GE, AerCap join air leasing businesses in $30 billion deal

General Electric is combining its aircraft leasing business with Ireland’s AerCap Holdings in a deal valued at more than $30 billion, a big step in what has become a six year odyssey to reshape the one-time sprawling, global conglomerate.

By pushing GE Capital Aviation Services, or GCAS, into a separate business, GE is essentially closing the books on GE Capital, the financial wing of of General Electric that nearly sank the entire company during the 2008 financial crisis.

“Today marks GE’s transformation to a more focused, simpler, and stronger industrial company,” Chairman and CEO Larry Culp said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

AerCap will pay about $24 billion in cash for GCAS, and GE will take an approximately 46% ownership stake in the combined company, and $1 billion paid in AerCap notes or cash at closing.

GE’s Capital Aviation Services and AerCap are two of the biggest aircraft leasers in the world with more than 2,500 aircraft between them. The companies lease commercial aircraft to hundreds of airlines around the world.

The global pandemic sent shockwaves through the entire air travel industry, and the deal announced Wednesday could have extensive ramifications.

It could mean more pressure on plane manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus if beleaguered airlines chose not to buy planes. It could also mean some breathing room for airlines that are reeling from plunging air travel, if they can cut near-term costs through leases.

A combined company would in all likelihood be able to lower its own costs, and extend them to customers.

As for GE, it said Wednesday that it will be able to lower its debt by about $30 billion, bringing total debt reduction since the end of 2018 to more than $70 billion.

In 2015, GE announced a radical transformation of the company, vowing to shed billions in assets to better focus on the company’s industrial core, namely power, aviation, renewable energy and healthcare.

With the new company formed with GCAS, the largest remaining operation in GE Capital, General Electric has largely excised what many industry analysts viewed as a risk. That belief existed before the financial crises that almost brought Wall Street to its knees more than a decade ago.

GE went through a series of upheavals following the crisis.

Longtime CEO Jeff Immelt, who had built GE into a massive conglomerate that many came to believe had grown to complex, was ousted in 2017. He was replaced by John Flannery, who lasted just one year in the job.

Culp took the job in October 2018, vowing to continue the transformation of GE.

“This is the right time to further accelerate our transformation,” Culp said. “This action will enable us to significantly de-risk GE and continue on our path to being a well-capitalized company.”

The remainder of GE Capital, including Energy Financial Services and its run-off insurance operations, will become part of GE Corporate when the transaction closes.

GE gets two directors to newly created seats on AerCap’s board. The company also announced on Wednesday a reverse stock split at a ratio of 1-for-8 and a corresponding proportionate reduction in the number of authorized shares of common stock.

The deal is expected to close in nine months to a year. It still needs approval from AerCap shareholders.

Shares fell almost 4% at the opening bell.