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Air Lease Corp (AL): Renting Is Not Just a Good Business for Landlords

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Air Lease Corp (NYSE:AL) , is an aircraft-leasing company, owning 162 aircraft on lease to 71 customers in 41 countries as of March 31.

Why aircraft leasing is the best way to play the aviation industry

Firstly, global air travel is set to grow in a big way in the future. According to Airbus’ 2012 global market forecast, world passenger traffic is expected to grow by a 20- year CAGR of 4.7% in the 2012 through 2031 period, driven by increasing affluence in emerging markets, such as the Middle East, Latin America and the Asia Pacific. To meet this huge increase in demand for air travel, Airbus estimates that 28,200 new passenger and freight aircraft with a market value of $4 trillion will be required over the next two decades.

Secondly, airlines are increasingly favoring an asset-light model, in view of volatile capital markets and pressure on profit margins. Leasing aircraft, instead of owning them, will allow airlines to reduce their operating leverage and minimize the hit on profits when revenue swings the other way. Airlines currently own about 57% of mainline jets globally, down from 73% in 1990, based on data from Ascend. This represents the long-term shift of aircraft ownership from airlines to lessors.

Last but not least, lessors have better business models than airlines. Listed aircraft lessors remained profitable through the global financial crisis from 2008 through 2009 compared with many loss-making airlines during the same period. Also, lease contracts are typically multi-year in nature; unlike air travel, which is highly cyclical in nature.

Air Lease Corp (NYSE:AL) differentiates itself from other listed aircraft lessors with its direct OEM purchasing strategy and young aircraft portfolio.

Direct OEM purchasing strategy

While other listed lessors mostly buy used aircraft from airlines to minimize risks pertaining to funding and finding new leasing customers, Air Lease Corp (NYSE:AL) primarily purchases new aircraft from OEMs directly.

Air Lease derives two main advantages from this direct OEM purchasing strategy, similar to how companies in other industries benefit by buying directly from suppliers and cutting out the middleman. One advantage is that Air Lease Corp (NYSE:AL) typically gets a better deal from direct OEM purchases, with discounts flowing straight into the bottom line. Another advantage is that Air Lease, armed with the knowledge of aircraft-design trends obtained from its relationships with OEMs, has a strategic advantage in closing deals with its lessees.

Young aircraft portfolio

Air Lease Corp (NYSE:AL)’s current average aircraft age of 3.5 years is the lowest among its listed peers. It is easier to secure financing and new lessee customers for younger aircraft. In addition, younger aircraft typically require less maintenance and servicing, with lower downtime and impairment risks.

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