New life for older widebody airplanes

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
New life for older airplanes | Chicago Tribune

Shortage of wide-body jets raising values, driving up price for leasing

By Julie Johnsson
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 3, 2006

The Boeing 767, America's 25-year-old workhorse plane, was supposed to be obsolete, headed for a dusty desert parking space, otherwise known as aviation's scrap heap.

But a global shortage of wide-body aircraft, and the recent production and design problems involving two yet to be launched Airbus wide-bodies, has turned the hulking 767 and other old models into hot commodities, even as Chicago-based Boeing Co. mulls shutting down its 767 production line.

Lease rates paid by airlines for some used 767s have more than doubled, to about $550,000 per month, and there isn't a single plane in the 767-300 series available for rent worldwide, according to Back Aviation Solutions, which tracks the global aircraft market.

"If you had this real firm desire to lease a 767 tomorrow, your chances are very slim," said Joe Ozimek, managing director of asset management with Boeing Capital Corp., the aircraft manufacturer's financing arm.

It's not just the 767. Boeing's venerable 747 jumbo jets and Airbus' popular A330 aircraft are also in high demand as airlines aim to boost international routes. And the Boeing 777, the aircraft of choice for many international carriers? Forget about it.

"It's very difficult today to get your hand on airplanes," said Sheik Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of Emirates Airline and Emirates Group, the largest customer for Airbus' much-delayed A380 superjumbo jet. "If you want to buy 777s, there's nothing in the market."

The shortage is a byproduct of the boom in international travel and the challenges Airbus faces in launching its A380 and A350, the European planemaker's answer to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. The first Dreamliners are to be delivered in 2008; Airbus just last week obtained financing needed for building its new A350-XWB models, which won't enter the market until the next decade.

"You've got a perfect storm right now with the delay of the A380 and the attendant delay of the A350," said Glen Langdon, president and CEO of Langdon Asset Management Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that buys and sells aircraft. "It's a significant problem."

Airlines around the world are looking for twin-aisle planes with therange to transport passengers 5,000 miles or more to far-flung cities. Such flights are lucrative since they attract more first-class and business-class travelers willing to pay premiums.

Carriers like Singapore Airlines and Emirates, which planned to add the first A380s to their fleets this year, are scrambling to find other planes after delivery deadlines for the double-decker plane were pushed back three times.

To help offset delays for the 45 A380s it is slated to purchase, Dubai-based Emirates is shopping for 777s.

"I think we managed so far to get something like six aircraft to come in `08," said Sheik Ahmed. "That's not enough capacity."

Singapore Airlines has signed short-term leases for 19 A330 aircraft to "address the capacity shortfall" caused by delays to the 19 A380s it ordered, said spokesman James Boyd.

Etihad Airways, another Persian Gulf-region carrier, also is finding it difficult to find large jets to make up for the four A380s it was to receive in 2008.

"We haven't really solved the issue," said Geert Boven, vice president, commercial, with the Abu Dhabi-based airline.

Some airlines are extending leases on planes they had planned to drop from their fleets in order to get by until the latest Boeing and Airbus craft hit the market, industry experts and airline officials say.

The mad scramble for jets is a reversal of the market following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As a result of reduced demand for travel, U.S. carriers parked hundreds of aircraft in the California and Arizona deserts. United Airlines and other carriers also shed hundreds of aircraft through bankruptcy reorganizations.

As recently as January 2003 there were 267 wide-body jets available across the globe for lease or sale, according to Connecticut-based Back Aviation. But by last month, only 99 such planes were on the market. Of those, only two 777s and three A330s of the preferred models were available.

Such shortages are likely to continue for three to five years, until the latest Boeing and Airbus jets roll off production lines in large numbers, said Gueric Dechavanne, director of valuation services for Connecticut-based Back Aviation.

That could pose a problem for recovering U.S. carriers, which largely have sat out of the global aircraft market in recent years.

Elk Grove Township-based United Airlines, for example, has no immediate plans to add planes to its fleet while it focuses on executing its post-bankruptcy business plan, said spokeswoman Jean Medina.

But United likely will encounter the same problems as other carriers if and when it decides to buy more aircraft equipped to fly trans-continental routes.

"They're in an interesting situation where there [are none] out there," said Dechavanne.

Leasing companies, too, are finding it difficult to track down planes to add to their fleets.

Take the 767. Three years ago, Harold Kugelman said he didn't have any problem finding mint-condition 767s sought by customers. He also didn't have to worry much about competitors snapping up jets he wanted.

That's no longer the case.

"Where a couple of people might be bidding on an airplane, now you could find five or six or more," said Kugelman, who as general manager for AAR Aircraft Sales and Leasing scours the globe for used planes for parent AAR Corp.

"The demand for aircraft is at an all-time high," said John Johnson, group vice president in charge of sales and leasing at Wood Dale-based AAR.

Meanwhile, Boeing's production lines for the 787 and 777, the most sought-after planes for long-distance travel, are sold out for the next several years.

But Boeing officials say there is some wiggle room.

"We're sometimes able to work people in," said Boeing spokesman Tim Neal.
She is a good aircraft. The 767 is normally the aircraft that I fly on when I fly from Germany to the United States. Sometimes and occastional 777 or A340 but usually a 767.

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