The Irish rule the skies and finance every airliner in them. Well, not quite. But even an Irish storyteller given to understatement might find it hard to resist embellishing an aviation history that in effect began in 1919 with the crash-landing of John Alcock and Arthur Brown after the first nonstop transatlantic flight.
Ireland’s supply of bosses to carriers such as International Airlines Group, Qantas, Ryanair and Aer Lingus is well known. For the past four decades it has also been a global centre of the aircraft finance industry. Ireland-based companies lease or manage $150bn of airliners, about a fifth of the global fleet. Aviation adds €4.1bn to its gross domestic product. How did this happen?
First, aviation is in the country’s blood. Many of today’s experts cut their teeth at Aer Lingus, including IAG’s Willie Walsh. But it was Tony Ryan, Ryanair’s founder, who started Ireland’s leasing industry.
Experience gained from subleasing two Aer Lingus planes led him to co-found Guinness Peat Aviation 40 years ago. GPA’s trajectory proved meteoric, and it was bought by General Electric.
Ryan’s legacy lives on in the 18 Dublin-based leasing companies — including SMBC Aviation Capital, part of Sumitomo Mitsui; and Avolon, acquired by China’s Bohai Leasing — that make up the world’s top 20.
Second, Dublin has aircraft finance skills aplenty — even a masters course. Third, government policy supports aviation. Low tax is a draw. Lessors expanding their fleets can use capital allowances to cut tax bills.
Dublin has also negotiated double taxation treaties that take account of aircraft leasing. Nor does the sector pose a threat to Ireland as its banks have, because the assets are mobile: if an airline flops, the lessor can flip the planes to another carrier.
The outlook is bright. Economies in Asia are forecast to add 100m passengers — or one Ryanair — a year, notes Avolon. Boeing expects airlines to need 38,000 new aircraft in the next 20 years.
Now for the bad news: there are no listed Ireland-based aircraft leasing companies left to invest in. Nice Irish story, though.
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This article has been amended to reflect the fact that Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary did not start out at Aer Lingus
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