Daily Memo: Emergency Funding For Suppliers, Aftermarket Providers

Credit: Universal Alloy Corporation

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act sets up several new programs and adjusts some existing ones—each aimed at pumping much-needed cash into specific sized organizations or industry sectors.  

Large portions of the U.S. commercial aviation industry got specific carve-outs in the $2 trillion economic relief package enacted March 27. While these loans and grants will help air carriers and other key industry players offset some financial strife caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, most suppliers will be looking elsewhere for money.  

Thankfully, CARES gives even the smallest companies options. 

Topping the list is the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a $349 billion pot of money designed to enable the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to provide “expeditious” relief to eligible businesses, an interim final rule published late April 2 said. PPP provides SBA-guaranteed loans equal to up to 2.5 times monthly payroll costs, with a $10 million cap, that businesses can use to keep the lights on for two months. Eligible expenses include payroll, health care benefits, rent and utility payments, as well as some interest expenses. The loans come with a 1% interest rate, maximum two-year terms, and require no collateral or personal guarantees. But they will be forgiven if 75% or more of the funds are used to cover payroll. 

Among the PPP’s wrinkles: only the first $100,000 in an employee’s salary can be counted when calculating payroll expenses. Contractors are eligible to apply for their own relief, so their costs can’t be counted at all. Also ineligible for counting in the payroll expenses: salaries of employees that live outside the U.S. 

Businesses can only apply for one PPP loan, so the SBA advises applying for the maximum eligible amount. 

Determining eligibility is straightforward: a business must find its North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code, check the maximum employee size for its business category, and compare it to its staff size. While the general small-business benchmark is 500 or fewer employees, aerospace has many exceptions. The threshold for aircraft engine and engine parts manufacturing/maintenance (NAICS code 336412) is 1,500 employees. For aeronautical instruments manufacturing (334511), it’s 1,250. If your business falls into multiple codes, the one that generates the most work determines your NAICS code. SBA has an online tool that walks through the process at www.sba.gov/size-standards.

The PPP application window opened on April 3. The program’s sheer size—SBA’s cornerstone 7(a) loan program issued about $20 billion in loans in all of 2019—and its first-come, first-served basis triggered a massive, front-loaded surge of applications. The interim final rule contained key guidance that banks needed to service the program, which meant not all lenders were ready to start processing applications right away. But the situation was improving hourly throughout the day April 3 as more lenders came onboard. 

Another SBA program that CARES leans on is the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Capped at $2 million with a 3.75% interest rate, EIDLs can be used for a wider variety of expenses than the PPP. Unlike the PPP, however, they are not eligible for forgiveness. 

CARES also gives the U.S. Treasury Department the authority to make special loan allowances for medium-sized businesses, generally those that are too large for an SBA program and have up to 10,000 employees. Among the caveats: maintaining or restoring 90% of its equivalent workforce as of Feb. 1, 2020 within four months of the official U.S. declaration that the COVID-19 public health emergency is over. Further guidance from Treasury, including basics such as how to apply, are in the works. 

Some suppliers are eligible to apply for shares of the aviation-specific funds set aside in CARES. FAA-certificated repair stations are mentioned as being eligible for some of the $29 billion in CARES loans, specifically from the $25 billion pot allocated for passenger airlines. But the law says they should exhaust other available CARES funding options first. 

There is another pot of $17 billion in loans set aside for companies critical to national security. Neither the law nor Treasury defines the term, however, so eligibility remains unclear. If Treasury looks to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Critical Infrastructure guidance, aircraft and engine supply-chains would qualify, as would repair stations. 

Payroll grants for suppliers are murkier. CARES language has a $3 billion set-aside for contractors that both work for airlines and are on-airport. Many maintenance providers would seem to fit here, though Treasury will have the final say. 

Industry trade associations and legal experts working the issue are learning more by the hour. Their one common piece of advice for businesses: consult with an attorney or tax expert, determine what your business qualifies for, and weigh your options. Many businesses will qualify for multiple programs that cannot be mixed, creating an either/or choice that comes down to the various strings attached to each.

Sean Broderick

Senior Air Transport & Safety Editor Sean Broderick covers aviation safety, MRO, and the airline business from Aviation Week Network's Washington, D.C. office.