SINGAPORE Avolon Holdings, part of China's acquisitive HNA Group, is nearing a deal to buy the aircraft leasing assets of U.S. lender CIT Group (CIT.N) for between $3 billion and $4 billion, people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Asian lessors, led by cash-rich Chinese banks, are spending billions of dollars to expand in the $228 billion global aircraft leasing sector that offers long-term revenue in dollars and accounts for some 40 percent of the world's airline fleet.
With the purchase, Avolon would add about 470 owned, managed and on-order aircraft to its fleet of 440-plus planes.
This would make it the world's third biggest lessor behind AerCap Holdings (AER.N) and General Electric's (GE.N) GE Capital Aviation Services, which still dominate the sector.
An announcement could come as early as this week, said the people, who declined to be named as talks are confidential. They added that negotiations were at an advanced stage but a final deal has not been agreed.
The aircraft leasing arm of China's Ping An Insurance Group (601318.SS), and Century Tokyo Leasing (8439.T), which has joint ventures with CIT, were among those competing for the aircraft assets of CIT, Reuters previously reported..
Avolon, Century Tokyo Leasing and Ping An declined to comment. CIT's U.S.-based spokesman could not be reached for comment outside normal business hours.
CIT has said it is looking to sell or spin-off its Commercial Air unit by the end of the year as it focuses on domestic banking.
Part of Chinese aviation and shipping conglomerate HNA bought Irish lessor Avolon for about $2.5 billion last year, building on a series of acquisitions that HNA has completed in the past few years as it builds up its global presence.
Avolon became a fully-owned, indirect subsidiary of Bohai Financial 000415.SZ in January 2016, and is part of HNA's extensive interests in the aviation sector spanning stakes in 20 airlines and nine airports in China, and other leasing firms.
CIT, which includes Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) among its more than 100 customers, kicked off the sale process earlier this year and attracted bids from more than a dozen suitors, the sources said.
(Additional reporting by Mike Stone in New York, Taiga Uranaka in Tokyo and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong; editing by Lisa Jucca and David Clarke)