Chinese flag carrier Air China on 18 March said it inked a deal to buy 18 narrow-body jets from AFS Investments Inc, a subsidiary of aircraft lessor GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS).
The deal, valued at US$2.24 billion, is an order for 18 new planes, including five A320-200N airplanes and 13 A321-200NX, to be delivered to Air China in batches by 2022.
The sale of factory-fresh aircraft by a lessor, rather than maker Airbus, raised eyebrows with industry figures on Friday, Nikkei Asia reported.
“It is different. You don’t see it very often,” said David Yu, chairman of Asia Aviation Valuation Advisors and a finance professor at New York University Shanghai.
“There may be several reasons for the timing of this [deal] and the Anchorage meeting could be one,” said Peter Huijbers, director of aircraft investment advisory company PH Aviation Asia in Hong Kong.
“I was more surprised by the fact that GECAS can actually sell these aircraft pre-delivery,” he added.
Earlier in the month GE agreed to sell GECAS to rival AerCap for US$30 billion, with the merger considered to create the world’s biggest lessor with a combined fleet of 2,098 aircraft.
The news report noted, “GE has been put in a position of seeking Beijing’s favour after agreeing to sell GECAS to rival AerCap for $30 billion last week. The deal, which would unite the two largest global jet lessors, will likely have to pass muster with Beijing competition regulators, given that both lessors have many Chinese clients.”
Air China said the purchase of narrow-body aircraft will support its long-term transport capacity in Beijing and Chengdu citing the recovery of the country’s domestic aviation market.
Chinese news Global Times estimates that Air China operated roughly 700 planes by end-2020, including 366 from Airbus and 328 from Boeing. According to Planespotters, Air China has 440 in its fleet, including 75 A320s and 71 A321s.
Last year China’s big three carriers, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Air China, held off on a total of 58 planes from Boeing and 53 from Airbus, but kept every single order from COMAC, Payload Asia learned.