ISTAT 2012: Lessors Express Mixed Opinions on “Mega Orders”

 - March 26, 2012, 4:05 PM
Air Lease Corp. chairman and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy stressed the divergent reasons for the recent "mega-orders" placed by some airlines. (Photo: Gregory Polek)

The four panelists participating in the last session held at the March 19 to 20 International Society of Transport Aircraft Traders (ISTAT) conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., reacted to what CIT Group Transportation Finance president and panel moderator Jeffrey Knittel called the “mega order syndrome” with mixed but carefully considered opinions, while most attendees appeared concerned about an overreaction by Boeing and Airbus.

In a poll taken at the end of an appraisers’ panel held earlier in the day on March 20, three-quarters of the audience thought narrowbody rates from 2013 to 2015 would prove too high. Only 9 percent of the attendees rated narrowbody rates too low, and 17 percent “just right.”

“There’s still a number of egos running airlines around the world,” quipped ILFC chief executive Henri Courpron, “but for a number of reasons it doesn’t make sense to place small orders. As you start a business, you need to give visibility to the investors, you need to give visibility to the community around you and the people committed to your growth. So that comes with a fleet plan.

“This said, there seems to be a little bit of exuberance in airplane orders,” added Courpron. “But this will sort itself out…Boeing and Airbus are doing their jobs.”

Air Lease Corp. chairman and CEO Steven Udvar-Hazy similarly refused to offer a blanket judgment.

“You have to look at each individual circumstance,” said Udvar-Hazy, who noted that the recent large Delta order for Boeing 737-900ERs will replace 28- to 30-year-old 757s.

Udvar-Hazy called the recent Norwegian Airlines order for 737MAXs and A320neos a mission to “be both offensive and defensive,” and follow a strategy designed to react to a possible implosion at SAS. Finally, said Udvar-Hazy, Lion Air and Air Asia both plan a pan-Asian expansion beyond their predominant markets of Indonesia and Malaysia. “So each of these mega-orders has its own flavors of ice cream,” said Udvar-Hazy.

GECAS boss Norman Liu also reminded the panel that the customers have spread the orders over eight to 10 years. “The ones I get a little bit nervous on are the ones in which they start talking about leasing-company ventures or when everybody has got the same idea but it’s in the same region,” Liu cautioned.

Finally, AWAS CEO Raymond Sisson reached the most absolute conclusion. “I think manufacturers are trending production rates too high temporarily,” he said. “I believe you will see that contract in time, as the delivery world matches the order world more closely. As lessors, I have a great deal of trouble making sense of speculative orders. When you talk about Neo and MAX availability between 2017 and 2018, that’s a long time to be taking a risk on escalation.”