With no let-up in sight to the fallout in the financial markets, the gravitational effect these troubles are having on aviation assets is becoming more evident as certain financiers peddle aviation-related exposure behind closed doors.

While these sales are being viewed as buying opportunities, they have also triggered a certain degree of caution among financiers about where the market is heading.

According to Flight's Commercial Aviation Online, unlike 9/11, which caused "fire sales" in this asset class as travel demand evaporated, for the time being this is a quiet sell-off triggered by non-aviation-related events.

Speaking at theISTAT Conference in Orlando, Florida in March, Ron Wainshal, chief executive of lessor Aircastle, commented on the financing fallout from the subprime crisis. "The root of the problem is in the USA," he said, "but it has rippled across the board. The aircraft finance market has got caught up."

It's certainly the case that some sellers in the market are holding aircraft-related exposure that they didn't envision holding for long periods of time.

Faced with the inability to syndicate, securitise and/or launch initial public offerings, these sellers now find themselves in extremely uncomfortable positions.

Steve Zissis, chairman of Babcock & Brown Air echoed this sentiment at the JP Morgan Aviation & Transportation Conference held on 19 March in New York.

"You have a lot of people who got into this business who are not traditional lessors and with the liquidity crisis, they realise this isn't a market they want to be in," he said.

"There are currently 60-70 aircraft in the market we're looking at. We're seeing older classics and some of what we call the more liquid aircraft," - the Airbus A320 family and Boeing 737NGs. "The liquidity crisis has forced their hand and some of the liquidity players who were in the market for the short-term are selling airplanes," Zissis added.

Other asset-sellers are aviation arms housed within financial institutions that took substantial writedowns and are being forced to sell assets to secure their capital positions.

Meanwhile, some sellers such as AWAS are in the market as part of their regular portfolio management activities, but at a time that one lessor calls "unfortunate".

The lessor is taking bids on a 26-aircraft portfolio - a mix of young models and some older aircraft (see box).

Some financiers worry that these sales are just canaries in the coal mine and that more sales and headaches are likely.

"A lot of aviation-related deals that got done years ago made sense because capital was available, but that is no longer the case. These sellers got caught out," says a US-based financier.

He adds: "World events put tremendous pressure on liquidity. Aviation doesn't exist in a vacuum."

With the financial markets under strain, more institutions could be forced down the same road as the current sellers. This, of course, would put strain on aviation-related assets, particularly if large portfolios came on to the market.

Also, with record oil prices, older, less fuel-efficient aircraft are vulnerable to price adjustments. Any price movements on metal would be accelerated and possibly exacerbated by increased aircraft sales.

In addition, further losses and layoffs at global financial institutions could begin to make a serious dent in travel demand. No job - no business-class seat, no bonus - no holiday for four in economy class. It is the knock-on effect of every lost job that is a worry and that could lead to airline losses and certain aircraft types coming under pressure as a result.

What started out as a quiet sell-off spurred by a non-aviation related event, could quickly become one that is very much aviation-specific.

Source: FlightGlobal.com