ECA aircraft Financing in a post-COVID-19 world

(Lexology, London, 30 April 2020) While businesses lobby governments for support, there have been suggestions that ECAs may need to step up to fill a reduced commercial debt capacity for aircraft. During the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, European ECAs financed up to a third of annual Airbus delivery output and the Export-Import Bank of the United States supported around 20% of Boeing deliveries. Given the ECAs’ unique roles in providing state supported finance, could the current crisis provide an opportunity for governments to affirm their commitment to promoting environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) accountability? Policy makers are no doubt acutely aware that as public attitudes to ESG issues have been changing, so too have the reputational risks of being on the ‘wrong’ side of the ESG debate increased. Most recently this has been borne out in the aviation industry by the rise of ‘flightshaming’ and the fall-out from the grounding of Boeing’s 737 Max and the scrutiny surrounding Boeing’s use of share buy-backs. The reputational impact of ESG issues has been an issue for UKEF as recently as March 2020, when UKEF was accused of breaching OECD guidelines governing multi-national organisations in its decision to fund fossil fuel projects overseas. NGO Global Witness lodged a complaint with the OECD alleging that UKEF failed to adequately consider climate-related risks. The complaint, which is the first of its kind against an ECA, will see UKEF enter a 'specific instance' review process mediated by the UK national contact point at the OECD, which cannot compel enterprises to develop climate risk strategies, but which can publicly state that OECD guidelines have been broken. In many countries, government financial aid packages have prompted heated public debate as to what businesses should be considered ‘worthy’ of government support.