in order for the aircraft to meet the delivery conditions. If the holdback amendment is drafted properly, there is far less risk for the buyer under these circumstances. The buyer should make sure the seller remains responsible for not only the known discrepancies but any new discrepancies found during the completion of the repairs. Furthermore, the holdback amount should be enough so that collecting for the repairs from seller does not become an issue. I recommend the holdback amount be 150% of the estimated cost of the repairs. Additionally, the funds should be released automatically when the invoices are submitted to the escrow agent without further approval by the seller and if the holdback is not enough to cover the cost of the outstanding repairs, seller should remain liable. The escrow agent should be a party to the holdback amendment and they should confirm they understand the terms prior to execution. This will help avoid a dispute over when or how an invoice is paid. The parties will continue to work together until the repairs are complete and the remaining holdback amount, if any, is released to the seller.
There can be legitimate business reasons to close on a pre-owned aircraft prior to the aircraft meeting the delivery conditions as originally agreed upon between the parties. When the parties desire an early closing, it is important that the risk allocation is considered in the financial terms and that the agreement of the parties is clearly documented, including, if necessary, the post-closing obligations of the parties and the responsibilities of the escrow agent.
Please contact Amanda Applegate at 310-392-5200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.