I was on my way out of Dublin Airport on Sunday when I was struck by the sign on the sliding door as I was exiting: "Céad míle fáilte – Welcome to the home of aviation finance."
"What a strange slogan" I said out loud. That's not even as catchy as being welcomed to the home of the "world's largest thermometer" or whatever. I mean, aviation finance doesn't exactly shout 'You are going to love it here' to all the tourists coming off planes from America or elsewhere in Europe or wherever.
No, "Welcome to the home of aviation finance" shouts at the visitor: "This place is DULL."
Now, I know that's not true of Dublin or Ireland generally. I also know that (rental car companies aside) the people involved in tourism here know what they're doing. So as I was walking back to my car I was thinking to myself, "What the heck is going on with that sign?"
Well, it didn't take long for me to find out. A Reuters report from Jan 19 informed me that this week aircraft finance companies are "holding their own mini-Davos gathering in Dublin," the "Global Air-finance Conference 2014."
That sounded like good news to me, but I was curious as to why Dublin, although I wasn't all that surprised that they'd chosen Dublin.
I was aware of the background: 20 years ago aviation finance was a big part of the Irish story, even though I had never heard of it until I moved here nor did I have much of an idea as to what it was. But in the early 90s, the aircraft leasing industry was regularly in the Irish news, mostly thanks to the fact that the biggest aviation finance company in the world was an Irish company called Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA).
GPA had invented the airplane leasing business and by the early 90s they were generating huge profits and lots of glowing headlines. They were the darlings of the new Irish economy. Then it all came crashing down.
I don't remember exactly what went wrong, but the first Gulf War and a failed market flotation figured in the story. Then followed the usual headlines of decline and disappointment.
If you wanted to you could see in the GPA story a precursor for the story of the whole Irish Celtic Tiger economy, only 15 years in advance.
I knew the GPA story of the 90s, but what I didn't know is that some little piece of GPA survived and eventually grew into a company called AerCap. Last week AerCap bought American aircraft leasing company ILFC, making AerCap the world's largest aircraft leasing company. It's an incredible good news story, one I need to know more about.
AerCap's success is tremendous and makes a good argument for Ireland being the "home of aviation finance." However, there's more than AerCap going on here.
The Irish Stock Exchange announced this week that they are going to establish a new exchange – one totally dedicated to "aviation industry debt instruments." The announcement was welcomed by Boeing among others.
More good news from the aviation finance industry and, at least as far as I'm concerned, most of it coming from well below the radar. The timeframe is a bit long, but we can all hope that the Irish economy can mirror the successful rebirth of the aircraft finance business in Ireland. The Celtic Phoenix rising from the ashes of the Celtic Tiger's funeral pyre.
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