Wow: The Biggest Aircraft Lessors Own Over 1000 Aircraft

Lessors are often the unseen powerhouses behind some of the world’s largest airlines. While some airlines prefer to purchase aircraft outright, many will mix their fleets between owned and leased inventory, while some will fly 100% leased aircraft.

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Many lessors have bigger aircraft fleets than most of the major airlines. Photo: Getty Images

Leasing a plane can be faster, cheaper, and easier than joining the lengthy queues with the OEMs to get newly built aircraft. As such, lessors often have much bigger fleets of planes than many commercial airlines. In fact, according to data from ch-aviation.com, eight lessors have fleets in excess of 400 aircraft. Let’s see who’s the biggest.

AerCap – 1,112 aircraft

AerCap, based in Dublin, is the world’s largest lessor by aircraft owned and managed. In its portfolio are 986 owned aircraft, plus another 126 in the ‘managed’ category, taking its entire fleet to a staggering 1,112 planes.

The fleet is spread across a range of aircraft types, with the majority, expectedly, on the narrowbody side. Some of the largest fleets include the Boeing 737-800, with 203 planes, the Airbus A320-200, with 169, and the A320neo with 132. But AerCap also owns plenty of widebodies, including 90 Dreamliners (-8s and -9s), 74 A330s, and even one A380.

AerCap A350-900
AerCap has the biggest fleet in the world. Photo: AerCap

AerCap has orders in for an additional 265 aircraft. The bulk of these are narrowbodies, with 143 aircraft from the A320neo family in the pipeline, including the A321LR. The 737 MAX 8 has 68 orders from the lessor, while the rest of the order book is made up of 21 787s and 33 E190-E2s.

GECAS – 1,074 aircraft

GECAS is a similarly mega lessor, with 1,055 aircraft owned and a further 19 under its management, for a total fleet size of 1,074. This lessor has an even bigger range of aircraft in its stable, with an incredible 333 A320ceo family jets, plus 107 from the A320neo family. On the Boeing side, it has 372 737 aircraft, 296 of which are 737 NGs. It also has 30 737 MAX 8s, but on the historical side, a handful of 737 classics (-200s, -300s and -400s) remain too.

For widebodies, it has smaller numbers than AerCap, with its 34 777-300ERs the biggest individual fleet. It also has 767s, 12 747 quadjets and a handful of A330s. For modern widebodies, it has just 14 A350s and eight Dreamliners.

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GECAS has a strong single-aisle focus. Photo: GECAS

Its order book shows the future focus is very much on the narrowbody side. Of the lessors 228 planes on order, 90% – 207 aircraft – are single aisle. One hundred thirty-eight are from the A320neo family, while 69 are various 737 MAX. Of the handful of widebodies the lessor has on order, 12 are the A330neo, with just four 787-10s rounding out the twin-aisle tally. A small order of five ARJ21s finalizes the order book at GECAS.

The big news earlier this year was that GECAS and AerCap are set to merge. Specifically, AerCap is buying the leasing division of GECAS, a move that got the green light in July this year. When finalized, the combined fleet will be by far the largest in the world, and will represent 18% of the entire leasing market.

The best of the rest

While AerCap and GECAS are by far the behemoths of the leasing business, there are several other lessors with significant fleets as well. The biggest of the rest are:

  • Avolon – 582 aircraft
  • Nordic Aviation Capital – 483 aircraft
  • Air Lease Corporation – 474 aircraft
  • BOC Aviation – 459 aircraft
  • SMBC Aviation Capital – 446 aircraft
  • BBAM – 427 aircraft
Avolon A321neo
Avolon has an average fleet age of just 5.5 years. Photo: Avolon

The power and strong financial credentials of lessors have been a valuable lifeline to airlines during the COVID crisis. Being able to sell and leaseback aircraft has helped airlines shore up their liquidity, but some have suffered with airlines unable to pay their fees.

Nevertheless, lessors are in a powerful position. At the end of 2020, their share of the global aircraft fleet stood at 46%, up from less than 25% in 2000. Predictions are this share could soon surpass 50%. But with the world’s two largest lessors joining forces, could a lack of competition impact the leasing deals airlines are able to negotiate in the future?

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