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Facing headwinds

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The aviation sector has endured a difficult two years amid border closures and lockdowns. In spite of persistent volatility and uncertainty, our survey finds that senior executives are cautiously optimistic about the state of global aviation financing in 2022


The past two years has been a period of intense turbulence for the aviation sector, with a number of bankruptcies, bailouts and collapsing revenues brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. The impact on airline receipts has been challenging. Indeed, the gap between projected and actual receipts suggests that airlines have lost passenger revenues worth nearly US$1 trillion as a result of the pandemic.

Rebuilding balance sheets and restoring passenger confidence is going to take time. Uncertainties lie ahead, and (as the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants remind us) there is no room for complacency.

Yet as this survey shows, there are also tentative grounds for optimism.

First, airlines and lessors now have access to a wider range of funding opportunities than ever before. Innovative financing is the order of the day: In addition to traditional sources, such as banks, capital markets and export credit agencies, the aviation sector is increasingly tapping into funding from alternative capital providers, including private equity and hedge funds. High- net-worth individuals and family offices are now part of the mix as well, along with new capital market products, such as green bonds.

Second—and closely linked to the evolving financing environment—is the rising awareness of environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations within aviation. Airlines and lessors—and the investors who back them—are making the first steps towards decarbonizing aviation with initiatives that span everything from the development of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) to the first, albeit short-range, electric aircraft.

“Uncertainties lie ahead, and there is no room for complacency. Yet as this survey shows, there are also tentative grounds for optimism.”


This matters, because the future of aviation is as much a battle for hearts and minds as it is about technology. COVID-19 has turned many of us into teleworkers, while the rise of the "staycation" has reminded travelers of the good times they can have close to home. Winning back passengers—business travelers in particular—may not be easy. Against this background, travelers of all types are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their journeys. Seen in this light, even small steps toward boosting the green credentials of airlines could make all the difference.

The aviation sector that emerges from the pandemic is likely to look very different from the one that went into it two years ago.

But it is also a sector that is likely to be more flexible, leaner, a little greener and—above all—better adapted to whatever the future has in store.


In the fourth quarter of 2021, White & Case, in partnership with Mergermarket, surveyed 100 senior-level executives at entities that have either financed or invested in the aviation industry in the past three years. The aim of the survey was to analyze sentiment regarding aviation finance. Organizations surveyed included airlines, operating lessors, banks, export credit agencies, private equity and other alternative capital providers. Job titles included CEO, CFO, director level and heads of investment.

Overall investment outlook for global aviation finance

Aviation sector executives expect to maintain or increase investment in 2022, despite continuing headwinds caused by COVID-19 and concerns about the global economy

Facing headwinds

Funding sources

Our survey shows that a majority of respondents expect funding to increase in 2022—and from a wide range of sources

Facing headwinds

Liquidity and refinancing

Capital and liquidity remain a primary preoccupation for the aviation sector

Facing headwinds

Change is in the air

Respondents see COVID-related disruptions, economic contraction and geopolitical instability as the top challenges for the aviation sector in the coming year. But growth is expected, notably in Asia-Pacific and Australasia

Facing headwinds

How aircraft lessors are weathering the storm

Flexibility in the ascendant aircraft leasing sector

airport runway


Key takeaways from our survey and what they could mean for the aviation industry

Facing headwinds
Facing headwinds

Facing headwinds: Conclusion

Key takeaways from our survey and what they could mean for the aviation industry

2 min read

The past two years have seen huge disruption in the aviation industry. But as this survey shows, the strength and diversity of the sector's financing ecosystem has played a decisive role in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Looking ahead, respondents are optimistic about the outlook for the APAC and North American markets, although they are more circumspect about the prospects for EMEA and Latin America. In any event, the speed and scale of recovery in all markets is likely to be shaped by policy responses to the pandemic.

  • APAC is expected to perform well in 2022, thanks to strong GDP growth forecasts of 6.3 percent and increasing demand for regional travel. 85 percent of respondents in this survey expect aviation to grow fastest in this region in the year ahead.
  • North America is also expected to see strong growth in 2022, with nearly a quarter of respondents forecasting rapid recovery as domestic demand springs back to life.
  • EMEA's recovery could be hampered by lackluster GDP growth, as well as by overcapacity in some European markets. Only 7 percent of aviation executives in this survey think Europe will be the fastest-growing aviation market in 2022.
  • Latin America is expected to struggle in the year ahead, with the region's carriers continuing to grapple with restructuring costs against a background of sluggish GDP growth.
  • Potentially higher jet fuel costs add a further layer of uncertainty, underscoring the need for robust hedging strategies. The price of aviation fuel ended 2021 at 217 cents/gallon—up 60 percent from the beginning of the year.
  • Most respondents are optimistic about the financing environment in the year ahead, but risks remain—notably tightening monetary policy as central banks hike base rates in response to growing inflationary pressures.
  • Tighter supply chains, labor shortages and rising energy prices will continue to fuel global inflation in 2022. A key challenge for airlines will be the extent to which they can pass on their own increased costs to passengers and freight customers in terms of higher fares and air freight rates.

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This article is prepared for the general information of interested persons. It is not, and does not attempt to be, comprehensive in nature. Due to the general nature of its content, it should not be regarded as legal advice.

© 2022 White & Case LLP

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