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ILFC's Henri Courpron sees opportunity in China; 2011 a more "stable environment" for aviation


Henri Courpron, CEO of International Lease Finance Corporation, joined the team in May-2010 from the Seabury Group. Described as one of the most experienced leaders in the aviation industry, the CEO spoke exclusively to CAPA about the company's success in China, a better outlook for 2011 and ILFC's interest in the C Series and COMAC 919.

CAPA: As a lessor, what are the main issues today when acquiring aircraft?

The most important consideration for ILFC when decisions about purchasing aircraft are made is what our customers are telling us and how the assets fit in ILFC’s portfolio strategy. We are continuously talking with our customers about their fleet strategies and requirements so that our aircraft portfolio is positioned correctly. We also maintain ongoing dialogue with manufacturers and other industry leaders so as to be aware of all points of view and to thus be able to anticipate opportunities and make smart decisions.

CAPA: Your recent lists of lessees include many European players. Are you specifically targeting the European market or is it just a coincidence Europe has been fertile ground?

ILFC has a valuable history of working with European airlines for nearly 40 years; in fact, in many ways the European aviation market was where the airline leasing industry initially took hold. We see a good deal of opportunity in there, and will be opening a regional office in Amsterdam later this year that will bring us closer to our customers within Europe as well as the Middle East and Africa.

CAPA: What plans to target the Asia Pacific region?

ILFC has already demonstrated success with airlines throughout Asia Pacific. In fact, I believe ILFC is the top lessor in China today. We intend to further strengthen our efforts in developing and building relationships with the airline operators in the region. Our fleet portfolio of both narrowbodies and widebodies provides the types of aircraft that will support the increasing number of air travellers originating in this key part of the world.

CAPA: What is your assessment of recent conditions and the outlook for the next 12 months?

Airline performance trails the global economic picture; the industry has made a come-back in 2010. Larger airlines of primarily Western nations have made real progress in understanding their businesses. This has resulted in some consolidation which, together with capacity control and yield management, is creating a more stable environment. We at ILFC are updating our business model to secure a solid financial foundation on which to build a marketing and portfolio strategy that will keep us an attractive leasing option for airlines for years to come.

CAPA: Do you see the C Series and the COMAC 919 becoming serious contenders in the narrowbody market? Would ILFC be interested?

I believe anytime you put the right research, resources and people behind a project, the opportunity to succeed is present. It is apparent that those behind these plans have done their homework and are moving forward to bring more options to the market. Indeed, we are following these developments with a great deal of interest and look forward to learning more details as progress continues.

CAPA: ILFC in 2010 sold 53 late model B737s and A320s to Macquarie AirFinance. Do you see any further rationalisation of these sales in 2011 or a shift back into growing more?

Our business is to buy, sell, and lease aircraft. We make each of these decisions after an appropriate review of the opportunity at hand. I don’t see us changing this overall approach in the future.

CAPA: Can you comment on reports the ILFC plans to order up to 100 narrowbody aircraft from Boeing, Airbus and Embraer? How would these aircraft be financed?

ILFC strategically manages our fleet portfolio. We are always looking at opportunities to put the right aircraft in our fleet so that our customers have the options they require both today and in the future. We have a proven and diverse “arsenal” of financing tools which we will use as a function of prevailing market conditions when the financing will be needed.

CAPA: What were some of the best and most challenging experiences at ILFC? What lessons were learnt during the financial crisis of 2008-2009?

Every day offers challenging experiences for us – and we enjoy it. I have the opportunity to lead the strongest team of leasing professionals in the airline industry today. We have an incredible amount of experience and success in dealing with the range of issues and challenges that the aviation industry throws at us all. We don’t control fuel prices or volcanoes nor do we impact regional or global political or economic situations. However, we rapidly recognize and anticipate industry trends, whether they be financing triggers or product improvements that may bring value to our customers. We have learned from situations such as the financial crisis of 2008-2009, and we have since adjusted and crafted a much more resilient approach to our own financial stability, which in turn allows us to maintain our leadership position and importantly customers’ confidence.

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