AERGO, a privately held aircraft-leasing company based in Dublin, Ireland, has opened an office in Johannesburg with plans to expand operations in Africa.

It is looking at options to partner with South African entities to provide leasing solutions to South African Airways (SAA).

"We are looking at playing a role in that programme," Christo Kok, Aergo chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and also CE of the new Johannesburg office, said yesterday. "It would be a significant move into Airbus."

The company deals both in passenger and cargo leasing, and hopes the African market will become 40% of its business within the next three years, with Southern Africa making up 15%-20% of that.

"There is quite a lot of fleet expansion that needs to happen in Southern Africa," Mr Kok said. State-owned airlines in SA, Namibia and Zimbabwe needed to expand or replace their fleets, he said.

Aergo mainly focuses on Boeing aircraft of the single-aisle, narrow-body variety carrying between 90 and 168 passengers.

It already provides SAA Cargo, SA Airlink and BA Comair with planes, and leases engines to discount carrier 1time. "We also plan to lease an aircraft to a new (South African) operator starting in March - Velvet Sky," he said.

The company is busy buying a package of nine aircraft from one of the big international lessors. Mr Kok said these were likely to be deployed in Africa, South America or both.

Mr Kok, who was previously CE of South African-based Safair Operations until its sale last year by Aergo, said any move into Airbus aircraft would be limited to A320s, with a capacity of 189 seats.

In 2008, Aergo bought the Safair group of companies from the Imperial group, and later sold Safair to another Irish aviation services company, ASL.

Andrew Millard, CE of Via Capital, a corporate finance and debt arranger for the transport industry, said yesterday there were a lot of growth prospects in SA.

Aergo has a fleet of more than 40 aircraft, both owned and managed, on lease to more than 14 operators, and it is ranked among the top 20 aircraft-leasing firms globally.

allixm@bdfm.co.za