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Is Boeing's Battery Good News for Air Lease?

Tuesday - 1/22/2013, 2:56am  ET

The confusion and criticism surrounding the new Dreamliner 787 from Boeing is certainly not the way the airline industry wanted to begin 2013. Safety findings and technical reviews of the lithium ion batteries the company used for the first time could severely damage the perception of the heralded technology and affect future use. Should airlines around the world taxi the efficient power cells back to the terminal, investors could find opportunities in alternative ideas sweeping the industry. One such option for airlines and investors: leasing planes.

Aircraft leasing companies are a critical part of the airliner industry. They provide airlines with immediate access to the newest planes, while also providing aircraft manufacturers with strategic customers for their latest designs. Perhaps no company is in a better position to capitalize on industry fears than Air Lease , which offers one of the most fuel-efficient fleets in the world.

Air who?
Air Lease has had a relatively brief life on the market and doesn't have wide analyst coverage. Aircraft leasing is an industry you might want to get familiar with, because with or without a windfall from the Dreamliner headache, there are several intriguing growth opportunities and high yields here for investors.

The company began in 2010, as the creation of aircraft leasing legend Steven Udvar-Hazy. He was part of the International Lease Finance Corporation for 37 years, serving as chairman and CEO in addition to being its co-founder. AIG bought that company in1990 for $1.3 billion, and it's valued at $5.28 billion today. With more than 30 years of jet flying experience, Udvar-Hazy has an inside track to the minds of his customers. Perhaps that's why Air Lease advises aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing, Embraer, Airbus, and ATR on new designs.

Cleared for takeoff
The new company wasted no time exploding onto the scene after going public in April 2011. As of Sept. 30, Air Lease owned 142 aircraft, up from just 102 at the end of 2011 and 40 at the end of 2010, and will grow its fleet to 153 by the time fourth-quarter results are released. The growth is far from over, however, as the company has commitments to purchase an additional 107 aircraft by 2017 and 174 more thereafter. The relative ease the company has in finding customers is also impressive:

Year

Aircraft Deliveries

Entered Into Lease

2013

32

32 [100%]

2014

27

27 [100%]

2015

26

9 [34.6%]

2016

22

0 [0%]

Post 2016

174

8 [4.6%]

Total

292

87 [29.8%]

Source: Air Lease 10-Q, September 2012.

More than 90% of the company's revenue is derived from customers outside the United States. Take a look at the location and net worth of the company's stables:

Region

Net Book Value of Fleet

% of Total Fleet

Europe

$2,267 million

38.6%

Asia/Pacific

$2,091 million

35.6%

Central/South America

$720 million

12.3%

U.S. and Canada

$464 million

7.9%

Middle East and Africa

$330 million

5.6%

Source: Air Lease 10-Q, September 2012.

Although 53.5% of the company's fleet is well positioned in emerging markets, close to 40% of the fleet is exposed to debt-ridden European countries. That kind of exposure should warrant some concern, but consider that Europe has much stricter fuel efficiency and emissions standards for aircraft. Although the EU backed down on enforcing carbon taxes on flights of international origin to avert a global trade war, it promised to reinstate such taxes if the U.N. didn't act to curb industry emissions by the end of 2013.

The company highlights the growing popularity of air lessors among investors, and these companies could enjoy a significant boost given the questions surrounding the fuel-efficient Dreamliner's batteries. Air Lease's efficient fleet, with an average age of just 3.4 years, is and will continue to be in high demand on the European continent. In fact, the company announced plans in July to purchase 75 Boeing 737 MAX 8/9 aircraft, which achieve 13% better fuel burn rates than the previous generation.

The field
Air Lease is the newest, and already the largest, publicly traded aircraft leasing company in the industry. But buying hundreds of aircraft requires a big appetite for debt, which dominates balance sheets throughout the industry. Here's how the industry stacks up:

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