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NAFA member, Amanda Applegate, Partner at Aerlex Law Group, discusses the risks and benefits of doing aircraft upgrades prior to closing.
For the past decade, the preowned aircraft market has been a buyer’s market. There has been an ample supply of inventory to choose from in all categories. After the first quarter of 2018, we are now seeing a more balanced market in most categories, and some categories are actually shifting further toward a seller’s market. In certain aircraft categories, it is difficult to find high-quality aircraft. The lack of high-quality aircraft has resulted in more buyers planning immediate and extensive upgrades to the aircraft they are purchasing.
If the aircraft being purchased is undergoing a major inspection as part of the pre-buy inspection, or if the discrepancies found during inspection will take a significant amount of time to repair, then there may be an opportunity for the buyer to perform some of the planned upgrades simultaneously, prior to closing. However, with this opportunity there are also risks.
The benefit to the buyer of doing the planned upgrades on the aircraft prior to closing is to decrease the down time of the aircraft so that the buyer can start flying on the aircraft sooner rather than later. The buyer will pay for the upgrades on an aircraft he does not own on the assumption that the closing of the aircraft will be finalized.
Prior to upgrading the aircraft in advance of ownership, the following items should be considered:
- What happens if the purchase does not close? If the seller defaults, does the seller get the benefit of the upgrades completed at buyer’s expense? If significant problems with the aircraft are discovered during the inspection process that make it impossible or impractical for the aircraft to ever meet the delivery conditions for the sale, does buyer still have to pay for the upgrades?
- If the aircraft is damaged in the course of performing the upgrades, who is responsible for the damage? Does buyer have insurance in place if buyer is assuming this responsibility?
- If additional discrepancies are discovered during the installation of the upgrades, who is responsible for paying to repair the discrepancies?
If, after considering the risks, the buyer still wants to proceed with the upgrades prior to closing, then the seller will need to consent to such work. If consent is given, completing the upgrades would require an amendment to the purchase agreement, unless the upgrades were previously addressed in the original purchase agreement. When possible, it is advantageous to consider the upgrades during the drafting of the purchase agreement in order to ensure there is a meeting of the minds on this issue prior to execution of the purchase agreement.
After reviewing the risks, if the buyer does not want to move forward or the seller will not agree to allow the upgrades prior to closing, an alternative approach might be to close before the completion of the inspection and/or the repair of all of the discrepancies. Under this scenario, the parties would need to estimate the outstanding costs for the inspection and discrepancy repairs and agree that seller will pay for such repair costs post-closing. For protection, the buyer could request a certain amount of money be left in escrow from the sale proceeds as a holdback until the inspection and discrepancy repairs are complete.