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Used jets rents surge 44% as airlines pay up to buoy fleets

A Boeing 747 passenger aircraft is shown at Ciudad Real (Spain) International Airport on Oct. 27, 2020.  (Paul Hanna/Bloomberg)
By Julie Johnsson Bloomberg

Two out-of-production Airbus SE and Boeing Co. jet series have become hot commodities, with plane values and monthly lease rates soaring for airlines fortunate enough to procure the aircraft.

Used Boeing 737NG and Airbus A320ceo single-aisle models are valued at about $20 million or more, according to analysts at Ishka, which specializes in aircraft pricing and valuation.

The decade-old planes are experiencing an unexpected surge in popularity at an age when monthly rents and resale prices usually decline.

The workhorse aircraft still dominate many airlines’ single-aisle fleets, even as newer 737 Max and A320neo versions enter service.

Airlines are starved for planes, partly owing to supply-chain kinks still rippling through from the COVID-19 pandemic.

These continue to hold back new-aircraft production, while an even more disruptive issue with popular Pratt & Whitney engines requires time-consuming rework – sidelining younger A320s and worsening repair-shop backups across the globe.

Aviation consultancy Cirium Ascend estimates that only around a dozen midlife Boeing 737NGs are available for rent anywhere on the planet.

For Airbus A320ceos, the figure is under 25. There are even fewer younger jets available – about 25 across the 737 and A320 families.

Carriers like Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Ryanair Holdings Plc are holding onto older aircraft to fill the gap, further tightening supplies.

On Thursday, Alaska Air Group Inc. said American Airlines Group Inc. would purchase 10 of its used A321neos.

Some 75% to 90% of scheduled lease expirations are being extended, said Rob Morris, global head of consultancy at Cirium Ascend.

As a result, lease rates on 10-year-old Boeing 737-800s, for example, are 44% above January 2022 levels – an unheard-of gain – and above prices at the outset of the pandemic, according to Ishka.

The rare pricing twist has bestowed a windfall on leasing firms like Air Lease Corp., with single-aisle rents up 30-40% in the past year, according to co-founder Steven Udvar-Hazy.

At a Deutsche Bank conference last month, Udvar-Hazy described a typical situation for a 737-800 coming off of an eight-year lease.

“The airline that currently has it wants to extend it,” he said. “But I’ve got five other airlines that want that airplane because they need lift.”

The shortage is set to worsen next year with large-scale groundings of newer A320s powered by Pratt’s geared turbofan. Parent RTX Corp. may provide an update with its Oct. 24 earnings report.

Some 600 A320neos could be as parked in the first half as inspections peak, Cirium Ascend’s Morris estimates.

Bernstein analyst Douglas Harned, meanwhile, sees the pain spreading to GTF-powered Airbus A220s and Embraer’s E2.

“What’s driving this is the unreliability of the current technology,” said George Ferguson, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

“Values are moving pretty quickly.”