Are Airlines Really Trying to “Poach” Each Other’s Aircraft?

By Spyros Georgilidakis | February 15, 2024

GOL Airlines in Brazil is accusing LATAM of attempting to “poach” its aircraft from lessors. And this isn’t unique to these two airlines!

To many, it may seem that the aviation industry has mostly recovered from the worst effects of the pandemic. But problems and imbalances remain, and will likely continue to feature for some time. In many competitive markets, there is a scarcity of both pilots and aircraft.

Photo: Claudio Luiz Castro

In January this year, Brazil’s GOL Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A day later, LATAM Airlines sent a letter to aircraft lessors that owned GOL-operated jets, informing them that they (LATAM) were interested in leasing 737NG and 737 MAX aircraft.

This is why GOL accused LATAM of trying to poach its aircraft. At the moment, LATAM’s single-aisle aircraft fleet is all-Airbus: A319s, A320s, and A321s. The airline has 256 Airbus single-aisle aircraft in total. Currently, all of its widebodies are Boeings.

Are Airlines Really Trying to “Poach” Each Other’s Aircraft?
Photo: Rafael Rodrigues

This makes LATAM’s reported attempt to poach Boeing aircraft a bit perplexing. When a judge pointed out that the timing of LATAM’s letter to lessors was suspect, a lawyer for the airline admitted that this was “not purely a coincidence”.

But WHY Try To Poach Aircraft?

But the lawyer continued to argue that LATAM is generally looking for opportunities to acquire more single-aisle aircraft. He asserted that the move wasn’t “a very concerted attack” on GOL, as GOL had previously argued.

Are Airlines Really Trying to “Poach” Each Other’s Aircraft?
Photo: Higor Prestes

Aside from aircraft, GOL had also accused LATAM of trying to poach its pilots. This was because LATAM had also placed ads in Brazil, looking for pilots with type ratings for Boeing aircraft. The presiding judge decided that there was no evidence that this was a specific effort to find GOL 737 pilots.

GOL has also faced difficulties in acquiring new aircraft, to support its operations. A reason for this aircraft scarcity is that aircraft manufacturers have dramatically slowed down aircraft production. Airbus delivered 735 jets last year, a pandemic-era record. But in 2019, it delivered 863 aircraft.

Photo: Lukas Souza

This and the 737 MAX groundings in 2019, go some way to explain why airlines and some lessors are trying to poach (or otherwise recover) aircraft. Lessor Avolon believes that there are 3,000 fewer airliners in service today, compared to what lessors and the airlines planned for, in 2019.

Early aircraft retirements in 2020 don’t help now, either. Avolon also notes that some airlines are buying aircraft when the lease expires, rather than renewing it. This suggests that these airlines don’t expect the situation to settle soon. Airlines trying to poach each other’s aircraft could become a theme of this era.


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