private aircraft

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    AINsight: Negotiating Business Aircraft Financing see more

    NAFA member, David G. Mayer, partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, discusses negotiating business aircraft financing.

    Like large companies, an increasing number of high/ultra-high-net-worth individuals apparently like using other people’s money (OPM) instead of cash to close private aircraft transactions. These transactions include true tax leases, sale leasebacks, financing leases, secured loans, and refinancing of private aircraft by lessors and lenders. These deals also cover a broad range of aircraft by value, cost, cabin size, age, make and model.

    It might just be my passing anecdotal experience that these “customers” seem to be more patient, flexible and engaged with their financiers than before the fourth quarter in resolving deal points that matter to them. Perhaps customers have discovered what I regularly see today: financiers, though controlled by bank regulations and internal credit policies, will work diligently and productively with their customers to develop structures and terms acceptable to their customers and the financier.

    For lessors and lenders, this apparent surge in financing activity is good news. Yet, they widely acknowledge that “cash is king” in how high/ultra-high net worth individuals typically purchase new and preowned aircraft. According to JetNet, cash wins over secured loans to purchase jets, in an estimated 70 percent of U.S. aircraft purchases or a lower percentage of cash purchases depending on other sources of the information.

    Financiers often encounter objections to financing like these: “I have cash available to buy the aircraft with minimal effect on my net worth”; “I really want to avoid the ‘brain damage’ associated with negotiating documentation, responding to onerous credit disclosure requests and abiding by restrictions that financiers will impose on me.”; and “I just prefer, like my buddies, to own the aircraft outright.”

    Some financiers apparently have found the magic sauce to overcome these typical customers’ objections when combined with three particular attributes of financing today that appear to underpin the elevation in financing activity.

    First and foremost, while money is cheap in the current highly competitive financing market, every client pursues the lowest loan or lease rates, though most lease pricing entails more variables and assumptions than loans.

    Some clients even acknowledge what is almost universally true: they can make more money using their cash elsewhere for their businesses or investments. Other clients simply prefer using OPM and holding their cash. With the current volatility in the stock market, coronavirus fears, and concerns about the future economy, OPM may, and maybe should, attract even more interest.

    Second, with the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, clients almost always ask whether the aircraft qualifies for bonus depreciation. Correspondingly, they assume, often incorrectly, that they can use and qualify to take these substantial tax benefits. What is important here are ways in which leasing still might enable customers to enjoy some of these tax benefits.

    How is that possible? Certain lessors can and do use the tax benefits in pricing leases—when setting rents and casualty values—sums lessees must pay the lessor on the occurrence of a total loss of the aircraft. These lessors can, but might not offer to, share the depreciation tax benefits with the lessee, primarily in the form of lower rents and casualty values.

    Importantly, the tax benefits might be available not only when the lessor purchases the aircraft directly from the third-party seller and leases the aircraft to the lessee/customer. These tax benefits might also be available when the lessor purchases the seller’s/lessee’s owned aircraft and leases it back to the seller/lessee. The latter strategy allows the seller/lessee to monetize the value of its aircraft while keeping possession and use of the aircraft subject to the new “sale leaseback” arrangement.

    In true operating or tax lease transactions, customers get a third benefit. Lessors assume the residual value risk arising out of aircraft ownership and leasing.

    Under federal income tax true lease guidelines and other applicable law, an owner/lessor must, among other requirements, retain continuous residual value risk during the lease term of not than 20 percent of the original cost of the aircraft. Residual value refers to the market value of the aircraft at the end of the applicable lease term.

    In reality, the residual value assumed usually far exceeds 20 percent due to the inherent value of aircraft, enabling lessors to assume far higher residual values. The customer is entirely free from residual value “downside” losses in value from, or “upside” gain over, assumed residual value in connection with any subsequent sale, lease or other disposition of the customer’s leased aircraft.

    THE RIGHT TEAM

    Although customers often have relationships with non-aviation professionals, aircraft transactions will almost always progress more easily, efficiently, and at a lower transaction cost with the right aviation team. It is imperative that the transaction team thoroughly understands and adopts a strategy to fully satisfy the customer’s desired participation, attitude towards the financing negotiation and distinguishing between the “must have” an “nice to have” modifications in the documentation.

    As a result, every financing transaction is unique, even when a financier provides basically the same “form” of documents to different customers covering similar aircraft. The right transaction team will understand the big issues, nuances, documents, and characteristics of the financier.

    Some clients want to negotiate/win every point. Others simply want the best loan or lease rates from financiers that will stay out of their businesses, minimize fast-trigger defaults, not reach for non-aircraft related collateral such as securities accounts, and impose the fewest restrictions on flight operations.

    To achieve the best outcome, the transaction team, especially brokers and technical advisors, should ideally participate starting before the hunt for the right aircraft. The customer should engage the other team members before the negotiation of the letter of intent  (LOI) or the financing proposal.

    For buyers, the key is to allow adequate time for tax planning, aviation regulatory structuring, identification of the best financier for the particular situation and risk management planning, especially in current volatile insurance markets.

    Financiers draft the financing documents in their favor even though they expect the provisions to change depending on the relative bargaining, credit, and relationship strength of the customer. True tax lease transactions usually entail more complex and opaque provisions than secured loans, including extensive aircraft maintenance requirements, aircraft return conditions and federal tax indemnification.

    For reasons that differ and do not appear to show a discernable pattern, more high and ultra-high net worth customers seem to be gravitating toward financing private aircraft. Perhaps these potential customers, on closer reflection, have concluded that aircraft financing has significant value and, with the right aircraft transaction team, are easier to close than they anticipated.

    The content provided above is intended for informational use only and does not constitute legal advice. Each person involved in these transactions should consult his or her aviation team advisors.

    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 aircraft owners, flight departments, lessees, borrowers, operators, sellers, purchasers, and managers, as well as lessors and lenders. He can be contacted at dmayer@shackelford.law.

    This article was originally published by AINonline on March 13, 2020.

     

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    AINsight: Millennials' Shared Use Is a Real Deal see more

    NAFA member, David G. Mayer, Partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, discusses millennials, shared use, and private jet travel.

    Millennials—those ranging in age from 21 to 37 years old this year—have discovered the private jet travel experience, and they like it. With unique attributes, this generation seems broadly interested in on-demand chartering, sharing flights with friends and, to a lesser extent, owning jets and other types of private aircraft—always on their terms.

    Also known as “Gen Y,” Millennials seem to enjoy private aircraft travel “experiences” at an acceptable cost with emphasis on safety, freedom, personalization, efficiency, speed, privacy, customization, and transparency—all couched in a high level of service and luxury. They also crave digital connectivity, mobility, and flexibility to travel when and where they want, preferably arranging private flights on mobile devices.

    Their perception of the benefits of business aviation includes accessibility of aircraft on-demand, the ability of aircraft to save time, and the efficiency of aircraft travel to increase their work productivity.

    Finally, Millennials care deeply about climate change and social causes. They might prefer aircraft operators that demonstrate their environmental responsibility. In fact, the business aviation community has long been committed to mitigating climate change, proven in part by the formation of a broad industry coalition that emphasizes developing and using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

    As a generation of roughly 73 million adults, Millennials often have high ambitions. Their top aspiration and priority in 2019, according to Deloitte, is to travel and see the world (57 percent). But their needs and wants are far more than aspirational. Some Millennials have, and others in the foreseeable future may earn or inherit, more than enough money to travel by private aircraft amid their peers who, by one report, now make up nearly half of the world’s super-wealthy, including Millennial billionaires.

    Indeed, Millennials already seem to be altering the business aviation industry by transforming a business aircraft from a product for purchase into a tool for transportation services in their “click and ride” world.

    VIABLE STEPS FOR MILLENNIALS TO ACCESS PRIVATE AIRCRAFT

    What, then, is the right generational, practical, and legal path forward in business aviation to meet the needs and wants of Gen Y? Setting aside the critical issue of selecting the right aircraft for use or purchase, let’s consider two high-level access and legal structures for Millennials to buy, use and share private aircraft along with the corresponding obligations, risks, and benefits.

    First, Millennials can decide, and currently seem to prefer, to experience private aviation travel without commitment to, or investment in, aircraft. They simply prefer to click and ride. Second, Millennials can elect to own or lease a fractional share of an aircraft or a whole aircraft.

    Regardless of what Millennials choose, private aviation is highly regulated. The FAA oversees the safety of U.S.-registered aircraft operations under the FARs, including Part 91 private flights and Part 135 charter.

    Further, now—perhaps more than ever—the FAA is looking for, and potentially taking enforcement actions against, operational and other violations of the FARs. Even with this FAA presence in mind, Millennials can still share ownership or use of aircraft with others or go it alone—as long as they properly structure their arrangements under the FARs.

    The following two use and ownership options work under the FARs:

    • Use only with no ownership commitment—click and ride. Many Part 135 operators do and increasingly will offer charter-based services such as on-demand charter flights (like renting a car), jet cards (types of pre-paid flight debit cards), block charter programs (package of charter flight hours), club or member programs (reduced flight costs for up-front fees). With myriad choices available, Millennials can select flights by criteria that meet their personal life values, economics and travel preferences, including aircraft type, flight sharing, transparency, connectivity, and privacy.

    Although many of the services might be easy and simple for Millennials to use, it is imperative that Millennials do not trade their safety just to pay lower charter fees offered by flying with illegal charter operators. Millennials should do their diligence to identify and steer clear of such legal and personal risks.

    • Own or lease specific aircraft. Properly structured, Millennials, solo or in a group, can take a deeper commitment in accessing private aircraft by leasing or owning an aircraft. Ownership, of course, requires a capital investment in an aircraft unlike the click-and-ride model, which has no ownership component. Banks may want to lend part or all of the purchase price to Millennials or buy and lease the aircraft to them, which frees up cash for Millennial to deploy in other ventures or equities.

    Within the option to buy or lease aircraft, Millennials can buy and finance or lease a fraction or whole private aircraft. Although a large number of financiers compete to finance or lease whole aircraft, relatively few lenders or lessors finance fractional shares.

    Fractional share programs, regulated under Part 91K, offer one good way to dip a toe into the water of aircraft ownership. Fractional shareowners buy and use a certain number of flight hours associated with owning or leasing as little as a one-sixteenth share of an aircraft.  This type of purchase might appeal to Millennials who decide to change their interests from click-and-ride offerings to ownership in an aircraft fleet that, for example, uses newer engines and fuels that minimize an aircraft’s carbon footprint, has an outstanding safety record, or has better connectivity features on the ground and aloft.

    The next step up in commitment is to buy or lease a whole private aircraft instead of a fraction of one. A Millennial might be able to locate and buy an aircraft that adequately meets his or her personal life values and needs, including size, customization, privacy, and technology. Whole aircraft purchases start to make sense when flying at least 200 hours per year. Before then, click-and-ride or fractional programs might work better economically.

    FARS NEVER FAR AWAY

    If Millennials need or want to share ownership or leasing of an aircraft jointly with others, they can legally structure such sharing under the FARs. However, being an owner and an operator might not be the same thing, and a joint operator (either as a joint owner or a joint lessee) under Part 91 can be tricky. For example, as a general rule, no cost-sharing, reimbursements, or other compensation in any form can be conveyed to any operator or owner for any Part 91 flight, other than under very limited circumstances.

    In many situations, receipt of compensation by the operator will convert the Part 91 flight into an illegal charter. However, if correctly structured, Part 91 will allow Millennials to enter into certain joint ownership and leasing arrangements that Millennials can use to accomplish their objectives.

    In contrast, under a bona fide Part 135 flight operation, Millennials can devise their own cost-sharing arrangements under appropriate agreements with much greater flexibility, typically at a higher cost than Part 91 flights.

    Millennials today and in the foreseeable future will have the financial means to use or acquire personal aircraft. Only time will tell whether Gen Y prefers to fly private aircraft as a service free of the ownership risks or lean into the world of aircraft ownership or leasing, alone and with friends, to fulfill life experiences and work objectives. No matter which way Millennials go, the FARs will be right there with them.

    This article was originally published in AINonline on September 13, 2019.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    Owner Personal Liability for Illegal Charter Ops see more

    NAFA member David G. Mayer, Partner with Shackelford Law, discusses illegal charter operations, personal liability and LLCs.

    It’s an unfortunate reality that private aircraft accidents occur all too often and cause fatalities, personal injuries, and significant property damage. In the first half of 2019, fatalities in private aircraft accidents soared to 47 people, an all-time high for comparable periods. Families who experience these losses usually hire lawyers to seek compensation from aircraft limited liability companies (LLCs), members, owners, operators, manufacturers, and others.

    Many aircraft owners believe that, if an LLC holds title to their aircraft, the LLC will protect the owners, as LLC members, from personal liability arising from any accident. This belief extends to any accident that occurs during illegal charter operations. 

    However, their belief may be wrong. As discussed below, just one prevalent type of illegal charter operation may occur if an LLC operates flights only for the owners/members, using the owner/member’s cash, paid into the LLCs for aircraft operating costs. Though surprising to many people, the LLC becomes a “flight department company” operation that not only is functioning illegally but also may be exposing the owner/members’ personal wealth to the FAA civil penalties and other claims.

    Looking into a Real Fatal Accident

    On March 8, 2019, a tragic aircraft accident occurred in Florida that killed five people when the twin-engine Piper Aztec in which they were flying hit the surface of a lake on approach to Palm Beach County Glades Airport (KPHK), Pahokee, Florida. Although yet to be officially determined, the initial facts suggest that the passengers hired the pilot who conducted an illegal charter for unspecified compensation. Though he was certified for commercial flights, the pilot’s required second-class medical certificate lapsed on Nov. 30, 2018, more than three months before the deadly flight. As a result, the pilot could not legally conduct the flight. For more on pilot operations, read my article titled Should Aircraft Owners Worry About Their Pilots?, AvBuyer (Dec. 22, 2017).

    In addition, the aircraft owner, L-Holding LLC, apparently did not meet the certification requirements under Part 119 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). Further, it did not hold an operating certificate under FARs Part 135 to lawfully conduct the Piper Aztec's on-demand commercial flight under Part 135.

    The Florida accident raises important questions for LLCs and their members that conduct illegal charter operations: Will the LLC, if properly formed, shield the members’ liability from occurrences like the Florida accident or civil penalties imposed by the FAA? In a case like the Florida accident, will the LLC’s insurance provide a defense to civil lawsuits and pay for money judgments? Will insurance respond to FAA civil penalties against the LLC, its members, or the pilot?

    Perhaps the most fundamental question for these members or their LLCs is whether, in today’s heightened enforcement environment discussed below, conducting illegal charter operations is worth risking personal wealth to pay a claimant, the FAA, or the Department of Justice (DOJ), and significant legal costs? A similar question exists for any pilot who may lose his or her pilot’s certificate resulting from illegal flight operations.

    Structuring LLCs to Mitigate Personal Liability Risk

    When properly formed and used, an LLC can maintain the shield afforded to members under various state laws. The laws generally limit the members’ personal liability from the LLC's debts, obligations, and liabilities. Although it is difficult, in the Florida accident or comparable situation, it is reasonable to expect that the claimants will try to penetrate the LLC shield to reach members’ personal assets. This may especially be true in the Florida accident if the families confirm the pilot or the LLC operated the aircraft as an illegal charter.

    Spotting Illegal Charters

    Illegal charters come in many forms as discussed by the NBAA's The Risks of Flying With Illegal Charter Operators. Three examples deserve emphasis here: a Part 135 operator does not comply with the FARs’ safety standards, illustrated by the apparent lapse of the pilot’s medical certificate before the Florida accident; a Part 91 operator enters into multiple timesharing or leasing arrangements that constitute disguised, sham charter operations that should be operated as Part 135 flights; or an often misunderstood or ignored infraction under Part 91 where members provide cash for flight operations in flight department companies.

    Flight department companies, typically created in the form of LLCs, exist and function for the single purpose of owning and operating their own aircraft for the benefit of their members and their guests. Owners pay for the aircraft operating costs through members capital contributions or other cash transfers into the LLC.

    These cash infusions fundamentally convert such an LLC into an illegal “commercial operator.” The FAA defines a commercial operator as one that operates an aircraft carrying persons or property “for compensation or hire.”  Under a flight department company structure, any payment into the LLC constitutes illegal “compensation.” 

    If a flight department company and/or its owner let people know that those people can use the aircraft, operated by the company, in exchange for any cost reimbursement to the company, the second fundamental violation likely occurs. The company is likely illegally holding the aircraft out for “hire.”

    Perhaps surprising to many owners/members, unless and until the companies obtain a Part 135 air carrier certificate, both these operations “ for compensation or hire,” simply put, constitute illegal charter operations.

    For example, think of an LLC member who (1) pays money into the LLC for that member’s flights in order supposedly, in part, to create a liability shield for the benefit of the members; (2) offers a friend that she or he is welcome, at the friend’s expense, payable to the LLC, to “borrow” the LLC’s aircraft, including its pilots, for a weekend college visit; (3) collects fuel costs from a passenger to ride along on the owner/sole member’s ski trip; or (4) flies several golfers to a location for a business meeting but charges passengers non-pro-rata shares of the operating costs.

    Some owner/members don’t realize they have created a flight department company or that the normal functions of the company violate the FARs. Others who do know or receive good advice from aviation counsel about the prohibition under the FARs simply ignore or refuse to obey the rules.

    I have heard of comments such as: “I have been running the airplane reimbursements and flights through my LLC for many years without any issues and don’t plan to change;” or “My friend has used his LLC to operate his aircraft without any FAA problems;” or “The LLC ownership is a good way to block personal liability, and these rules won’t be a problem for me or my company.”

    These Illegal charter operators should appreciate that, in addition to the FAA’s own increased enforcement actions, the FAA has powerful industry allies like the National Air Transport Association (NATA), including NATA’s Air Charter Committee, and the NBAA. NATA’s website, titled Avoid Illegal Charter, provides significant resources to explain illegal charter operations and educate consumers, among others, on the dangers of illegal charter operations. NATA also helps the FAA focus enforcement actions against illegal charter operations while promoting the Illegal Charter Hotline, (888) 759-3581, so anyone can report illegal charter operators.

    Aircraft owners and operators can significantly mitigate their risks by asking knowledgeable aviation counsel to conduct a compliance checkup. In completing this task, aviation counsel can confirm that the LLC ownership structure and operations comply with the FARs or, if not, restructure the LLC and/or operations to bring them into compliance.

    In addition, counsel should examine the structuring of the LLC under state law to maximize the protection of the members with special attention on the exposure of a single member in LLCs.

    Imposing Personal Liability for Illegal Charters

    The best structured LLC may not be enough to protect its members from personal liability arising out of illegal charter operations. If members believe the FAA won’t find them, they should take heed; the FAA and the business aviation industry have intensified their scrutiny of, and the FAA has ramped up civil and criminal enforcement actions against, illegal charter operations. For more, see my blog titled AINsight: FAA Actively Pursues Illegal Flight Ops.

    Owners who believe insurance will cover them regardless of violations should think again. Insurance policies will likely not cover civil or criminal penalties assessed by the FAA or other governmental agencies. Further, as underwriters continue to increase insurance premiums to curb their losses on claims payouts, they also may reserve rights not to insure a non-compliant charter business or flight department company or their members. They may also look for policy provisions, such as warranties and coverage exclusions, to deny policy claims involving illegal charter operations.

    Pursuing Assets of LLC Members for Illegal Charters

    As occurs in all aircraft accidents, the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) launch investigations into the cause(s) of the accident and regulatory aspects of the flight operation associated with the occurrence. If the FAA imposes civil penalties on the LLC or its members exceeding $50,000, the DOJ enters the fray to enforce those civil penalties under FAA Order 2150.3C. And, as noted above, most families file lawsuits against aircraft owners, operators, and others to secure compensation for their losses.

    Even if insurers defend the insured, violators can still expect to pay significant legal fees in the defense of the claims or FAA/DOJ actions. A recent Texas case may provide the FAA and DOJ with an additional tool for assessing civil penalties directly against the LLC members; in other words, they allow the FAA and DOJ to pierce the LLC shield that prevents members from incurring personal liability for the LLC’s debts, obligations, and liabilities.

    My blog, titled AINsight: Piercing the Aircraft LLC Veil, discussed a 2018 Texas Supreme Court case, Texas v. Morello, in which a Texas water agency sued the sole member-employee of an LLC and the LLC for their failure to comply with an environmental clean-up plan relating to the Texas Water Code. The agency imposed punitive damages and fines on the member for approximately $1 million. After my blog published, Mr. Morello asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his argument that the Texas agency did not justify the fines imposed on him personally, thereby piercing the LLC shield. On November 19, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Mr. Morello’s case.

    Given the U.S. Supreme Court decision, the FAA, the DOJ, and other regulatory agencies could use Morello as a legal basis to tap into personal assets of LLC members to pay for civil penalties as happened to Mr. Morello in Texas. Private claimants might also use Morello to sue members based on legal concepts of negligence per se (liability for violations of statutes and regulations that cause harm), reckless disregard for passenger safety or other similar theories of liability under the state laws that govern the case.

    The objective is the same in all cases – to pierce the LLC shield and collect money damages from individual members. As a Texas state case, Morello may not be a game-changer nationally. However, the FAA and DOJcould potentially use Morello to impose personal liability of members for illegal charter operations, especially when the members flagrantly, expansively and continuously disregard the FARs.

    In conclusion, flight department companies and other illegal charter operators should promptly change course to comply with Part 91, Part 119 and Part 135. The idea is simple: Get certified for charter operations and play by the rules. If they fail to do so, members and their companies not only undermine the regulatory framework designed by the FAA to ensure safety in aviation but also snub the business aviation industry, which expects all operators to do what is right.

    This article was originally published on AINonline on July 12, 2019.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    FAA Plans To Modernize Its Outdated Civil Aviation Registry Systems, but Key Decisions and Challenge see more

    FAA plans to modernize its outdated Civil Aviation Registry Systems, but key decisions and challenges remain.

    Requested by the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

    Federal Aviation Administration | AV2019052 | May 8, 2019

    What We Looked At

    The Civil Aviation Registry (The Registry) processes and maintains ownership information on approximately 300,000 private and commercial aircraft and records on almost 1.5 million airmen. The Registry is critical for ensuring aircraft are legally owned, maintained, and operated, and many users in law enforcement, safety, the aviation industry, and the public rely on the accuracy and timeliness of its data. The Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and its Subcommittee on Aviation requested that we assess FAA’s overall management of the Registry and public access to certain Registry elements. We received a similar request from the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Our audit objective was to assess FAA’s management of the Civil Aviation Registry. Specifically, we assessed FAA’s

    (1) progress in modernizing the Registry and (2) policies for providing public access to Registry-related activities.

    What We Found

    The Registry’s systems are outdated, and FAA has yet to develop a detailed plan for modernization. The Registry’s current systems cannot support online access outside of the Registry’s offices in Oklahoma City, OK. While FAA is in the early stages of developing plans to modernize the Registry’s systems, the Agency has not yet made key decisions regarding the system. Consequently, the cost and timeframes for Registry modernization remain uncertain, even though FAA is mandated to complete Registry upgrades by October 2021. In addition, the regulations that govern aircraft registration do not reflect current technology or business practices, and FAA will likely need to conduct a rulemaking in conjunction with Registry modernization. If FAA does not complete the rulemaking in coordination with the development of the new system, the Agency risks spending resources on a system that lacks key capabilities.

    Due to the current system’s limitations, users who need to access aircraft registration information in real time must access the system through the use of Government-owned computer terminals located at the Registry’s Public Documents Room (PDR) in Oklahoma City. For users who cannot or do not want to travel to Oklahoma City, they can obtain aircraft information online, but that information is updated once a day, rather than in real time. Moving towards a more efficient process hinges on modernizing the Registry, but FAA has not yet developed a plan for allowing real-time access to aircraft information.

    Our Recommendations

    FAA concurred with all four of our recommendations and proposed appropriate actions and completion dates.


    All OIG audit reports are available on our website at www.oig.dot.gov.
    For inquiries about this report, please contact our Office of Congressional and External Affairs at (202) 366-8751.

    Click here to read the full report.

    This report was originally published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General on May 8, 2019.

     

     

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    Private Aviation Case Study: Transitioning from a Business to Personal Fractional Share see more NAFA member, H. Lee Rohde, III, President and CEO of Essex Aviation, shares a private aviation case study.

    The Client

    As a privately held, family-run company with a substantial global footprint, the client had realized some time ago that relying on commercial airlines was an impractical way to conduct business.

    For more than 15 years, the family-run business enjoyed the benefits of fractional aircraft shares for their business travel requirements. They started with a small executive aircraft, which made business travel so efficient that they found themselves increasing their fractional shares. With four family members utilizing the aircraft, 75% of their fractional ownership travel hours went towards business while the remaining 25% was spent on personal use.

    The Challenge

    In 2017, the family sold their business to a group of investment companies. While they no longer needed to travel for business, the family decided they would like to continue flying privately for their personal needs. As part of the acquisition of the business, the buyers also purchased the fractional share the company owned as part of the transaction.

    Although the family had a decade-long relationship with their fractional provider for business use, transitioning to personal fractional share required a different strategy to meet their future travel requirements.

    The Solution

    The family’s attorney recommended they consult with Essex Aviation to evaluate their options. As a qualified aviation consulting firm, Essex performed a full analysis of the transition, which included:

    • Identifying the type of aircraft that would satisfy their aviation needs.
    • Determining any potential conflicts in scheduling.
    • Helping the family understand the financial benefits of each option.

    The family worked with Essex to review the options available from their then current fractional provider and also received proposals from other providers. Essex worked with the family to review and identify their best options and, for a variety of reasons selected, to go with a new provider.

    The family started with a 75-hour fractional share which they leased and later transitioned into a 150-hour share per year to accommodate their increased personal travel requirements.

    The Conclusion

    Essex was able to use their expertise and industry knowledge to perform an initial evaluation and holistic review of all the available options for the family. They also assisted the client with navigating through all of the necessary negotiations and final contract process.

    Essex continues to provide thorough aviation consulting services to assist the family whenever they need to add more hours to their contract, explore new options or negotiate the most practical solution.

    To download the full case study, click here.

    This case study was originally published on Essex Aviation's blog.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    What to Consider When Selecting Your Aircraft Management Company see more

    NAFA member, Tom Mitchell, Executive Vice President of Essex Aviation Group, Inc. highlights what to consider when selecting your aircraft management company.

    When acquiring your first aircraft, one of your first decisions will be how the aircraft will be managed and operated. Some owners opt to run their own flight department, but many seek out a third-party aviation management company. These companies have decades of experience managing aircraft of all types and sizes and their purpose is to make your ownership as seamless as possible.

    When considering the various management company options available, you can be certain that they are all quite different as to what they can offer. Depending upon your specific needs and requirements, you will find many of the options may not be the best fit for your specific needs and requirements.

    Types of Aviation Management Companies

    In the private aircraft management industry, there are three (3) primary types of aircraft management companies:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Within each category are differences in the scope of resources offered, and several factors should be considered and evaluated to determine which type of organization is best for your needs. Always assess each management company’s safety culture, research their incident and accident history and learn about and understand their operational experience and reputation.

    Aircraft Management Services

    Although every aircraft management company offers different management services, there are certain basic services you should expect to receive such as crew recruitment, accounting, flight coordination, and a well-organized charter department. We recommend that clients who are evaluating a management company consider the following:

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Things to look for: Make sure you understand the aircraft management company’s key operations, maintenance, crew management and administrative functions. All of these factors will directly impact your relationship with the company and your use of the aircraft.

    Also, keep in mind the geographic location where you intend to base your aircraft. Some aircraft management companies may base all the aircraft they manage at one central location requiring that your aircraft be positioned to your desired departure airport for your trips or for maintenance. Other management companies are able to support your aircraft based at any airport you choose that supports your aircraft’s operational requirements.

    Your Requirements for an Aircraft Management Company

    A good first step is to outline and prioritize your goals as a private aircraft owner, in order to define what would make an ideal relationship. Be sure to allow sufficient time to review and receive proposals from a range of aircraft management companies and compare their differences. If you begin the selection process with an honest self-assessment, the relationship you build with your aviation management company will be that much better.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Things to look for: Chartering your aircraft to third parties can be a way to generate revenue when you aren’t using your aircraft. If you plan to charter, there are many things you’ll require from your aircraft management company. First and foremost, make sure your management company can operate your aircraft under their own Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 135 charter certificate.

    Charter Capabilities

    Allowing your aircraft to be utilized for third-party charter can generate revenue to reduce the owner’s overall operating costs and can also make your aircraft attractive to outside aviation management companies. You should, however, not get false hopes about covering your overall operating costs. “There’s almost never a break-even point,” said Kyle Slover, COO of Volo Aviation “The better way to think of it is, ‘what does it do to my (the owner’s) occupied hourly rate?’ Discuss with your management provider what the financial metrics are that you are trying to reach.”

    If internal or third-party Part 135 charter is one of your goals it is prudent to engage the assistance of an independent and knowledgeable industry consultant or advisor to facilitate the ownership structure.

    Private aircraft management companies of varying sizes will provide certain advantages and limitations when it comes to chartering. Regardless of who you choose, you’ll want to be sure they’re equipped to handle all aspects of chartering and aviation management.

    • Supporting varying flight destinations and times of travel
    • Managing all ground services, details and security
    • Negotiating discounts on your behalf

    As you make your final selection, be sure to choose a private aircraft management company that can meet not only your current but also your future needs. Whichever company you choose, you can and should expect it to partner with you to meet your travel needs, your budget and any charter revenue requirements.

    The original article was published in Business Aviation Magazine and on the Essex Aviation blog, June 29, 2018.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    What you should know about using 100% bonus depreciation for private aircraft. see more

    NAFA member, David G. Mayer, partner with Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, discusses what you should know about using 100% bonus depreciation for private aircraft.

    Deducting the price tag of a private aircraft under the new 100 percent bonus depreciation rules is an intriguing idea, but it takes some effort. Planned correctly, a prospective aircraft owner can pocket a meaningful amount of cash related to purchasing almost any size and model of aircraft, whether new or pre-owned, including a fractional share of an aircraft.

    Knowing About the Source of the Depreciation Benefit

    The 100 percent bonus depreciation benefit arises under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, H.R. 1, enacted on Dec. 22, 2017, (the Act), and is now integrated into the Internal Revenue Code (IRC). The Act temporarily allows 100 percent bonus depreciation starting Sept. 27, 2017, and ending Dec. 31, 2022. Bonus depreciation will then phase down 20 percent per year for five years to a zero bonus. The IRS issued proposed regulations for 100 percent bonus depreciation on Aug. 8, 2018. When final, the regulations should help provide some clarity around certain ambiguous provisions in the Act.

    Understanding Depreciation for Business Aircraft

    Depreciation is an allowance Congress enacted to encourage businesses to purchase tangible personal property, including private aircraft. Depreciation allowances provide that business taxpayers may claim an annual tax deduction to recover the cost or other tax “basis” (adjusted cost) of the property for its wear and tear, deterioration or obsolescence.

    Aircraft owners can depreciate an aircraft’s cost or other basis by using the straight-line depreciation method under the Alternative Depreciation System (ADS) or by using the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS). MACRS is used to recover the cost or other basis of most business and investment property and recovers the cost of eligible property faster than under the straight-line method.

    Straight-line depreciation divides up the aircraft cost or other basis in equal parts each year during the prescribed write-off period (called the “recovery period”) of the aircraft until the aircraft has been fully depreciated. The primary use of the aircraft determines the applicable recovery period.

    For an aircraft used only by the owner privately, the recovery period is six years under the ADS compared to five years for aircraft and certain helicopters under MACRS. For commercial use aircraft, including aircraft used to fly charters, the recovery period is 12 years under the ADS compared to seven years under MACRS.

    An aircraft that qualifies for MACRS should be eligible for 100 percent bonus depreciation in the year in which the taxpayer places the aircraft in service. Even if the aircraft is eligible for 100 percent bonus depreciation, the aircraft owner can still elect straight-line depreciation under the ADS, regular accelerated MACRS according to a schedule prescribed by the IRC (excluding the “bonus”), and 50 percent bonus depreciation – but only for aircraft acquired before Sept. 28, 2017, and placed in service before Jan. 1, 2018. The increase to 100 percent bonus depreciation applies to property placed in service after Sept. 27, 2017.

    Qualifying for Bonus Depreciation

    The IRC imposes certain requirements on private aircraft use to qualify for MACRS and, by extension, 100 percent bonus depreciation. The IRC includes private aircraft in a special category called “listed property” along with certain other property, like vehicles and computers, that an owner can use personally and for business. To qualify for 100 percent bonus depreciation, the owner must “predominantly” operate the aircraft in “qualified business use.”

    Predominant use is a critical element that refers to using the aircraft 50 percent or more of flight time. Qualified business use, in general, refers to the aircraft owner (an entity or individual) flying its aircraft in a “trade or business.” Also a critical aspect of tax planning, “trade or business” generally refers to a business enterprise conducted regularly and continuously for income or profit – such as operating a manufacturing plant. The IRC establishes a complicated calculation to achieve the status of qualified business use, which merits careful analysis.

    Among other requirements, the aircraft owner must not use the aircraft predominately outside the U.S. – an important restriction for large cabin aircraft that travel globally. Also, the owner must not have used the aircraft before acquiring it or acquire the aircraft from a related party, such as a family member.

    Illustrating the Use and Loss of Eligibility for Bonus Depreciation

    To illustrate one type of situation, consider that, in 2018 “Fast Food Co.” makes $5 million of ordinary income, which is reported on Form 1120S, an S-Corporation tax return. Fast Food Co. buys a $2 million aircraft in December 2018 to travel between multiple cities. Assuming the aircraft is eligible for 100 percent bonus depreciation, Fast Food Co. issues a federal tax Form K-1 to the sole owner/stockholder, who may then deduct $2 million on his tax return in 2019 for the 2018 tax year.

    At a 37 percent tax rate (the highest individual tax rate under the Act), the owner can effectively reduce such taxable income by up to $2 million to a net taxable income of $3 million (not considering other tax deductions or taxes). The tax savings is approximately $740,000 cash in the owner’s pocket, thanks to 100 percent bonus depreciation ($2 million x 37 percent tax rate).

    If the aircraft loses its eligibility for MACRS depreciation anytime during the aircraft ownership period, the IRS can apply “recapture” rules to add back to owner’s ordinary income an amount equal to the “excess depreciation” over straight-line depreciation. The add-back would occur in the year in which the aircraft use fails to qualify for MACRS.

    At a 37 percent tax rate, the payback to the IRS on the $2 million write-off could be significant for the owner. The tax on the excess depreciation amounts to the difference between 100 percent depreciation of the cost or other basis taken in the first year and the much smaller write-off of approximately equal amounts over the aircraft recovery period between six years for private use and 12 years for commercial use (e.g., $2 million/six years = $333,333/year instead of $2 million in year one).

    Using Aircraft for Entertainment and Other Personal Use

    Despite planning for qualified business use, most aircraft fly for personal use reasons (e.g., entertainment, amusement or recreation). Owners cannot take depreciation deductions for the flight hours or miles devoted to such personal use, but some depreciation write-offs should remain available if the aircraft is still used predominantly for qualified business use. Aircraft owners must calculate the percentage of personal use relative to business use by noting the names of each person on board, the reason for the travel, the hours and miles of travel and other information.

    These calculations determine the entertainment “disallowance” – a part of the cost or other basis of the aircraft that the owner cannot depreciate. Importantly, aircraft owners should be aware of a special rule in the IRC that minimizes the negative effect of the entertainment disallowance for owners who claim 100 percent bonus depreciation.

    Planning for Use of 100 Percent Bonus Depreciation

    Because each aircraft owner is likely to have a complex tax situation, each owner should engage knowledgeable tax advisors, typically an aviation tax accountant and lawyer, to propose the optimal tax plan. The advisors should analyze such factors as the taxpayer’s organizational structures (individual, S Corp, LLC or C Corp), types of qualified business use, tax rates and any net operating losses (NOLs), timing and types of income, potential for excess business losses affecting single and married taxpayers (new under the Act) and anticipated personal use of the aircraft. Ultimately, an owner’s best path may be to bypass MACRS or 100 percent bonus depreciation if the straight-line depreciation method produces a better tax result.

    Further, each aircraft owner should (1) keep detailed flight and passenger records, (2) develop flight planning that conforms to the tax strategy involving the aircraft, and (3) plan for IRS challenges to flying fewer qualified business use hours than necessary to demonstrate predominant business use.

    Claiming 100 Percent Bonus Depreciation in 2018

    There is still enough time in 2018 to buy and place in service an aircraft or fractional share and take advantage of the 100 percent bonus depreciation. Bonus depreciation is especially valuable toward the end of the year because it’s not long thereafter until a taxpayer can file a federal income tax return and reduce its income by an amount up to the aircraft cost or other basis. However, with 100 percent bonus depreciation available until 2023, it is strongly advisable to choose an aircraft wisely rather than rush to buy the wrong aircraft just so a taxpayer can take the tax deduction in 2018.

    Bonus depreciation has generated wide interest in purchasing new or pre-owned private aircraft and fractional shares. Although these purchases take time and planning to close, prospective aircraft owners understand that there is no time like the present to help boost the economy and take flight in a fully depreciated aircraft.

    This article was originally posted in Money, Inc. Magazine on October 29, 2018.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    The Importance of Consent and Joinder Language in Aircraft Purchase Agreements see more

    NAFA member, Debbie Mercer-Erwin of Wright Brothers Aircraft Title discusses the importance of consent and joinder language in aircraft purchase agreements.

    In the 15+ years we’ve been in business, we have witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to private aircraft purchases and sales. Whenever possible, we like to share experiences with our customers and readers to prevent you from having an unpleasant transaction.

    Prior to preparing a sales agreement, there will be an offer letter. While the terms of the offer letter are not binding, pay close attention as it does represent a commitment and is often used to draw up the sales agreement. The terms of a sales agreement are binding barring a legal reason for being enforceable. It’s important that you understand what is and what is not included. Most likely, buyers and sellers are having agreements drawn up by professionals, but it is still prudent to understand what you’re signing. Surely this sounds like common sense, but it’s worth pointing out.

    Before you find yourself preparing for an aircraft closing – either as a buyer or seller – we’d like to help you understand the intricacies of aircraft purchase agreements; in particular, the importance of including Consent and Joinder language.

    What is the purpose of a purchase agreement?

    A purchase agreement outlines the terms and conditions of the sale. It lets the seller know that you are serious about purchasing the aircraft, and if it meets all the requirements of the agreement (it’s everything it’s represented to be), the aircraft should not be sold to someone else during this time. To protect you from the unforeseen, a buyer should be sure that the deposit given when the purchase agreement is signed is refundable or the trigger for nonrefundable treatment of the deposit.

    Whichever party you are in the transaction, understand that the terms are negotiable. Do not agree to or sign anything that makes you uncomfortable. Even if a contract format has worked numerous times in the past, that doesn’t mean it contends with the specific terms and conditions of the current transaction in which you are involved. What has worked in the past could be a trap for the unwary in the present. Don’t sign a contract until it’s revised to meet your needs.

    Sales and Purchase problems

    Consider this possible scenario without clarity as to the deposit in a purchase agreement:

    A buyer puts money in escrow as a deposit on an aircraft. At this point, there are no rules guiding what the escrow agent is supposed to do with the buyer’s funds, because the escrow agent has not been made a party to the agreement.

    The buyer changes his mind and decides he doesn’t want to make the purchase. He asks for his money back. Because the escrow agent who is holding the funds is not a party to any of the agreements that exist, there is no clear obligation to anyone except for the depositor of the funds.

    When there’s an aircraft purchase agreement, it is often a trigger that obligates the purchaser and makes the deposit nonrefundable. Otherwise there is no direction to an escrow company that says the funds are nonrefundable.

    Consent and Joinder language in a sales agreement will help guide an escrow company. It would then be up to a court to determine who gets the deposit money through an interpleader action.

    Avoid Problems with Consent and Joinder Language

    When aircraft purchase agreements are written or put together by either the legal counsel or the sellers or the buyers, they should include what is known as Consent and Joinder by escrow agent so that they become a party to the agreement.

    If you don’t take the time to include this information, you could find yourself in an unexpected situation.

    • Under what circumstances does the deposit become nonrefundable?
    • What is the seller responsible for with regard to the condition of the aircraft?
    • What is each party responsible to do prior to closing?

    At minimum, Consent and Joinder language included in your purchase agreement should include the following:

    • The Escrow Agent accepts appointment by the Purchaser and Seller hereby as document holder and stakeholder for the sale and purchase of the Aircraft
    • The Escrow Agent is acting as a document holder and stakeholder only
      • They are not the agent or trustee for either of the parties
      • They are not liable to either of the parties for any act or omission unless it involves willful misconduct or negligence on its part.
    • The deposit is held exclusively for the sale of the aircraft based on the terms of the Agreement only

    These observations are merely points to consider and should not be construed as legal advice or guidance to take or refrain from a particular position. As we discussed in our blog, Can’t I Handle my own Aircraft Closing, parties to an aircraft transaction should seek the advice of legal counsel.

    This article was originally published in Wright Brothers Aircraft Title Blog on July 23, 2018.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    Private Aircraft Ownership - A More Productive Method of Business Travel. see more

    NAFA member, PNC Aviation Finance shares the advantages of private aircraft ownership.

    Private aircraft ownership can often invoke images of celebrities jet-setting to exotic locations around the world. In reality, purchasing a private aircraft can save money and offer enhanced opportunities for corporations and businesses owned by high-net-worth individuals.

    High-net-worth individuals and corporate executives want to save time and travel quickly to conduct business.

    Private and business aircraft ownership can have a positive impact by allowing executives to set their own schedules and grow their business without being at the mercy of commercial airlines. This advantage can save money and could potentially offset the cost of the private aircraft in terms of cost savings, the ability to generate additional business and enhanced travel opportunities.

    Rather than viewing the ownership of a private aircraft simply as an expense, in the right situation, it might actually provide a competitive advantage. 

    Access to Underserved or Remote Locations

    The ability to access locations that are “off the beaten track" and not adequately served by regular commercial airline service can be a key advantage of using private aircraft. If your company does business in these types of locations, using a private aircraft can save time wasted in airports, changing flights and renting a car to drive to your ultimate destination[1].

    If restricted to commercial schedules, it may be difficult to justify visiting prospects, clients or company locations in these areas on a frequent basis. This can negatively impact your business and affect potential growth opportunities.

    Privacy and productivity

    On a private aircraft, business can continue without the presence of strangers sitting in the next seat. This appeals to high-net-worth individuals who have privacy and security concerns that can't be guaranteed on commercial flights and at bustling airports.

    In some business situations, executives want to ensure their privacy if they are traveling to a sensitive business meeting involving a confidential transaction, such as a potential acquisition or opportunity with a potential new customer[2].

    A private aircraft offers an environment conducive for working, conducting meetings with other employees or business associates who are also on the flight or transacting business via phone during flight. This additional productivity can be invaluable as preparation can enhance the chances for success in any business situation.

    For business executives, the cost of the flight and related expenses to maintain the aircraft can be more than offset by the convenience of being able to fly to a meeting on your own schedule. Sometimes, just showing up can be what it takes to land a new customer.

    Tax Advantages and Issues

    Purchasing a private aircraft can offer tax advantages, but this acquisition can be more complex than buying a piece of capital equipment or real estate.

    A key issue is the ability to justify that a private aircraft is an ordinary and necessary business expense and not just a luxury or convenience purchase[3].

    If an argument can be made that business is normally conducted in locations that have limited or no commercial service, a private aircraft is easier to justify. It can also apply if travel often occurs at the spur of the moment or at irregular times.

    Using a private aircraft to address legitimate privacy and security concerns for executives and employees can be another justification.

    There can be a number of taxes, such as potential sales and use taxes, associated with private aircraft ownership, one being how the aircraft is owned. Ownership by a separate entity other than the main operating business can lead to tax implications.

    Before purchasing a private aircraft, it is wise to have your tax and legal advisers conduct a thorough review in terms of the best ownership structure and the anticipated usage to ensure the best possible tax outcome[3].

    Additionally, there are distinct rules regarding the separation of business and personal use of the aircraft. This can extend to personal use as a perk for employees and even in the case of a spouse flying on an executive plane without a business purpose.

    It's important to establish rules for usage and to account for travel using a consistent process that meets both internal and external reporting requirements.

    The diligent maintenance of usage records and the reason for each passenger being on each flight is critically important[4].

    If properly structured and used, the cost of private aircraft ownership can be partially offset by tax benefits that can reduce the cost of ownership.

    We Can Help

    PNC Aviation Finance offers knowledgeable financing solutions to make private aircraft ownership possible and affordable.

    We offer custom-tailored financing packages based on business needs and circumstances. Our experienced aviation finance team understands and has extensive knowledge regarding private aircraft ownership requirements, FAA, insurance, operating leases, etc.

    We can help you look at the implications of each option and help you decide on the best option for you or your business.

    Learn how PNC Aviation Finance can help you fly higher by visiting pnc.com/aviation.

    This article was originally published by PNC Aviation Finance.