Aircraft leasing firm SMBC Aviation Capital has agreed to buy an additional 14 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft with a low-cost carrier configuration, with deliveries due to begin later this year, it said today.

The company, a major Boeing customer, has 20 of the aircraft currently placed with customers, as well as existing commitments for another 87 aircraft, meaning the latest order will bring the total to 121.

Last year during the grounding of the MAX and at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic the company deferred delivery of 68 of those jets by four years until 2025-2027 and indicated it had not ruled out cancellations.

"We are pleased to have concluded an agreement with Boeing for the purchase of 14 low-cost carrier configured 737 MAX aircraft which is an aircraft we are seeing increased customer demand for following its successful return to service," chief executive Peter Barrett said.

Aircraft leasing firms, which control over 40% of the global fleet, are among the largest MAX customers.

Industry sources told Reuters last week that Boeing had drawn up preliminary plans to boost 737 MAX output to as many as 42 jets a month in fall 2022 from single digits now as it prepared for a recovery from overlapping safety and Covid-19 crises.

Production was halted in 2019 after Boeing's fastest-selling model was grounded in the wake of fatal crashes.

It resumed last May at a fraction of its original pace while Boeing navigated regulatory approvals and a fragile supply chain.

SMBC Aviation Capital is owned by a consortium including Japan's Sumitomo and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group.

It also said today that the business generated profits of $15.2m for the year to the end of March.

It said this continued its 20 years record of operating profitability, despite the "worst year" the industry has ever experienced.

During the year, the company said that shareholder support increased by $1.2 billion to $11.8 billion - this comprised $3.1 billion equity and $8.7 billion debt.

It had available liquidity of $4.9 billion at year end, it added.

SMBC said it closed $3 billion of new transactions with leading airline in the 12 month period, includuing EasyJet, Wizz, Delta, Southwest and Peach . It said this equated to 29% of its pre-Covid portfolio.

Peter Barrett, CEO of SMBC Aviation Capital, said the company is strongly positioned to be a leading beneficiary of the aviation recovery now taking place.

"We believe that 2021 will be an inflection point for the industry and that our focus on the newest technology, lower carbon emitting, narrowbody aircraft types places us on the right
side of customer demand for the short-haul and low-cost carrier led recovery that is underway," Mr Barrett said.

"As airlines focus on repairing their balance sheets, we expect to see increasing demand for our leasing product and we are strongly positioned to emerge from the crisis with
renewed momentum and seize further opportunities that are aligned with our long-term strategy," he added.