FinMin green signal for aircraft lease financing activities in GIFT City

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Regulatory decks have now largely been cleared for making India a hub for financing aircraft purchases and leasing activities with the Finance Ministry notifying “aircraft lease” as a financial product that could be transacted in Gujarat’s GIFT City, which is the country’s sole international financial services centre (IFSC).

The move is expected to pave the way for “onshoring” aircraft leasing and financing, which is the most profitable segment of the aviation value chain, and support local carriers, that had placed orders for more than 1,000 aircraft, making it the third largest order book in the world behind the US and China, say finance industry experts.

“This is a big game changer as we should now be able to take back (aircraft leasing) what we should have been doing in our country. This will give enormous advantage to us as we can onshore what is being done abroad to India,” Tapan Ray, Managing Director & CEO, GIFT City, told BusinessLine.

Ray said the move would encourage foreign providers of aircraft leasing services to set up shop in GIFT city and enable domestic carriers to enter into aircraft financing and leasing activities from Indian shores.

Currently, aircraft leasing transactions are not happening in India, which is a growing market for aircraft. Despite the high demand for leased aircraft, there are no lessors based here.

The Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) has now notified that operating lease and financial lease and any hybrid of operating and financial lease of aircraft or helicopter and engines of aircraft or helicopter or any other parts will be treated as “financial product” under the existing legal framework for IFSs in the country.

The International Financial Services Centres Authority (IFSCA), the sole regulator for economic activities in the IFSCs, is now expected to frame regulations on aircraft leasing and spell out criteria for the players who would be allowed for undertaking aircraft lease financing.

Stamp duty law changes

The Finance Ministry move comes on the heels of Gujarat Government announcing changes to the stamp duty law targeted at the aviation sector.

It may be recalled that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had, in her Budget speech in July last year, said that time is ripe for India — the world’s third largest domestic aviation market — to enter into aircraft financing and leasing activities from Indian shores. 

Commenting on the Finance Ministry move, Suresh Swamy, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers said the notification is a significant step in India’s journey to promote aircraft leasing and financing from the country. Several tax and regulatory relaxations have already been introduced to make financing workable. “The IFSC authority may now have to issue operating guidelines to enable leasing and financing out of IFSC. If all goes well, we may see the first transaction happening within the next 6-9 months,” Swamy said.

Global in-house-centres

Meanwhile, the DEA has also notified ‘Global In-House-Centres’ (GIC) as a “financial service” under IFSCA Act 2019 to provide services relating to financial products and financial services.

Tushar Sachade, Partner, Tax and Regulatory Services, PwC India, told BusinessLine, this will pave the wave for setting up of captive  centres by global financial services players for providing high end data processing, analytics, outsourcing services into GIFT City from other centres such as Philippines and will also lead to employment generation in the region.

Tapan Ray said any financial services done in the form of GIC will now get the benefits of IFSC and therefore attract large global financial services entities to set up their back office functions in the GIFT City to cater to their worldwide operations. .

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