Insight: Revenge of the Irish as mega-merger restores air finance crown
By Conor Humphries and Tim Hepher
SHANNON (Reuters) - Twenty years after the spectacular collapse of Irish tycoon Tony Ryan's plane leasing empire, the Emerald Isle has restored its grip on the world's aircraft fleet with a mega-merger that could pave the way for a wave of multi-billion-dollar IPOs.
The $5 billion takeover of U.S. leasing giant ILFC by AerCap (AER.N: Quote), a firm that emerged from the ruins of Ryan's pioneering Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA), is set to send ownership of its fleet of 1,000 jets to Shannon, a small town in the west of Ireland where GPA pioneered the plane leasing industry in the 1980s.
A disastrous bet on an airline boom that was cut short by the Gulf War led to GPA's effective collapse in 1993 and an exodus from Shannon.
Ryan bounced back to found Ryanair (RYA.I: Quote), now Europe's largest carrier by passenger numbers, and firms set up by the jet-setting Irishmen he trained have brought ownership of about one in four of the world's commercial fleet back to Ireland.
"What goes around comes around is an expression I could use," said Patrick Blaney, one of the GPA executives who helped restructure the firm after a failed initial flotation in 1992 and who still lives nearby.
"It leaves me with a warm feeling, for certain."
Like other executives from the firm who remember how the exuberance of the late 1980s gave way to the airline failures of the early 1990s, Blaney sees some warning signs that not all of the world's aviation firms will survive the current boom intact.
Yet Ireland's rebirth looks set to whet the appetite of aircraft financiers holding their own mini-Davos gathering in Dublin this week. Continued...