19. Banking & Finance Team of the Year-Article-201612061328 (L-R): Awards host David Mitchell, Herbert Smith Freehills partner Kim Dietzel, awards judge Sandie Okoro

Finalists: Ropes & Gray, Simmons & Simmons, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, Dechert, Linklaters (highly commended), Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Latham & Watkins

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) took the Banking and Finance Team of the Year award for the ingenious solution the firm found for Virgin Atlantic to use its portfolio of landing and take-off slots at Heathrow Airport as security for long-term debt.

The firm advised Virgin Atlantic and its arranger Macquarie on providing security for investors, while ensuring Virgin Atlantic retained maximum operational flexibility, and also satisfying the multiple UK and overseas regulators with oversight of the airline and the slots.

The key features of the novel financing structure included a ring-fenced SPV airline within the Virgin Atlantic group with its own independent operations for UK licensing purposes; a trust structure over the slots in favour of the SPV airline; and a usage and collateral posting regime to ensure operational flexibility was retained whilst protecting investors.

One admiring judge described it as a “highly complex deal from business, intellectual and jurisprudential perspectives”, adding that it required “innovative thinking and the highest degree of expertise”.