Buying vs. Leasing Aircraft

by PBJ Staff / May 01, 2018

Buying vs. Leasing

If you’ve decided you want to own or run your own aircraft, one of the most important questions you should ask yourself is whether you should buy an aircraft, or simply lease one. And contrary to what you may think, the answer is not as straightforward as just working out whether or not you can afford to buy an aircraft.

In fact, there are many times when a person or company has more than enough capital to buy an aircraft outright, but it is actually a more lucrative solution to lease one. If you still have any doubts, consider this: more than one-third of all aircraft operated by airlines are leased by the airlines themselves.

This is not a behavior owing to the 2008 financial crisis, either. Data compiled by Ascend shows that the ratio of airlines leasing aircraft versus owning them has seen a fairly steady increase since 1980. By 2011, the number of airlines leasing aircraft had exceeded 33.3%.

So, why would an airline with huge amounts of funds available choose to lease an aircraft rather than buy one? There are in fact a multitude of reasons, for both cases.

The Advantages of Leasing

Buying vs. Leasing

Leasing allows flyers to enjoy the benefits of aircraft ownership even if they can’t afford to purchase an aircraft outright.

One of the main advantages of leasing an aircraft comes from one of the most obvious and essential places – affordability. If a person or company can’t afford to raise enough money to purchase an aircraft outright, leasing one means they can begin to enjoy the benefits of aircraft ownership regardless.

Even if a company can afford to buy an aircraft, it may well be preferable to lease it instead. There are a lot of different reasons for this. For instance, retaining the money that would have been spent on the upfront cost of an aircraft frees up funds for other avenues of the business. This could mean expanding the business more quickly and ergo driving more success.

The most business savvy minds out there will also be aware of the benefits that leasing an aircraft can have on a company’s balance sheet. Leasing an aircraft does not qualify as either an asset or a liability. Shrewd businesses can use this to make the best of their key ratios.

With this in mind, there are two kinds of leases – capital leases and operating leases. The former is close to a loan in its make-up. All equipment is classed as assets for the lessee. This means the company can take advantage of residual value, tax depreciation and more.

Finally, one huge advantage is that getting the most up-to-date aircraft doesn’t have to be such a burden when leasing. When buying an aircraft, the company will begin to take on the burden of its age over time. To upgrade to a newer model, a buyer would have to be found. When leasing, this is no longer an issue.

The Disadvantages of Leasing

Despite its upsides, leasing will typically cost more in the long term than buying outright. Just like renting a house can be more affordable than taking out a mortgage, but ultimately leave you with no assets to show for your money, so too does leasing have a rather unsatisfying conclusion.

Depending on the type of lease secured, the terms could also lock a lessee in longer than they’d like. For instance, an airline may hire an aircraft for a set term of a year. If they no longer need they aircraft, there is little they can do. This can lead to situations where a person or company is paying for a redundant vehicle. Plus, any damage to the aircraft could prove costly. Lease agreements often have strict clauses about the condition of the aircraft.

Buying vs. Leasing

Aicraft ownership means you have a tangible and valuable asset to show for your investment, and if the market becomes favorable to sellers there is the opportunity to turn a profit.

The Advantages of Buying

First and foremost, the aircraft will be yours to keep. This means you have a tangible and valuable asset to show for your investment, and if the market becomes favorable to sellers there is the opportunity to turn a profit – or at least a favorable return.

Because you own the aircraft, there is nothing to stop you modifying it to your liking. Whether that means upgraded engines, a unique outer design or brand new interiors, you can custom design your aircraft just the way you like it. With a lease, this is much more difficult and would require the owner’s permission at the very least.

An airline that owns its own aircraft will also go a long way to reassuring its stockholders and customers because these assets naturally double up as substantial collateral. This opens the door to raise funds when needed.

The Disadvantages of Buying

Naturally, a large amount of funds is needed to buy an aircraft – or a fleet of aircraft – without leasing. This can have a knock-on effect on the business, tightening options and limiting the ability to roll out other aspects of the business.

Buying a brand new aircraft may be an appealing prospect at first. But over time, the aircraft will likely depreciate in value. For airlines, in particular, this can be a problem when an upgrade becomes essential. For personal owners, this may not be as much of a problem.

Ultimately, there is no definitive answer as to whether it’s better to lease an aircraft or buy an aircraft. The decision depends on the situation of the individual or company. Even major airlines lease a significant percentage of aircraft, which shows that it isn’t a case of simply having the money available – but spending it smartly.

There are many advantages and disadvantages to both leasing and buying. The best advice is to assess your own situation and make a decision that suits you best, based on your personal and financial situations.

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