Wet Leasing Vs Dry Leasing – What’s The Difference?

In the world of aviation, there are various ways an airline can fly its ticketed passengers from point A to point B. Sometimes it’s on an aircraft that they own, with crew that they employ and train. Other times, its a codeshare flight on a totally different airline. And then there are the two very different types of leasing arrangements: Wet and dry. Let’s examine how they differ from one another.

HiFly Airbus A380
HiFly is well known for its wet lease Airbus A380. Photo: HiFly

Dry leasing

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a typical dry lease situation sees the commercial airline taking aircraft from the leasing company for a set period of time. While legal ownership of the aircraft remains with the leasing company, the airline operates the aircraft with its own crew.

According to Wikipedia, “A typical dry lease lasts upwards of two years and bears certain conditions with respect to depreciation, maintenance, insurances, etc., depending also on the geographical location, political circumstances, etc.”

Some of the largest and most well-known leasing companies include:

  • GECAS – or General Electric Capital Aviation Services
  • AerCap
  • SMBC Aviation Capital
  • and Air Lease Corporation

These leasing companies have aircraft fleets larger than most airlines in the world.

There are a few pros to taking on an aircraft from a leasing company. The biggest advantage is the near-immediate availability of the aircraft. While the airline is paying a premium to use an aircraft it will never fully own, it at least avoids having to wait in a lengthy queue for a new aircraft coming out of a Boeing or Airbus factory. Pretty much every type of aircraft coming from the two manufacturers has a backlog of at least a year.

One example is the need for many airlines operating the 737 MAX to find replacements in order to maintain schedules as that aircraft remains grounded. Therefore, Scoot will lease Airbus A320 jets to offset the MAX grounding.

Another advantage of a dry lease for the commercial airline is that they have full control over the customer experience. This matters a lot more to legacy carriers with a high standard to uphold. Many airlines use leased planes, but you may not know it because it has the airlines’ livery and crew. One of many, many examples are some of Air Canada’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft since two of these come from GECAS.

Wet leasing

Perhaps the more interesting of the two, wet leasing is when the lessor provides the aircraft and crew. Pretty much the entire flight experience is in the hands of the leasing company.

This euroAtlantic 767 was being used by Norwegian for some time. Photo: euroAtlantic

This approach has sometimes landed airlines in hot water as some passengers feel deceived having booked with a particular airline to fly on a particular type of aircraft. When Norwegian had to wet lease several aircraft to cover its operations, we received several comments from readers asking if it was possible to get a refund due to them not getting what they were expecting. Recently, there were many unhappy Norwegian customers as their wet lease euroAtlantic flight had engine issues, forcing a diversion.

Often times the wet lease aircraft is older or in poorer condition than the booked plane, which leads to some disappointment. However, with evelop! taking on an Airbus A350, there might be some pleasantly surprised passengers if the planes are wet-leased out. HiFly’s A380 retains the first class suites from Singapore Airlines, so some lucky passengers could get one heck of an upgrade.

The clear positive of a wet lease is having far less to worry about. The leasing company has its own crew, AOC and everything needed to begin flights on an almost immediate basis.

Evelop Airlines receives its first A350 XWB (1)
Evelop! received its first A350 this year. Photo: Airbus

Conclusion

Have you ever been surprised and found yourself on a wet lease aircraft when you were expecting something else? Was the experience better than expected, or worse? Let us know in the comments.

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Ron

So – I’m not clear: If an airline was to dry lease a plane from one of the big organisations – and the airline doing the leasing was likely to have the plane for a couple of years! – would the leased plane get a paint & decal job to make it look like one of the leasing airline’s fleet? Or does it just stay as is? Given that it could be flying for that airline for a reasonably long period – would have thought branding would be important to them – since every plane seen in their livery is… Read more »

Tom Boon

Sometimes they will be repainted. Hi Fly’s first A330neo is currently on a long lease to Air Senegal in Air Senegal colours.

Chuck

Have flown on wet lease Air Belgium A340 from JFK to Warsaw on behalf of LOT Polish. I was aware of the situation, but my travel buddy was thrown when he saw the Air Belgium logo on the bulkhead upon boarding. It wasn’t till we were climbing over Long Island before he could grasp the idea of wet leasing which more common in Europe than the US. I would imagine the US legacy carriers use their regional affiliates to fill in capacity shortfalls. Service on the A340 was just as good as what we received on the return to JFK… Read more »

Ken

AirAsia X often wet lease their A330 to AirAsia for short haul operations, particularly between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah/Sarawak during peak period. Normal passengers would not notice the differences except the type of planes, as almost everything is identical between AirAsia and AirAsia X