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    Post Written by: Rob Watts

    Posted: 22/06/21

    Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) was trending pre-pandemic before Covid-19 overshadowed it and airlines put on hold new fleet decisions or deferred deliveries. However, as the industry starts to return it is expected to come back strong.

    “Investors and lenders are going to make these considerations a priority and drive a change in the age profile of airlines, suggests Director of Consulting Rob Watts. Lessors like Avolon Leasing are already including ESG into their credit rating models to help compliant airlines get better terms – and help them raise extra capital too.

    “Over the next three or four years we will be absorbing excess aircraft capacity back into the market.  If operators can obtain a better cost of funding and certain terms tied to fleet age and environmental factors then the excess capacity at the bottom will be chopped out at a greater pace than in normal market conditions,” Rob said. ESG will become a real factor in terms of funding cost.  Especially as lessors take a bigger share of aircraft ownership and we are seeing signs of that already.

    This is because ESG due diligence provides more insights into a company’s sustainability initiatives and helps investors make sound decisions in their credit rating assessments where ESG is a criterion.

    “We are duly advising more start-ups and established carriers undergoing re-evaluation of their models to keep ESG in mind as they devise future fleet plans. Financiers are also asking us about ESG as they go about their due diligence and credit rating of airlines,” he said.

    Better Access to Finance

    Airline borrowers with high ESG ratings will be better placed to access capital markets offering ESG-oriented financing and at better financing terms (invariably tied to future airline ESG performance) than via the conventional lending route, he suggests.

    Early sustainable investing was introduced in 1995 when the first sustainable bonds were issued.  Since then ESG investing and Social ESGs (whereby funds are allocated towards social-orientated projects) has progressed. With the global pandemic dominating these past 16 months further accelerated growth with a shift toward creating and formalizing foundations for so called ‘sustainable financing’ is inevitable.

    “Without a doubt ESG is commanding a bigger role in deal-making now,” said Rob Watts.  This is understandable as Governments, policy administrators and regulators are under heightened pressure to make good on their sustainability pledges.  Financial institutions and investors will pursue business opportunities with entities (and on projects) that have sustainability front and center, leading to financiers and investors offering ESG financing products to corporations prioritizing sustainability initiatives.

    Corporations wishing to access ESG financing in capital markets, are advised to focus on sustainability in their respective industries or undertake projects with an underlying ESG initiative.

    For airlines, this could be tapping into green financing as they look to renew their fleet; or opting for newer technology, more fuel-efficient aircraft.  The underlying initiative is to reduce an airline’s carbon footprint by investing in more energy efficient technology.

    In February 2020, JetBlue Airways added a  sustainability-linked loan to their existing US$550m revolving credit facility with BNP Paribas.  It included a two-way interest rate agreement depending on whether ESG targets are achieved. 

    Most recently, ANA Holdings (Japan) moved to publicly offer Sustainability-Linked Bonds in the amount of US$91.7 million, with a five-year maturity supported by SMBC Nikko Securities as a structuring agent.

    Understanding ESG

    The principal areas of consideration include:

    Environmental  – climate change, pollution, raw material use, energy efficiency, recycling practices. An example of an environmental factor for airlines includes reducing carbon emissions from its fleet.

    Social  – employee rights, employee engagement and turnover, health and safety, satisfaction (both employee and customer), equality, transparency, gender and diversity, supply chain and procurement. An example of a social factor for an airline includes how it draws up its health and safety policy for engineers working in the aircraft maintenance division and /or its active MRO hangars.

    Governance  – management compensation, bribery, corruption, whistle blowing schemes and whistle blower protection, lobbying and political influence. An example of a governance factor for an airline would include dealing with regulators and safety auditors in a transparent manner.

    Types of ESG Financing

    Green and Social ESGs are for those which require funds from lenders to be used for a specific sustainable purpose or project.  IE Apple’s transition to 100% recycled aluminum and drawing more power from renewables, for example, was  funded by a green bond .  Funds used for purposes or projects falling under the ‘social’ category are Social ESGs versus Green ESGs, but the principle remains the same – the funds are utilized for a specific project they are disbursed for.

    For example, Aviation PLC’s specific work in 2019 financing a Braathens Regional Airlines ATR72-600 with a Green Loan. 

    Sustainability ESGs

    Are similar to Green and Social ESGs, involving the utilisation of funds for projects with a combination of green and social elements.

    Sustainability-Linked ESGs

    This pathway suits those that require the borrower to achieve certain ESG targets within its wider business, in exchange for pricing benefits. Tesco was one of the first companies to tap this market, with a €750-million  sustainability-linked bond  placed in January, committing the supermarket chain to a 60% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.  They differ from Green-Linked (or Social-Linked) ESG in that they are not tied to a specific project. And financing terms are linked to the borrower’s performance against sustainable performance targets.

    Regulation of environmental issues in aviation is likely to continue increasing via various multilateral frameworks – ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is one such example.  This will drive an increase in ESG initiatives tied to projects which have an environmental / climate aspect (green bonds, green loans, sustainability linked ESGs etc.)

    We have already seen European Governments attaching green strings to financial aid and we expect more to come.   Examples include the French Government’s €7 billion financial support package for Air France, conditional upon the airline cutting carbon emissions and cutting domestic flights – by  backing out of competition with domestic rail services .  The Netherlands’ Government’s proposed €2-4 billion support package for KLM requires the state-owned carrier to contribute to sustainability and noise-reduction initiatives, including reducing night flights and cutting CO2 emissions in line with CORSIA.

    ACC’s ESG Due Diligence Services

    ACC Aviation is looking forward to hearing from financiers or investors looking to expand their understanding of ESG factors affecting airlines and how to incorporate them in the credit analysis and due diligence process. 

    It can also advise an airline looking to tap into ESG-oriented capital markets and would like to better understand how to get ready for an ESG due diligence.   As a provider of market leading solutions to the aviation industry across the globe, ACC Aviation is widening its portfolio of services to offer ESG due diligence and related advisory from its global office network spanning New York, London, Dubai, Addis Ababa, and Kuala Lumpur.

    For more information about ACC Aviation’s full suite of services or to enquire about your airline’s specific requirements, get in touch with the team.