International Lease Finance Corp. is as low profile as they come. Operating out of a small Century City office, the company only lists a fax number in the phone book. Its employees almost never talk to the press.
But when this small, obscure, quiet company places an order, the world sits up and takes notice. That's what happened last week when ILFC placed $8.5 billion in orders for 126 passenger jets.
Boeing Co., which got $4.5 billion of the orders, saw its stock jump 4 percent on Sept. 4, the day the order was announced.
Boeing's European rival, Airbus Industries, got the other $4 billion of ILFC's orders, which further cements ILFC's role as the largest customer of both Boeing and Airbus.
In a testament to ILFC's clout, the orders were heralded by both aircraft manufacturers and analysts as a sign of the airline industry's vigorous health.
"ILFC has a good track record in terms of timing their orders. They have been right in the past and they will do it again," said George Shapiro, an analyst at Salomon Brothers in New York.
John Plueger, ILFC's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said: "We feel very positive about the growth of air travel. There are lots of fundamentals to keep the industry growing."
ILFC announced Sept. 2 that it is ordering 65 aircraft from Airbus and 61 from Boeing, deals that will keep both manufacturers busy at least through 2006.
The jets ordered by ILFC will not start being delivered until April 1999. Following the latest announcement, ILFC has outstanding orders for 455 Boeing aircraft and 266 Airbus jets.
Plueger said ILFC is confident it will be able to find customers for its growing fleet of aircraft even if the economy weakens in the coming years.
He pointed to strong growth in emerging economies of Asia and Latin America, and tighter restrictions on noise and exhaust emissions due to come into effect in the United States and Europe.
Beginning in the year 2000, U.S. airports will enforce more-stringent noise limits for incoming jets, forcing airlines to upgrade their fleets with newer, quieter aircraft, he said.
"The business is always cyclical, but since 1973 we have managed both downturns and business booms," Plueger said.
Unlike airlines, aircraft leasing firms can thrive in both good and bad markets, said Peter Aseritis, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.
During downturns, big airlines that are optimistic about the future but not bullish enough to plow billions of dollars into buying new aircraft will turn to leasing as a lower-risk option. When business is strong, smaller airlines without the resources to buy new planes also prefer leasing.
That is particularly true in emerging markets such as Asia.
Plueger said ILFC's business is biggest in Europe, followed by Asia, Latin America and then North America.
Plueger agreed that demand for Airbus aircraft has been on the rise. He stressed, however, that Boeing's order carried a higher price tag, reflecting the large number of wide-body aircraft, such as 747s and the newer-model 777s.
ILFC owns a portfolio of approximately 380 jet aircraft, valued at more than $16 billion. The company said it plans to sell 30 to 35 aircraft from its existing portfolio in order to lower the average age and boost the technological standards of its fleet.
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