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Q&A: AIG's Aircraft-Leasing Division CFO

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As American International Group (AIG) continues to move through its long restructuring process, its airline leasing business has seen its fortunes shift a few times.

The International Lease Finance Corp. subsidiary is the largest player in the airline-leasing space by asset value and has a strong book of business. As a result, it was initially considered one of the most sensible assets to sell in order to repay AIG's sizeable government debt.

However, the credit-market freeze that pre-dated AIG's bailout in 2008 bled well into the following year. Potential buyers weren't offering competitive bids - both because they couldn't find financing for an $8 billion business and because the outlook for leasing demand was shaky.

>>GE, AIG See Aircraft-Leasing Competition Heat Up

The most high-profile attempt to remove ILFC from AIG's sprawling franchise came when its founder, Steven Udvar-Házy, tried to form a coalition of financiers to take the company private. It ultimately failed, with Udvar-Házy leaving his CEO role to start up a smaller competitor called Air Lease Corp.

Meanwhile, ILFC's balance sheet condition became increasingly tenuous.

The Los Angeles-based firm held $26.2 billion in outstanding debt at Dec. 31. Collateral constraints were hindering ILFC's ability to purchase new jets and fund operations. With limited access to unsecured debt markets, and passengers still grounded, it was unclear how ILFC would fare.

But within a few months of Udvar-Házy's departure, ILFC had a new management team in place. Since Henri Courpron took over as CEO on May 19, ILFC has restructured nearly $9 billion worth of debt in two separate transactions. It has paid back all of its taxpayer borrowings and freed up $12.5 billion worth of liquidity to fund operations.

The business also appears to be expanding, rather than retrenching, by capitalizing on depressed asset prices to get more bang from its buck. Although ILFC announced a deal to sell 53 planes to Macquarie earlier this year, it followed that up with another deal to add 115 new planes to its fleet between now and 2019.

Demand and profitability for the airline sector has picked up sharply in recent months, indicating better prospects for ILFC as well. ILFC gets its aircraft from Boeing (BS) or Airbus, then leases them to airlines across the globe under contracts that can last two-to-three years on the short end, or over a decade under longer-term agreements.

Given ILFC's current position, AIG has decided to retain the business for the foreseeable future.

Fred Cromer, who took over the role of CFO at ILFC in March after serving the same role at ExpressJet (XJT), discussed the recent company's recent debt restructuring and other issues in an interview with TheStreet on Tuesday. The following is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity and conciseness.

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