Bankruptcies are Happening. What do you need to know to protect yourself?

It is no doubt that these are trying times. With air travel substantially curtailed the need for parts to support commercial fleets is significantly reduced. That means challenges for distributors. Adding to those challenges is a harsh reality: even when customers are buying parts,  they may have difficulty paying. And when a customer to whom you’ve extended payment terms becomes insolvent, you may be left holding the bag.  So far in 2020 we’ve already seen several operators enter bankruptcy, including Flybe (UK), Virgin Australia, Avianca, and LATAM.

Struggling operators still need parts to maintain their aircraft, and therein lies the rub. Distributors want and need to sell parts, and airlines want and need to buy them. With an airline that may be on the brink of bankruptcy, the question becomes how can a distributor make a much-needed sale, and protect itself against the risk that the customer may not be able to pay?

Obviously, the safest way to protect yourself is to require cash up front. If you and your customer are in a position to make such an arrangement, great! You can stop reading now. But the reality of our (and may others) industry is that goods are typically sold on Net 30 or similar terms. If you send goods to your customer and they declare bankruptcy before you get paid (or worse, have several outstanding invoices unpaid), you may be placed into a class with dozens of other unsecured creditors fighting for pennies on the dollar of what you were actually owed.

When cash is tight invoices can pile up. So, what steps should a distributor take to protect itself in the face of a struggling customer? In this series of articles, we’ll discuss the steps necessary to attach and perfect a security interest in goods, as well as mistakes to avoid to ensure payments your customer makes to you can’t be clawed back.

First, though, there are some things to know about bankruptcy filings. For the purpose of these articles we’ll be focusing on the US bankruptcy laws, which are found in Title 11 of the United States Code. The two types of bankruptcy filings most people are familiar with occur under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code (Liquidation) and Chapter 11 (Reorganization).

Under a Chapter 7 filing, an organization (like an airline) will cease operations and a trustee will be appointed to sell the company’s assets to satisfy creditors. Creditors are divided into classes with secured creditors being first in line to be paid, followed by unsecured creditors, and finally stockholders.

Secured creditors are those whose credit is backed by collateral. Unsecured creditors have extended credit but without the backing or security of collateral. Aircraft parts distributors can fall into either category depending upon whether they have taken the necessary steps to attach and perfect a security interest in the goods they’ve sold.

Secured creditors can sometimes have their collateral returned to them, though this process has some limitations and requires very quick action.  It also has very strict requirements that the debtor (customer) have been insolvent and the goods be delivered within 45 days before bankruptcy. A specific written demand for the goods must also be made within 45 days of delivery or within 20 days after bankruptcy if the 45 days expired after the declaration.  Chapter 2 of the the Uniform Commercial Code may also provide rights to reclaim goods. We’ll discuss these options in a future post.

It can often be difficult to reclaim specific goods, but a secured creditor still has a claim for the value secured by those goods if they are liquidated by the trustee in the course of the bankruptcy and in satisfaction of other secured debts. (If the value of secured collateral is insufficient to cover the amount owed, creditors become unsecured creditors for the balance due.) Because of the value of remaining assets when a company enters liquidation, unsecured creditors often receive only pennies on the dollar, if they receive anything at all.

Under a Chapter 11 filing the organization remains in operation and under management’s control, but major decisions must be approved by the Bankruptcy court. Rather than liquidate all assets in satisfaction of outstanding debts, a committee of unsecured creditors will be formed to develop a plan to allow the company to eliminate part of its debt to regain its financial footing. Committees representing secured creditors, stockholders, and other interested parties may also be formed. The plan the committees develop specify classes of claims and how those claims are to be treated, in addition to numerous other considerations to enable the company to continue to function.

Under Chapter 11, aircraft parts subject to a security interest may also be subject to special treatment. A customer filing under Chapter 11 may be preferable to Chapter 7 for a distributor who is unsecured because although the full amount owed may not be paid, partial payments may be made to encourage the distributor (and other suppliers) to continue selling to the company to allow it to operate. On the other hand, a distributor with a security interest in aircraft parts may have the right to take possession of the collateral or be assured of payment under the security agreement.

Being a secured creditor is always preferable to being unsecured. It puts the creditor in a position to reclaim its collateral or get paid to the greatest extent possible. Unsecured creditors are often left with significantly diminished claims if they receive anything at all.  In our next article, we’ll talk about the steps you need to take to attach a security interest to the parts you sell.

Bankruptcy is confusing and can be fast-moving, and we haven’t even scratched the surface here. Always be sure to consult a bankruptcy attorney if you have a customer file for bankruptcy that owes you a significant amount.

This post has been updated for clarity.

U.S. Considering Tariffs on European Aircraft and Aircraft Parts

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has announced a preliminary proposal to implement new tariffs on a range of European products with a significant focus on the civil aviation sector, including both parts and completed aircraft.  The proposed tariffs arise as a result of a long-running WTO case brought by the U.S. against the EU and France, Germany, Spain, and the UK.  The WTO found that the EU provided substantial “launch aid” to Airbus and that those subsidies both helped Airbus launch its commercial aircraft and cost Boeing market share.

The purpose of the tariffs (or countermeasures) is to offset the estimated $11 billion per year in trade harm the USTR estimates result from EU subsidies.

It is unclear at this point at what rate tariffs would be imposed on the particular goods identified.  The proposed HTS numbers affected include numbers that are very familiar to the distribution community, including 8803.20.0030, 8803.30.0030, and 8803.90.9030, however, the scope appears to be limited to parts imported “for use in new civil aircraft, not for use by the Department of Defense or the U.S. Coast Guard, of an unladen weight exceeding 15,000 kg provided for in statistical reporting numbers 8802.40.0040, 8802.40.0060 and 8802.40.0070.” Thus from the language it appears the countermeasures target the importation of parts used in the manufacture of new aircraft, but not for the maintenance of the existing fleet.  Anyone supporting the production of new civil aircraft would be well advised to review the HTS numbers proposed for countermeasures.  They can be found here.

The USTR has requested public comments on the proposed action.  Comments can be submitted through http://www.regulations.gov under docket number USTR-2019-0003.  Any comments must be submitted by May 28, 2019.

Updates to Lithium Battery TSOs Available for Comment

The FAA has issued two new draft TSOs related to lithium batteries.  Draft TSO-C142b Non-Rechargeable Lithium Cells and Batteries, and Draft TSO-C179b Rechargeable Lithium Batteries and Battery Systems, each inform applicants for TSOAs or LODAs of the minimum performance standards articles must meet in order to receive approval and identification with the applicable TSO marking.

These TSOs will cancel the old versions of the TSOs (C142a and C179a) six months after the effective date of the new revisions. After that point, all applications for TSOA or LODA must be made under the new TSO revision.  However, the draft TSOs make clear that articles “approved under a previous TSOA may still be manufactured under the provisions of its original approval.”

ASA has reviewed the draft revision TSOs and they do not appear revoke or amend already-approved TSOAs. This means older equipment manufactured to the old TSOs under previously issued TSOAs remain usable, which should give distributors with articles manufactured in accordance with the old TSOs in their inventory a measure of comfort in the face of the revised standards.

If you think these draft TSOs warrant comment we would love to hear from you.  Email ryan@washingtionaviation.com with your feedback.  Comments are due January 31, 2018 so we need to hear from you before then.

Limited DARs (DAR-56): Apply for Function Code 19 NOW! The Deadline to Apply is January 2, 2018!

We have written previously in this space about the importance of current Limited DARs (L-DAR-F), also known as DAR-56s, to apply to transition to permanent function code 19 status. If you or a person in your company currently holds DAR-56 privileges and an application for function code 19 has not yet been submitted, that must be done as soon as possible! The deadline to apply for this transition is January 2, 2018.

On October 4, 2017, the FAA issued Memo Number AIR-600-17-6F0-DM08.  The memo outlines the process by which holders of the existing DAR-56 privilege can be issued Function code 19 privileges as the Limited DAR program comes to an end. That limited DAR program is scheduled to end on September 30, 2018. This specific Function Code 19 delegation will be limited to the issuance of domestic airworthiness approvals at the holder’s distributor location. The key benefit of the function code 19 privilege is that it is not subject to the DAR-56 program’s limitation to new parts and articles that were in inventory prior to November 1, 2016.

As we’ve previously written in the blog, the application process is as follows:

For Current DAR-56 Holders

If you currently hold DAR 56 privileges, then you should apply to your local (“geographic”) Manufacturing Inspection District Office (MIDO) for appointment as a DAR-F with function code 19.  You can find your geographic MIDO on the FAA’s website.  Using the “select the state” function at the bottom of the page (but above the blue footer), enter your state where you operate and find which MIDO is your geographic MIDO.

Then, apply to your geographic MIDO using the on-line Designee Management System tool.

In order to be appointed as a DAR-F under this program an applicant must meet the minimum qualifications provided in FAA Order 8000.95. Look within 8000.95 for the criteria – specifically in Volume 1, Chapter 2 and in Volume 8, Chapter 2.

There is one significant difference from the standards found in FAA Order 8000.95 and the transitioning DAR 56s.  That is the experience provision.  Under the FAA memo, the applicant who has applied for a timely transition from DAR 56 privileges does not need to meet the normal 36 month experience  requirement.  Instead, the applicant must

“[h]ave a minimum of 12-months actual working experience for the accredited distributor under the quality system at the accredited distributor location(s), specifically:

a. Experience in either receiving inspection and/or quality assurance processes; and,

b. Experience reviewing documentation and/or part markings which can be used to verify that parts and articles are traceable to the PAH.”

Application checklist:

  • Identify your geographic MIDO;
  • Complete the required FAA training (you will need to submit the training certificate as part of your application package);
  • Obtain a letter of reference from the accredited distributor (signed by someone who can represent the business); a sample can be found in attachment 1 to the memo;
  • Ensure that your application details match those already filed for you under the DAR-56 program;
  • Apply through the DMS system, and include:
    1. Evidence of completion of the required FAA training;
    2. The letter of reference from the accredited distributor;
  • Notify FAA Headquarters that you currently hold function code 56 privileges and that you have filed an online application seeking function code 19 privileges.  Perform this notification by ending an email to the AIR-6F0 mailbox at AIR160-limiteddarf@faa.gov.  AIR-6F0 will notify the appropriate MIDO of the application, and let them know that it is subject to the provisions of the policy memo.

Once this process is complete, if the FAA reviews your package and finds that you can be transitioned to function code 19, then they will cancel your DAR 56 privileges and assign function code 19 privileges for issuing 8130-3 tags.  Don’t just rely on this checklist – be sure to study the policy memo!

Once you get the new function code privileges, you should expect that you will be limited to only exercising the privilege at the accredited facilities of the AC 00-56 accredited distributor.  This is not a “portable” credential, because it relies on the distributor’s AC 00-56B system as part of the basis for knowing that the part is in an appropriate condition to receive an 8130-3 tag.

For Those Without DAR-56 Privileges:

We advised all of our members to obtain DAR-56 privileges.  But we recognize that some members did not–or were not able to–follow this advice.  We also recognize that some function code 56 holders may allow the 90 day period to come and go without filing their application to transition.

If you do not hold DAR-56 privileges, or if you waited too long, then there is still a path!

The new guidance permits other persons to apply for function code 19 privileges under the terms of the memo; however such applicants are not entitled to the same presumptions enjoyed by transitioning DAR-56 holders.  If you fall into this category, then you will only be considered if the MIDO can independently establish that the FAA has a need and ability to manage the delegation; this means that you are going to need to convince the MIDO!  You also need to meet conditions that are comparable to those imposed on DAR 56 applicants.  You will still benefit from the alternative experience requirement (12 months experience with the quality system of the accredited distributor).

The Limited DAR program has been a useful tool to work through some of the challenges created by MAG 6. ASA has worked closely with the FAA to develop solutions to help distributors and their repair station customers continue to receive parts that did not enter inventory with an 8130-3 tag. This has included working with the FAA to develop the program initially, and having it extended until September 30, 2018. But the program was never intended to be a permanent solution. It is therefore absolutely critical to apply to transition your DAR-56 privileges to Function Code 19 privileges AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  Remember, the deadline to apply is January 2, 2018!

ASA Petitions FAA for Extension of DAR-56 Program

Last week ASA submitted a petition to the FAA formally requesting the indefinite extension of the Limited DAR-F Program for Accredited Distributors–commonly known as the DAR-56 program–that is scheduled to expire September 30, 2017.  ASA further requested an expansion of the program to better reflect the needs of the distribution community.  You may also recall that ASA recently led an industry effort that secured the reissuance of FAA Notice 8900.380 for another year. Both of these efforts are in response to the 8130-3 tag requirements arising out of MAG 6, which put billions of dollars of distributor inventory at risk.

ASA explained in its petition to extend DAR-56 indefinitely that the facts that gave rise to the need for the DAR-56 program have not changed and that the need for the program to continue was therefore very important to distributors.  The DAR-56 program permits Limited DAR-F’s to issue 8130-3 tags for parts on the basis of specific indicia of sourcing from the PAH.

As attendees of the ASA conference heard from members, distributors have so much inventory that needs to be tagged under the DAR-56 program that it could literally take years to tag every part.  This includes vast numbers of small, low-dollar-value parts for which hiring an independent designee would be economically infeasible.  ASA therefore proposed an indefinite extension of the program with semi-annual meetings between the FAA, ASA, and interested parties to discuss the ongoing need for the program so that it can be discontinued after a permanent solution is developed.

In addition to proposing an indefinite extension of the DAR-56 program (rather than annual extensions requiring yearly petitions and discussions), ASA also recommended changes that would improve the effectiveness of the program and help distributors.

At present, the DAR-56 program permits Limited DAR-F’s to issue 8130-3 tags under the following criteria:

  1. The aircraft part was received by the distributor prior to November 1, 2016 and
  2. The aircraft part must bear specific indicia of production under 14 C.F.R. Part 21:
    1. A certificate or statement of conformity that was issued by the production approval holder (any documentation part numbers and serial numbers, if applicable, must match any part markings); or,
    2. A certificate or statement of conformity that was issued by the production approval holder’s supplier, and a verification of direct shipment authorization; or,
    3. Markings regulated under 14 C.F.R. 45.15 and describing the PAH’s name or other identification (for parts, this would typically be limited to PMA, TSOA or critical parts).

ASA recommended that the program be extended as follows:

  1. The program be expanded to include any aircraft part that was received by the distributor at any time when the distributor was accredited under the AC 00-56 program.
  2. Expand the acceptable indicia of production under an FAA production approval to include other documentation the FAA has previously recognized:
    1. For an aircraft part that was accepted into an air carrier’s inventory system as new article, and then subsequently released from that air carrier’s inventory system, a document from the air carrier identifying the part by part number, and by serial number where appropriate, and identifying the part as new (including new surplus); or
    2. A maintenance release document showing (i) that the part was inspected under 14 C.F.R. Part 43 by a person authorized to approve such work for return to service, (ii) that the part was found to be in new condition, and (iii) a part number that matches a number known to be a PAH part number, and that matches the part number on the part, where applicable.

These proposed expansions reflect the fact that the November 1, 2016 receipt date appeared wholly arbitrary and neither supported nor required by any regulatory basis, and that the two additional forms of documentation are commonly accepted in the industry under Part 21 of the regulations.  This would solve the problem of those parts that are currently still being received without tags (as they continue to be released from PAH’s who do not issue tags, or as new surplus from air carriers without tags) and those parts that currently have PAH documentation but are nonetheless excluded under the terms of the current program.

ASA appreciates the FAA’s collaborative efforts to work with us to extend the DAR-56 program as we work toward a permanent solution to the MAG 6 8130-3 tag issue.  We will keep our members updated as we hear more from the FAA.

 

FAA Extends Policy Patching MAG Tag Challenges

Today the FAA notified ASA that it will extend for another year the MAG policy patch, Notice 8900.380, which allows repair stations to inspect and approve parts for return to service that are not accompanied by the MAG-mandated documentation. The extension technically cancels notice 8900.380 and reissues the policy as Notice 8900.429 (as opposed to literally extending 8900.380).

Although this doesn’t solve all of the problems wrought by MAG 6, it gives distributors and repair stations another year while the FAA works with EASA on a permanent solution to the documentation problems created by MAG 6.

On August 2, ASA spearheaded a petition joined by 12 other industry groups to seek an extension of the policy, which was scheduled to expire on August 26, 2017.  ASA is thankful to have the support of industry in seeking to solve the challenges of MAG 6’s 8130-3 tag requirements, and is appreciative of the FAA’s efforts to work with us.

We previously wrote on the blog about the ways in which notice 8900.380 (now notice 8900.429) helps distributors with un-tagged inventory sell to repair stations by explicitly recognizing repair stations’ right to receive, inspect, and approve for return to service any article for which they are rated.

The inspection authority in the notice still recognizes the original October 1, 2016 date distinguishing between parts already in inventory, and parts received on or after that date, but as we are well beyond 2016, that should not change any procedures or outcomes:

b. Inspections. For the purposes of this notice, inspections may be performed on:
(1) New parts received before October 1, 2016, that are not accompanied by FAA Form 8130-3, a dated certificate of conformance, or similar documentation issued by a U.S. PAH or supplier with direct ship authority in accordance with the notes in the MAG CHG 6, Section B, Appendix 1, subparagraph 10k)(1)(a) and Section C, Appendix 1, subparagraph 7c)(1)(a); and
(2) New parts received on and after October 1, 2016, that are not accompanied by FAA Form 8130-3.

We encourage you to review Notice 8900.429 to re-familiarize yourself with the policy, its requirements, and its limitations.  The notice has a duration of one year and is set to expire August 9, 2018.  It is the expectation of the FAA that this policy will ultimately be incorporated into MAG 7 when that document is ultimately issued.  ASA will continue to work with industry, the FAA, and EASA to craft a permanent and workable solution to this issue.

Should ASA Support a Repeal of the Estate Tax?

ASA has the opportunity to sign onto a letter supporting a bill that would repeal Subtitle B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 that relates to estate, gift, and generation-skipping taxes. The Bill is entitled the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017.

Although it is typically thought of as only affecting the very wealthy, the estate tax can also have an effect on small and family-owned businesses; particularly those that are land- or asset-rich but cash poor. One oft-cited example is that of the family farmer, whose is land-rich (the value of his real property is high) but operating on very thin margins and doesn’t have a large amount of cash saved or other liquid assets. The family of the farmer may be forced to sell off a piece of the farm land in order to raise the money to pay the estate tax assessed against the total value of the farm upon the farmer’s death.

More close to home, in the aerospace distribution community, companies may have millions or even billions of dollars in inventory on the shelf that would be counted toward the value of a family business owner’s estate. This sort of vast parts inventory cannot be quickly liquidated upon a business owner’s death to cover an estate tax assessed against the value of the business (that includes that inventory). Additionally,  because many businesses rely on their inventory as collateral against which to take out loans or lines of credit, they cannot simply depreciate the value of the inventory to zero to minimize the value of the business for estate tax purposes, or they risk also minimizing the apparent value of the business as a whole, thus making it difficult to borrow in the future.

On the other hand, many people feel that the estate tax is something that only effects the very wealthy and thus repeal should not be a high priority (or a priority at all).

I would like to hear what ASA’s members think. Is a letter supporting the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2017 something ASA should sign on to? The deadline to sign on to the letter is Monday, January 23, so please let us know what you think before then.  You can email your thoughts to Ryan Aggergaard at ryan@washingtonaviation.com.

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