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Steven Udvar-Hazy: Farnborough's biggest dealer?

From Richard Quest and Teo Kermeliotis, CNN
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New leasing company buying big
  • Steven Udvar-Hazy has signed multi-billion dollar deals with airplane makers at Farnborough
  • Budapest-born Udvar-Hazy is credited with creating aircraft leasing industry
  • His latest venture plans to create a fleet of more than 100 aircrafts by spring 2011

Farnborough, England (CNN) -- Spending big to buy airplanes by the dozen is nothing new for Steven Udvar-Hazy: In the last 37 years, the aircraft leasing pioneer has purchased thousands of planes, which were then rented to the majority of the world's major carriers.

And he did it again this year at the arena of the 47th Farnborough International Airshow.

Udvar-Hazy, who last February quit industry leader International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC), has emerged as the biggest buyer at the world's largest gathering for the aviation industry, placing orders valued in the region of $10 billion.

On Monday, his four-month old company, Air Lease Corporation (ALC), struck a deal with Airbus for 51 planes of the A320 family, while one day later Hazy's spending spree continued with the order of up to 60 Next-Generation Boeing 737-800 models and up to 20 E-190 jets from Embraer.

Udvar-Hazy's dynamic comeback at Farnborough has been widely described as one of the most encouraging signs that the recession-battered aviation industry is finally bouncing back.

In aviation we're all optimists and we all look forward, we can't look back.
--Steven Udvar-Hazy

"The airline industry is going to go through a tremendous growth period," Udvar-Hazy told CNN from Farnborough. "There are parts of the world that are growing in traffic, double digit rates every year. The airlines have to replace a lot of aging aircraft, so we think this is a dynamic business with huge opportunities."

For his new venture, Hazy managed to secure about $1.3 billion of equity capital and $2 billion of committed debt financing to fund a series of aircraft acquisitions.

ALC said that it aims to create a fleet of more than 100 commercial jet planes by spring 2011.

"His market timing has always been impeccable for ordering, and I sure hope he's right because we're ordering some too," Norm Liu, president and chief executive of General Electric Co.'s aircraft leasing unit, said in a Bloomberg report.

Budapest-born Udvar-Hazy is regarded as one of the most influential figures in commercial air flight and the creator of the multibillion-worth aircraft leasing industry.

In 1973, he founded ILFC, which in the following years grew to become the market's dominant leasing company. Udvar-Hazy sold ILFC to AIG in 1990 for $1.3 billion but continued to run it until last February when he stepped down amid ongoing liquidity issues in the wake of the insurer's near-collapse.

However, retirement was not yet an option for the 64-year-old billionaire, who was ranked 363rd on the World's Richest People list in 2010 by Forbes.

"I went home and I was retired for about three hours. And my wife said, 'get out of the house, do something productive.' So, I formed a new company and we got to work. And it is very exciting," he told CNN.

When asked about last February's events and having to part ties with the company that he created and built into an industry giant, Udvar-Hazy said that there was no other option.

"It is tragic," he asserts. "AIG was a great company, ILFC is a great company, and unfortunately circumstances came about that none of us had control over. I felt the time was right to create a new company that is completely from a clean sheet of paper. And none of these legacy issues of the past."

But for the aviation visionary, who pilots his own Gulfstream V business jet, there is no time for resentment or living in the past.

"I'm not bitter, I'm looking forward," Udvar-Hazy says with a smile. "In aviation we're all optimists and we all look forward, we can't look back -- we learn from our experiences but there is no bitterness."