Cashed-up Chinese aircraft lessors spread their wings

Thu Dec 13, 2012 3:18am EST
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By Alison Leung and Umesh Desai

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The sale of one of the world's top aircraft leasing companies to a Chinese consortium is the boldest signal yet that China's aviation industry will increasingly look to the cash-rich home market for specialist finance to support its expanding fleet.

International Lease Finance Corp (ILFC), the aviation arm of U.S. insurer AIG (AIG.N: Quote) which confirmed the $4.8 billion sale on Monday, joins a growing number of homegrown Chinese leasing firms looking to exploit the world's fastest growing air market.

For China, the rise of a powerful air finance industry is a third pillar in its aviation development, alongside parts manufacturing and assembly for foreign planemakers like Airbus and Beijing's own Comac C919 commercial jetliner project.

"It's a huge investment and (ILFC) are the second biggest leasing company in the world," said Paul Sheridan, chief Asia consultant for specialist aviation think-tank Ascend.

China is seen as one of the most promising markets for aircraft leasing, in which airlines rent aircraft to keep the cost of ownership off their balance sheets.

The world's second-largest economy will need 5,260 new aircraft worth $670 billion through 2031, according to Boeing Co. About half of these new planes would be owned by leasing firms, adding about $100 billion to the market size which is expected to rise to $268 billion in the next two decades.


China is a major purchaser from both Airbus EAD.PA and Boeing (BA.N: Quote), often in batches of 100 or more aircraft to coincide with state visits in the spirit of balancing U.S. and European supplies.   Continued...

An ARJ21, made by Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac), takes off for a test flight during the 9th China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition at an airport in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, in this November 16, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer