Aviation finance is proving its resilience amid a cooling global economy. Our survey finds that senior executives in the sector are optimistic that global levels of aircraft financing will increase in 2020.

Introduction

Despite the volatility that has affected the overall economy, the aviation industry has weathered the storms. Indeed, sector financing is set to grow, though there could be regional differences according to Justin BensonAdrian BeasleySimon CollinsChristian HansenMichael Smith and Richard Smith, partners of global law firm White & Case

Despite many of the global economy's warning signals flashing red, the prospects for the aviation finance sector appear undimmed. The aviation industry as a whole has demonstrated remarkable levels of resilience amid the uncertainty and volatility of recent years, with continued passenger growth offsetting a moderate decline in air cargo traffic during 2019. Financing has grown in lockstep with the industry and is expected to continue to do so. For example, Boeing predicts the value of global aviation finance will rise to US$181 billion by 2023, up from US$126 billion in 2018.

Our new survey of the aviation finance market suggests these types of forecasts may be realistic. The airlines and capital providers whose views it summarizes expect investment in aviation to continue growing, with a corresponding increase in financing activity. Although challenges certainly may lie ahead, including the deteriorating outlook for the global economy, optimism still prevails in this market. In particular, the increasing diversity of funding sources may provide some protection against setbacks in any one area.

That said, this report also identifies significant differences in sentiment by geography. In broad terms, respondents based in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region are considerably more likely to have positive views of the outlook for 2020, while those based in North America and—in particular—Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) are less upbeat.

Clearly, while this is a global industry, with capital flowing freely across borders, there is no escaping the regional economic context. As European and North American economies seemingly move toward a period of slower growth—or outright recession if the most pessimistic predictions are confirmed—Asian markets may offer some respite, despite also being expected to slow.

This report focuses on both the global picture and these geographical nuances. We consider the outlook for investments in the aviation sector, and we survey the funding landscape that will support these investments. Our report also focuses on liquidity, airline consolidation and mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, while highlighting opportunities and risks facing this industry in 2020 and beyond.    

Methodology

In the fourth quarter of 2019, White & Case, in partnership with Mergermarket, surveyed 100 senior-level executives at entities that have either financed or invested in the aviation industry in the past three years. The aim of the survey was to analyze sentiment regarding aviation finance. Organizations surveyed included airlines, operating lessors, banks, export credit agencies, private equity and other alternative capital providers. Job titles included CEO, CFO, director level and heads of investment.

“The aviation industry as a whole has demonstrated remarkable levels of resilience amid the uncertainty and volatility of recent years”