Wednesday 22nd February 2017

With the right skills, careers can quickly take off in the aircraft leasing sector

As world leader in aircraft leasing, Ireland is not a bad place to be if you have your heart set on a career in this highly specialised sector.

With approximately 60% of all aircraft-leasing deals managed from Ireland, the numbers are huge, and the companies that mastermind them are keen to ensure that they are handled by employees with the right skills and experience.

For some roles, anyone without prior experience in the industry need not apply. Yet there are also many roles in aircraft leasing that are attainable for people with transferable skills from other industries.

Keith Garry is managing director of Peak Performance, a recruitment company that specialises in the sector. He said that many jobs in aircraft leasing are filled by people from other industries as long as they are skilled in areas such as pricing, credit, financial accounting, structured finance, contracts management or technical inspection.

“These are multimillion-dollar assets, so creditworthiness and credit risk is an important area,” he said. “Sometimes people come across from the banks or from private equity research. Then you have pricing analysts; aircraft leasing companies will often look for someone with two to five years’ experience in banking or financial products pricing.”In terms of financial accounting, ideal recruits are those who have worked for one of the big accounting firms and done aircraft leasing audits, for example. And there is, of course, a big legal element.

“The legal aspect of aircraft leasing is quite intense; you have negotiations, contracts, documentation. Most people would have been trained up by a legal firm that had an aviation or asset finance division.”

Technical staff are also in demand, particularly those who have had exposure to the transition or delivery of aircraft, such as employees of an airline or third-party asset management company.

The biggest players in Ireland are AerCap, SMBC Aviation Capital, Avolon and GE Capital Aviation Services, although Garry said more private equity companies are getting involved. Many of these are Chinese lessors, and while just a few have a presence in Ireland, Garry predicts this will double in the next year or so.

In terms of pay, aircraft leasing is — at entry level — fairly comparable with other industries. “Once you gain experience and prove yourself, there’s generally a reasonable uplift in the first couple of years,” said Garry. “This industry is investment-driven, and sometimes you might see a different bonus structure — slightly higher than some financial sectors.”

For those coming from outside aviation, there are a number of courses around the country specifically targeting aircraft leasing. The latest is the MSc in aviation finance at the UCD Smurfit School. There are also diplomas in aviation leasing and finance from the Law Society, the University of Limerick or the National Aviation Institute. UCD and IT Carlow offer degrees in aviation law and aviation management respectively, while Carlow also offers technical aircraft management and aircraft acquisition and finance qualifications.

SMBC Aviation Capital runs a graduate recruitment programme. Now in its fourth year, it takes about six graduates annually. Competition is intense, however, with the company receiving 400 applications for its most recent intake.

Mary Carty, head of HR at SMBC Aviation Capital, said while not all graduates had experience in aircraft leasing, most would have at least had some exposure to the sector.

Applicants must have an undergraduate degree to a 2:1 level.

“We take people from all sorts of backgrounds,” said Carty. “It’s more about their core competencies and their desire to work in aircraft leasing.”

Carty said the graduate programme allows SMBC to cultivate its own talent in a specialised industry.

For Carty, the appeal of working in aircraft leasing lies in the “can-do attitude” that characterises its employees, and the mobility within companies. “People who go into aircraft leasing don’t tend to leave,” she said. “They might come into one area, such as credit, then move into commercial negotiation. There are a lot of opportunities.”

Another big player on the aircraft leasing scene, AerCap, also has employees from various backgrounds. “We have people in our treasury team who started their careers in KMPG as trainee accountants, while others had careers in engineering and law and now have roles in our technical and leasing teams,” said Theresa Murray, vice-president, group HR, AerCap.

She said AerCap’s structure is non-hierarchical, thereby allowing employees to contribute to projects and get exposure and access to senior management.

“As a career option the aircraft leasing industry is exciting, fast-paced and dynamic,” she said. “Our employees have the opportunity to travel across the globe to visit airline customers and aircraft and engine manufacturers.

“For example, our portfolio team could be visiting Boeing in Seattle or Airbus in Toulouse while our leasing executives could be visiting an airline customer in Hong Kong,” she said.

Claire McWalter, who works on the commercial negotiation team at SMBC Aviation Capital, has been involved in aviation finance for more than 20 years. Having originally qualified as a solicitor, she started out in the aviation group of McCann FitzGerald. Guinness Peat Aviation (GPA) was still going strong at that stage and was a client of the legal firm.

The whole aircraft leasing business appealed hugely to McWalter. She went on secondment to an aircraft leasing client, and stayed. After a couple of stints at other aircraft leasing firms, she came to SMBC Aviation Capital two and a half years ago.

McWalter and her team ensure that the details of any new deal are translated into legally binding documentation. “My colleagues are all highly skilled and specialised. There are lawyers, accountants, engineers, analysts, architects and psychologists here, and all are experts in their field.”

She said there is great scope to move between teams; some of her colleagues have moved from commercial negotiation to airline marketing, and others from business analysis to commercial negotiation, for example. “No two days are the same,” she said. “You could be buying, selling, leasing or financing aircraft, and it’s a constant learning curve.”

Experience in the industry is a plus, said McWalter, although graduates shouldn’t lose heart if their qualifications are in a different area. “The important thing is to have a good skill set,” she said.

One of AerCap’s 200 employees at its Dublin HQ, Eoin Fitzpatrick, director, engineering services, has been with the company for four years.

Having worked in various roles in Lufthansa Technik (formerly Shannon Aerospace) and Aer Lingus, Fitzpatrick moved to a company that supported leasing companies that were acquiring, reconfiguring and transitioning wide-body aircraft.

He completed an aircraft maintenance traineeship and obtained an EASA aircraft maintenance engineer’s licence. He then completed an engineering degree, and is now a part-time MSc student in the aviation finance programme at UCD Smurfit School.

He said working at AerCap brings him into contact with “the most knowledgeable and experienced leaders” in the aircraft leasing industry.

“Every day brings new challenges, and we continuously look to what is coming in the future and strive to add value to what we do,” he said. “Put yourself forward, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and take on new challenges.”

Written by: Sorcha Corcoran - The Sunday Times


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