Go First Insolvency Raises Concerns For Aircraft Lessors In India
Experts believe there is a possibility of more lessors putting in requests for the deregistration of planes leased to some other airline, thinking that they get stuck in litigation.
At least 50 requests to take back as many leased planes from two Indian airlines in less than two weeks. Petitions from lessors seeking to enforce rights under international norms and concerns over a possible spike in the risk premium for leasing aircraft for domestic carriers. Cash-strapped Go First being admitted for insolvency resolution proceedings on a voluntary plea and subsequent moratorium has left a trail of concerns and uncertainties for aircraft lessors with respect to India, the world's third-largest aviation market.
Currently, Indian carriers have around 700 planes, and some of them, including Air India, are expanding their fleet. Most of the commercial aircraft in the country are operated through the sale and lease-back model, and there are concerns that developments related to Go First could push leasing costs higher.
Indian carriers are projected to require more than 2,200 aircraft in the next 20 years. Advisory firm Primus Partners' Co-Founder & CEO, Public Policy Realisation, Nilaya Varma said the perception of India as a high-risk jurisdiction could translate into higher risk premiums to other local airlines.
"This means higher lease rentals for domestic carries and increase in the cost of doing business implying higher costs being passed onto passengers in the form of high-ticket prices, thereby making it more difficult for Indian airlines to compete with their international counterparts," Varma noted.
Regional airline Star Air's CEO Simran Singh Tiwana said the NCLT (National Company Law Tribunal) ruling in favour of Go First may not be very pleasing for the lessors and that is the challenge Indian aviation could face at the international level. "Some ruling will hurt some lessors... Those concerns will be voiced (by them)".
A senior aviation industry executive said that lessors might think that airline companies in India could make their life miserable by going to court. There is also the possibility of more lessors putting in requests for deregistration of planes leased to some other airline thinking that they get stuck in litigation, the executive said on the condition of anonymity.
So far this month, lessors have approached the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for deregistration of 45 Go First planes and five SpiceJet planes under the Cape Town Convention.
Under the Cape Town Convention (CTC), if a lessor has invoked the Irrevocable De-registration and Export Request Authorisation (IDERA), then the plane concerned has to be deregistered. The same has to be done in five working days but due to the NCLT imposing moratorium under insolvency proceedings, lessors cannot take back Go First planes at least for now.
Citing that the Go First insolvency proceedings are a material development that implicates CTC compliance in India, the Aviation Working Group (AWG) has put the country on the watchlist with a negative outlook.
"The DGCA's failure to process IDERA deregistration applications for aircraft whose leases were terminated prior to the imposition of the moratorium within the timetable set forth in its SOP results in a negative outlook for India's scoring...," the AWG said in an update on May 11.
The AWG is a not-for-profit legal entity comprised of major aviation manufacturers, leasing companies and financial institutions. It includes Boeing and Airbus.
Lessors are ruffled by the Go First crisis, which started when the carrier decided to file for voluntary insolvency resolution proceedings before the NCLT on May 2. The lessors sought deregistartion and repossession of 45 planes of Go First, which also suspended operations from May 3.
Soon after the NCLT admitted the airline's plea, leading lessor SMBC Aviation moved the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) against the NCLT ruling.
On May 11, SMBC Aviation told the appellate tribunal that the Indian aviation sector is being seen as a risky jurisdiction in light of the fate of Kingfisher and Jet Airways. Two other lessors -- G Y Aviation and SFV Aircraft Holdings -- also moved the appellate tribunal. These lessors have around 21 planes that have been leased to Go First. The NCLAT is to continue the hearing on Monday.
Go First has around 55 aircraft in its fleet and 28 of them are grounded due to non-availability of Pratt & Whitney engines. The grouding of the planes resulted in fund crunch and forced the airline, which has been flying for more than 17 years, to file for insolvency proceedings.
The budget carrier is facing deregistration of at least five aircraft by lessors and one lessor has also filed an insolvency plea against the airline. "We want to scotch any speculation that may have arisen due to the filing by another airline. The airline is firmly focussed on its business and remains in active talks with investors to raise funds," the airline said on May 11.
In the last week, lessors have requested DGCA for deregistration of five SpiceJet aircraft. On May 8, the NCLT issued a notice to the carrier on the insolvency plea filed by lessor AirCastle (Ireland) Ltd and the matter is scheduled for a hearing next week.
The airline has around 70 planes in its fleet and is looking to revive 25 grounded Boeing 737 and Q400 aircraft. Many of its planes are grounded due to various reasons.
Soon after Go First filed for voluntary insolvency resolution proceedings on May 2, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Tuesday said "It is prudent to wait for the judicial process to run its course".
And on May 12, Boeing India President Salil Gupte said the crisis at Go First will not change the trajectory of the Indian civil aviation market in terms of growth and macro trends while legislative clarity on aircraft leasing aspects will provide more comfort to the lessors.
Meanwhile, WadiaGroup in a statement on Sunday alleged that AWG's recent warning to India is aweak and desperate attempt to influence NCLAT ahead of the hearing. "AWGshould hold its own members accountable for failing the Indian Aviation industry, as opposed to issuing a warning to India," it said.
Pratt & Whitney, in essence, has abused international conventions and contractual obligations by refusing to comply with the ruling of the international arbitrator to which all reputable companies are bound, including AWG's members.
"AWG should focus on ensuring that its own members abide by international arbitration awards. Rather than issuing threatening watchlist notices to India and quoting the Cape TownConvention (CTC) to influence the proceedings which are currently being heard in the NCLAT," it stated.
"AWG should first address the root cause by advising Pratt & Whitney to comply with the law and abide by the award issued by the emergency arbitrator appointed in accordance with the 2016 Arbitration Rules of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) to which Pratt and Whitney voluntarily submitted themselves," the statement said.
"The Airbus NEO(new engine options) with P&W engines, sold on the plank of fuel efficiency, failed leading to 100 aircraft currently lying idle in India and many more around the world. The entire Indian aviation sector is hit due to sub-standard products supplied by the engine makers," said Wadia Group vice chairman Varun Berry.
"P&W cannot wash their hands off their liabilities after supplying sub-standard engines, which has led to huge losses for all airlines. 18 percent of Indian aviation capacity is currently grounded due to the non-supply of engines by P&W.
"The issue is rampant, and several airlines across the world are severely affected by the engine failures by P&W, and hence the claim by Go First of failure due to P&W engines has huge credence. Go First maintained profitability compared to the industry leader for approximately 5 years until COVID and beyond, including in the year 21-22," he added.