Planemaker Airbus’s sales chief denied a report that he was involved in a deal to buy part of aircraft leasing group ILFC and would leave his job as the industry’s top salesman to become its most powerful aircraft buyer.
“There is absolutely no truth in this whatsoever,” commercial director John Leahy told Reuters yesterday.
Leahy dismissed suggestions in the report in French newspaper La Tribune that a former top official at Airbus parent EADS, Jean-Paul Gut, was looking at ILFC, which owns one of the world’s largest aircraft fleets of 1000 airliners.
“To the best of my knowledge he is not involved in anything like that either,” said Leahy.
La Tribune reported Gut was part of a group studying plans to buy all or part of ILFC from US insurance giant AIG. It said he was backed by Qatari funds and that Leahy was associated with the deal.
Prising its American sales chief away from Airbus for such a deal would be a shock to the world’s largest civil planemaker after a period of relative management stability.
But Leahy, 59, insisted he was staying in Toulouse.
“I am not considering leaving Airbus at the present time. I am quite happy here. After being at Airbus for 25 years, I feel I have an obligation to stay to get us through the downturn and back up out of the cycle,” he said.
Sources told Reuters earlier this week that AIG was in talks to sell a small part of ILFC’s fleet to the lessor’s founder and chief executive Steven Udvar-Hazy and two private equity firms.
Leahy, who has close contacts with Udvar-Hazy agreed with this scenario.
“That is my understanding too,” he said, adding the whole firm would have been “too big to chew off” right now.
ILFC is among several aircraft lessors up for sale or thrown off course by the financial crisis and a slump in aviation.
Royal Bank of Scotland is considering a sale of leasing unit RBS Aviation Capital and AerCap Holdings last month agreed to buy Genesis Lease.
Credit concerns have increased across the industry after the US government refused to bail out CIT Group, which also has a leasing arm.
“We are watching the lessor situation with great interest, but ILFC is part of AIG which belongs 80 % to the US government and RBS is owned by the UK government, which gives more stability than at the start of the crisis,” Leahy said.
Leahy also said he was sticking to Airbus’s target of reaching up to 300 gross plane orders before cancellations in 2009, a goal which leaves more than 150 orders still to fill.
He said there were a number of preliminary deals in the drawer that could still be converted into firm orders.
Several industry analysts have questioned the target, which parent EADS has described as increasingly challenging.
Leahy said airline traffic was recovering but yields, or average revenues per seat sold, were lagging.
Despite this, he did not expect a significant new wave of aircraft cancellations, despite earlier predictions of a negative final quarter.
“This will be a tight winter because a lot of airlines filled planes in the summer at heavily discounted fares and didn’t build up a cash war chest to get through winter. So there could be some cancellations but I don’t think there is that much risk of a big wave of cancellations,” he said.
Pic: Airbus A380