What the F*** is a Wet Lease?

Mergers/Finance, Who the F*&@ Is

When SAS started talking about how they would actually replace those Q400s they’re ditching, I noticed plenty of discussion about wet leases and dry leases. That made me realize it was a great time for the latest installment in the far too infrequent “What the F***” series.

The basic idea of a lease is pretty simple. An airline pays the owner of an aircraft for the ability to use that aircraft in the operation of their flights. Usually, the owner is another airline or an aircraft leasing company that specifically buys airplanes in order to lease them out to others. But there are a bunch of different types of leases, and that’s where it starts to get confusing. Below, you’ll see a handy chart showing what is included in the different types of leases.

Aircraft Crew Maintenance Insurance
Wet Lease Yes Yes Yes Yes
Damp Lease Yes No Yes Yes
Dry Lease Yes No No No

So those are the basics. Why am I bothering to write about this? Well, as a passenger, you might find yourself on planes in some of these situations and it may seem kind of strange. Now you’ll know why.

Aircraft on a wet lease (also called an ACMI lease) tend to be the easiest ones to spot. The reason for that is because the crews are actually employees of the aircraft owner instead of the airline you bought your ticket on. There have been a handful of airlines recently in the US that have operated exclusively under a wet lease. Most of you probably haven’t heard of them, but SkyValue and (the last attempt at) Western were really just a brand name being operated by a different airline entirely.

Airlines in general tend to consider wet leases for more short term needs. That’s why SAS is looking to replace their Q400s in the next couple of months with planes operated by another carrier. These types of leases are certainly much more common in Europe than here in the US. Airlines will often lease extra planes during the busy summer season and then send them back in the winter over there. That’s when you see airplanes wearing funky paint schemes because it’s in a hybrid of the owner and the lessee.

Then we have dry and damp leases. For a customer, the difference between a damp lease (which is rare) and a dry lease is virtually indistinguishable, because on both aircraft the crews are from the airline from which you bought your ticket. Most of the time you’ll never know if your plane is leased or owned by the airline unless you bother looking it up. (You can look up US-based aircraft here.) Dry leases tend to be for longer periods of time than wet leases for obvious reasons. You don’t want to hire and invest in training for crews and maintenance personnel if you’re just going to have to let them go in a couple of months.

If you’d like to learn more, I found this page that can get you into even more detail.

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2 comments on “What the F*** is a Wet Lease?

  1. I believe this term was taken from “wet” meaning “fuel included.” In private aviation if you rent a plane from your club it’s usually listed something like “$100 wet” meaning fuel is included, and if you fuel up at another airport they’ll reimburse you. Dry means it’s similar to a rental car in that you are expected to top it off at your own expense.

    In that sense wet is best for the person leasing (or in this airline leasing) as it’s less to manage and deal with. You just pick it up and fly it.


  2. To further mess up your world, there are franchise agreements. Under these tong-term deals, an airline operates seamlessly as another air carrier. The best (and possibly only) example of this is at British Airways. The company may be ending the practice but for years it has had a handful of airlines operating services on behalf of British Airways under the BA brand. One example is South Africa’s Comair, which provides British Airways’ branded service out of South Africa to domestic and regional destinations.

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