Part matchmaker, part dealmaker

During his career in aviation finance, Paul Sykes realised that a common stumbling block was bringing buyers and financiers together. That prompted the idea for FlyFunder, which he likens to a dating app.

What ignited your interest in aviation?

I was introduced to aviation through the 2006 Mountbatten internship I did with RBS Aviation Capital in New York. John Slattery, who is now chief executive of Embraer’s commercial aircraft division, took me under his wing to help support his sales team, and I got exposure to commercial aviation and finance for the first time. I enjoyed the scale and relevance of the industry, and met some great characters, who I still count as friends today.

Tell us about your career to date

I have had a varied career over the past decade in commercial, corporate and rotary-wing aviation. I experienced commercial and corporate jet financing with sales roles at RBS in Dublin and London, managed a fleet of leased aircraft at CHC Helicopter and looked after a distressed UK and Nordic portfolio at GE Capital before moving into my current role at AirFinance. We work as a qualified adviser to the US Ex-Im Bank, sourcing deals and conducting due diligence.

Why did you launch FlyFunder?

I have always fancied myself as a bit of an entrepreneur. My role involves going out and trying to find deals in a global niche market and I noticed very quickly that the process of finding finance as a buyer or financing opportunities as a funder was highly inefficient. Given the success of similar platforms in other markets – comparison and dating websites for example – it seemed a no-brainer that a simple, secure platform would help industry participants engage with each other to do business more efficiently. FlyFunder allows those seeking funding to announce non-sensitive details – aircraft type required, deal size and borrower country, for example – and securely matches them to financiers who set high-level lending criteria. Financiers are notified when deals that meet their criteria are announced and are directed to the site to connect with buyers. I pitched the idea to AirFinance, who shared my enthusiasm, and we set about refining the business model.

What impact will this have on the business and general aviation aircraft finance market?

Manufacturers, brokers, financiers and buyers will all benefit from the increased connectivity, with buyers finding their best funding solution by seeing a range of options. Manufacturers and brokers source financing quickly and efficiently for customers looking to buy, and financiers can find opportunities without leaving their desk. In the same way that we have seen disruptive technologies change the way some markets operate (Uber for taxis, Airbnb for accommodation and Expedia or Skyscanner for flights), we believe FlyFunder will make financing more accessible for new industry participants.

Tell us about your job

In addition to heading the FlyFunder project, I cover helicopters globally and jets/turboprops in Asia Pacific for AirFinance,and additionally support the businesses’ credit function.

What do you enjoy most?

In the office, getting FlyFunder off the ground (excuse the pun) has been a very fulfilling experience, but I still love the thrill of closing a deal. Out of the office, I can be found on a golf course or watching my favourite English football team, Huddersfield Town.

The least?

Covering a large territory and working for a US company can mean conference calls at some strange hours.

What is the biggest challenge facing aircraft finance?

Availability of financing options for buyers with smaller aircraft and in non-standard jurisdictions. Getting financing for a Gulfstream G650 in the USA with a decent credit record is straightforward. Try getting an appropriately priced solution for an operator buying a Cessna Caravan in Indonesia. Sometimes these aircraft can provide essential services for communities but a lack of financing options means they are out of reach. It would be nice to see the oil price go up a bit too, to help my old friends in the helicopter industry.

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