Air Transport Services Group, inc (ATSG) Q2 2021 Earnings Call Transcript


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Air Transport Services Group, inc (NASDAQ:ATSG)
Q2 2021 Earnings Call
Aug 6, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Welcome to the Second Quarter 2021 Air Transport Services Group, Inc. Earnings Conference Call. My name is Vanessa, and I will be your operator for today’s call. [Operator Instructions]

I will now turn the call over to Mr. Joe Payne, Chief Legal Officer. Sir, you may begin.

Joe PayneChief Legal Officer

Good morning, and welcome to our second quarter 2021 earnings conference call. We issued our earnings release yesterday after the market closed. It’s on our website, atsginc.com. Let me begin by advising you that during the course of this call, we will make projections and other forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results and other future events may differ materially from those we describe here. These forward-looking statements are based on information, plans and estimates as of the date of this call.

Air Transport Services Group undertakes no obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect changes in underlying assumptions, factors, new information or other changes. These factors include, but are not limited to the following, which relate to the current COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn: The pandemic may continue for a longer period, or its effect on commercial and military passenger flying may be more substantial than we currently expect.

It may also disrupt our workforce and staffing capability. Our ability to access airports and maintenance facilities, our customers’ creditworthiness, and the continuing ability of our vendors and third-party service providers to maintain customary service levels. Other factors could also impact the market demand for our assets and services. These include our operating airlines’ ability to maintain on-time service and control costs; the cost and timing with respect to which we are able to purchase and modify aircraft to a cargo configuration; fluctuations in ATSG’s traded share price and in interest rates, which may result in mark-to-market charges on certain financial instruments; the number, timing, and scheduled routes of our aircraft deployments to customers.

Our ability to remain in compliance with key agreements with customers, lenders and government agencies; changes in general economic and/or industry-specific conditions; and other factors as contained from time to time in our filings with the SEC, including the Form 10-Q we will file on Monday. We will also refer to non-GAAP financial measures from continuing operations, including adjusted earnings, adjusted earnings per share, adjusted pre-tax earnings and adjusted EBITDA.

Management believes these metrics are useful to investors in assessing ATSG’s financial position and results. These non-GAAP measures are not meant to be a substitute for our GAAP financials and we advise you to refer to the reconciliations to GAAP measures, which are included in our earnings release and on our website.

And now I’ll turn the call over to Rich Corrado, our President and CEO, for his opening comments.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Joe, and welcome, everyone. I think it’s fair to say that ATSG made significant progress during the second quarter this year. Our businesses across the board improved from the first quarter. Our adjusted earnings and EBITDA exceeded our own targets and many of yours. We leased three more Boeing 767-300 freighters to external customers in the quarter on top of the five we added in the first quarter. That’s halfway to our 2021 goal of at least 16 new leases this year. seven of the 11 767s we promised to Amazon this year are now in the air, and we’re flying one that Amazon owns itself and has assigned to us.

Our airline’s running up 26% more cargo block hours during the quarter versus a year ago, and 11% more than in the first quarter. COVID-19 is still affecting our airline’s passenger and combi operations, but the effect on our recurring passenger operations is less than it was in the first quarter. We’re ahead of the pace we set for achieving our 2021 guidance for adjusted EBITDA, which remains at least $525 million. We’ve assumed that the second half would be stronger than the first, and that’s what we intend to deliver. I’ll have more to say about our outlook shortly.

Quint Turner, our CFO, is ready to review our second quarter numbers. Quint?

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Thanks, Rich, and welcome to everyone on the call this morning. On a consolidated basis, our revenues were up a solid 8% to $410 million in the second quarter. The principal factors were more leases and more air express flying particularly for our customers, Amazon and DHL. Our GAAP earnings of $80 million or $1.17 per share basic were strongly positive versus a year ago when a $110 million noncash loss from revaluing warrant liabilities offset our positive operating results.

We also recorded $30 million in second quarter after-tax benefits from federal pandemic relief assistance under the payroll support program versus $8 million in the second quarter last year. Results for the second quarter last year also included a $39 million charge to write down aircraft asset values, primarily related to four 757 freighters that have been retired. three of those four were sold in July. On an adjusted basis, our second quarter earnings were $4 million lower than a year ago at $28 million or $0.35 per share diluted, but they are up $15 million from the first quarter.

The primary driver of the decline in adjusted earnings versus last year’s second quarter was decreased passenger revenues from our airlines due to pandemic effects. Our adjusted earnings exclude, among other items, the effects of quarterly mark-to-market changes in the value of warrants and other financial instruments as well as pandemic-related government grants to our airlines. The diluted share count used to calculate adjusted earnings per share for both the second quarter of 2021 and year ago period reflect Amazon’s decision to cash exercise warrants in May of this year.

Interest expense decreased $1 million for the quarter. Rates on our credit facility balances and lower debt levels overall were principal factors. Depreciation and amortization expense increased $7 million for the quarter for more aircraft in service. Our adjusted EBITDA was $128 million, $2 million higher than a year ago. That is also a solid $22 million from the first quarter. On a segment basis, our aircraft leasing business, CAM, performed very well. CAM’s pre-tax earnings increased 15% for the quarter to $23 million. CAM owned 56 Boeing 767-300 freighter aircraft in service as of June 30, up from 40 a year earlier. CAM completed the modification of two feedstock 767s to freighters during the quarter.

CAM bought eight 767-300 feedstock aircraft for conversion during the quarter. That brought the total 767 purchases to 12 for the first half. Because of continued strong leasing demand, CAM now expects to acquire five more 767s in the second half, along with its first Airbus 321-200. Revenues for our ACMI Services segment, which includes our two cargo airlines and Omni Air, our passenger airline decreased $14 million during the second quarter to $273 million. We had a surge of charter demand at Omni last year when the pandemic shut down scheduled carriers. Those higher-margin flights drove strong results for Omni in the second and third quarter a year ago.

Since then, passenger charter opportunities have declined, but military flying has rebounded from the first quarter. Billable block hours were up 12% overall. On a GAAP basis, pre-tax earnings for ACMI Services totaled $45 million during the second quarter, up from $30 million a year ago. Excluding federal grants realized in each period, earnings were $6 million, down $13 million. On a sequential basis, ACMI services earnings, excluding grants, improved by $13 million from our first quarter results, due principally to additional flying for express package networks.

Omni Air has received $83 million in federal payroll support payments this year. These funds require Omni to refrain from involuntary furloughs of its flight crews and other personnel at least through this September. Our earnings on the other activities line were $3 million, a sharp improvement from a year ago, and were driven by more fuel sales and gateway services. Additionally, maintenance operations for external customers were positive for the quarter. As we’ve said in our release, the combination of our add-on notes offering, bank credit facility amendment and cash from Amazon’s warrant exercise strengthened an already strong balance sheet during the quarter.

We were able to pay off our $615 million term loan balance early while also increasing our revolver capacity. These changes give us significant access to capital going forward, maximize flexibility by reducing secured debt and extend our maturities at favorable long-term fixed rates. We ended the quarter with a total debt to trailing EBITDA leverage ratio of 2.4 times under our credit agreement. With that summary of our financial and operating results for the quarter.

I’ll turn it back to Rich for some comments on our outlook. Rich?

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Quint. ATSG’s business, as we like to say, begins with the aircraft lease. It’s the foundation for everything that comes after and the source of our incredible power to generate long-term cash flows. Demand for our leased midsized freighter 767s continues to be very strong, as reflected by CAM’s 18% revenue growth and growing lease order backlog. The pandemic continues to affect passenger travel, so we’re fortunate that the vast majority of our cash flows stem from the cargo side.

Our cargo airlines performed especially well in the second quarter, generating good growth from busier schedules and expansion of some transatlantic routes for DHL. We expect our ACMI Services segment to continue to improve during the second half. That improvement will continue to depend on the restoration of revenue streams that the pandemic has curtailed but also operating efficiencies at our airlines. As we issued guidance of at least $525 million for adjusted EBITDA this year, we noted that our planned call for it to generate approximately 43%, or about $225 million of the total in the first half.

We ended the half a bit better than that. Our strong second quarter leaves me increasingly confident that we can exceed our own expectations. In the meantime, our freighter leasing and flight operations for Air Express networks are growing at double-digit rates. We’re on track with our aggressive schedule to lease at least 16 767-300 freighters this year, and at least 10 have already been specifically assigned to customers in 2022, including the multi-aircraft lease deployments to Amerijet, Star Air in Europe, and MasAir in Mexico and the last of a four aircraft lease order from DHL.

Separately, we’re also deploying three returned 767-200 freighters this year under 5-year leases to Ryder Airways, Star Air and Sky Taxi. We’re currently stacked with orders for customers who want to lease freighters from us as soon as we can get them. That’s why we’ve decided to accelerate the expansion of our footprint in the dedicated cargo aircraft market, first and foremost, by acquiring more 767 feedstock to supply customers with freighters next year, but also by expanding into additional freighter types. We have accelerated our plans for CAM to add its first Airbus A321 freighter to its lease portfolio with lease deployments next year of at least three aircraft.

When available for lease, our A321 will offer a large standard payload along with an operator-friendly design and will be equipped with engines that deliver fuel efficiency comparable to the most popular Boeing 737 models. We have agreed to purchase our first three A321 aircraft, one this year and two in 2022, put them through the conversion process at our PEMCO facilities in Tampa, and then make them available for lease next year. We’re also pursuing additional A321s for purchase next year.

At the same time, we are making plans to extend our leadership position as the world’s largest lessor of midsized freighter aircraft by adding another platform for growth, one that will have operational synergies with the A321. We recently acquired rights to 20 Airbus A330 conversion slots from Germany’s EFW for aircraft that would begin conversion between mid-2023 through the end of 2025. While the 767-300 will remain our primary midsized freighter growth engine for many years to come, we also see the A330 as an attractive platform with customer appeal and fleet synergies with the A321.

We don’t anticipate investing in A330 feedstock until 2023. Though we believe securing conversion slots to be a wise investment, allowing us to continue to grow our leasing portfolio at attractive return targets while diversifying our lease options to customers. In fact, across three different aircraft types, we currently have rights to 67 freighter conversion slots with induction dates starting in 2022 through the end of 2025.

As you can see, we remain bullish on future opportunities in our cargo leasing space. With our devotion to service quality and expanding scope of service offerings, we anticipate CAM and our cargo airlines to remain the principal source for the midsized freighter capacity and flight support that our customers will require for their e-commerce-driven networks. That concludes our prepared remarks. Quint and I, along with Mike Berger, our Chief Commercial Officer, are ready to answer questions.

May we have the first question, operator?

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Yes, of course. [Operator Instructions] We have our first question from Jack Atkins with Stephens. Please go ahead, sir.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Okay, great. Good morning and congratulations on a great quarter.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jack.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Thanks, Jack.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

So I guess, Rich or Quint, if we can go back just to the guidance for a moment. They leased $525 million in EBITDA for this year. Rich, as you noted, you’re running ahead of plan through the first half of the year. What’s preventing you from maybe raising that floor as we sort of think about the full year? Is it just some uncertainty around the pace of recovery with military flying just given the Delta variant ramping up? Or sort of could you walk us through that kind of thought process?

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think, Jack, we’ve built some efficiencies and some already anticipated customer business coming back. A good example is one of — on these best customers, Vacations Hawaii is scheduled to start flying again in September, and they’ve been selling tickets, and they’re ready to ramp up their business again. And that’s planned to start in September, and that’s part of our guidance.

And so we — when we look at that business, as we sit here today, it’s scheduled to go, but the Delta variant is apparently still growing around the country. So we felt that given some of the still uncertainty around the pandemic, that it was more prudent — we’re real confident we’re going to hit our $525 million, at least $525 guidance number. But we thought it would be more prudent to not change guidance at this time. We will revisit that in next quarter’s call to see if it makes sense to do, given what we’ll know then about the pandemic.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Yes. And Jack, part of that, of course, is also military passenger decline.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Sure.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

And at least to the current date, subsequent to second quarter, it’s been — it’s continued to be good. So we’re optimistic, as you say, that we’ll finish above the $525 million. But as Rich says, you still got the Delta variant uncertainty that kind of keeps us from being able to give a more precise number at this time.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

No, that makes sense, and I think everyone understands that. So thanks for the color on that. And I guess, kind of shifting gears. With the commentary around the 67 — the rights of 67 conversion slots that you talked about a moment ago, and it was disclosed in the release last night. As you think about matching those 67 with customer indications of interest, how many of those 67 conversion slides would you say you feel pretty comfortable or spoken for at this point? Is there kind of a way to quantify that?

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think we’ve got great visibility for 2022 into 2023 where we were real confident everything that comes out of conversion and paint will go right into lease.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Okay.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

When you get out to 2024, we’ve got folks that are talking to us and want airplanes during that time, but we’re not in the LOIs or anything like that given that far out. The new platforms, we’ve got excellent interest in them. It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to talk about it, that we’ve got strong interest in those. Still our — we’re — the 767 remains our flagship backbone. And we’ve got commitments on all of our aircraft coming out 2022 as well as — 2023 is significantly done as well.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Okay.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

So it’s — when you look at years past, we wouldn’t be able to say we’ve got one to two years out locked up as far as customers looking for airplanes, but it’s certainly a different market today, which is great. So we’re looking to capitalize on that. We believe that what’s fueling it is the e-commerce growth around the world. And if you look at the market penetration of e-commerce, it’s still small into general retail, and that will — that growth will continue to happen and continue to expand that market.

There are parts of the market that are in their infancy. One is cross-border e-commerce, and that’s one where barriers are being worked on to come down, things like banking to do cross-border transactions. Customs clearance to do cross-border transactions are still a little clunky. So when those — as those barriers come down, that will accelerate the cross-border side of that. Of course, cross-border generally means airplanes.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

And remember, too, Jack, that the capex for significant amount of those slots will be committed to at a later date as we get even more precise visibility on specific demand.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Sure.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

But certainly, securing the slots based on having an order visibility that’s really good into 2023, I think, is a good decision. Mike?

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Just to maybe give you a little bit more detail around what Rich was referring to and why we’re so bullish on the growth piece of it. When you look at e-commerce and m-commerce, you look at a country like India, for example, less than 7% of their total retail sales is e-commerce, and they had 25% growth last year. Latin America had 63%, but yet, it was still only 4.7% of the overall retail sales.

So as you think about where our customers are and where we’ve looked to incrementally grow our existing customers as well as new customers, when you start thinking about Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and certainly, Mexico and Latin and Central America, where not only we’ve developed new customers, but we also have existing customers. That’s why we’re very prudent as we look out to ’24 and ’25.

Rich mentioned that our order book for ’22 is full, and we’re almost full for ’23. So we’re real confident that ’24 and ’25 will continue, especially when we see what the — where the volume and the engine is and as we continue to be an enabler for e-commerce throughout the world.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Okay. Fantastic. Last question, and I’ll turn it over. I believe part of your DHL contract comes up for renewal next year, especially around some of those 762s. Where are you in discussions around an extension there? Anything you could share about it? I know you’re probably hesitant to talk about a specific customer, but I think that is an area of interest for investors. I would imagine given the demand for aircraft in the market right now, it should be a fairly favorable conversation. But would just be curious if you could update us on that.

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Well, I can address the — maybe the return piece of it. We have taken our two 767-200s back already from DHL in the Middle East. And you heard in Rich’s comments that we redeployed those. We’ll have those out on lease, one for Sky Taxi, which will be delivered actually this week on a 5-year lease; and the second one is right behind that in terms of being — going under a C check that will go out to Raya, that’s completely under agreement.

So those first two returns that came back from DHL in the Middle East will go right back into service on 5-year leases. In regards to the upcoming agreements that are coming up for renewal in April 2022, we’re very confident at this point that we’ll see renewals on both the aircraft side as well as the CMI side.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

In fact, we believe, Jack, that we’ll be expanding the operating side of the equation with DHL in the United States. If you recall, ABX here is our main airline that flies for DHL in the U.S. We got the CBA contract with the pilots done in December to be effective in January. That’s really done a lot to give us growth opportunities for that airline.

And so as we’re working with DHL and going through both the extension of the leases in the U.S. and the extension of the operating agreement in the U.S., it’s really been beneficial to us. So we’re looking forward to getting that done and expanded — hopefully, we’ll announce it by the end of this year.

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Okay. Fantastic. That’s great news. Thanks for the time, guys.

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Thanks, Jack.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Jack.

Operator

And we have our next question from Frank Galanti with Stifel.

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

Great. Thanks very much for taking the question.

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Thanks, Frank.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

So I guess I wanted to follow up on Jack’s question on the 67 slots. Can you just give a sense for the financial obligations for taking those slots? And then kind of how fixed they are. Should there be kind of a weaker demand in those kind of out years?

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

There’s a deposit because naturally, you’re tying up the conversion house from marketing that slot and they’re trying to make plans in advance. So there’s a deposit — it’s a relatively — it’s not a material deposit in relationship to the — into service cost of the asset. And that is the amount that would be, I guess, at risk if somehow you didn’t fill the slot.

Of course, there would be an opportunity to move the slot to another supplier or another converter if you needed to. So I think it’s a confidence statement about what — where we see the market demand over the long term. And with the additional platforms we’ll have on top of the 767, we feel very comfortable that it’s a prudent commitment to make.

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

Okay. That’s really helpful. Kind of switching gears a little bit to the Omni business. Can you give a sense of geographic mix for that business? And what — I guess, how those are faring from — just generally? And then is there a way to kind of quantify what Omni was generating from like an EBITDA earnings perspective pre-pandemic? And kind of what is the run rate of that business relative to that?

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Yes. We don’t — other than our reportable segments, which, of course, Omnis in the ACMI Services segment, we don’t break down individual entities in terms of their profitability, Frank. And the reason we don’t is because they have some customer concentration within their book of business. And so we don’t necessarily want to talk specifically for commercial reasons about the individual subsidiaries. I can tell you that in terms of the passenger hours operated, we saw, certainly, improvement, significant improvement in the second quarter.

All of our packs flying, and that would include not only Omni but the combi, the 757 combi that ATI operates. The — on an hours-flown basis, those were up 17% over our first quarter level, which — now to give you a sense of where we stand through the first half, we’re looking at down — well, that was down 8% versus the prior year still in the quarter, but versus the prior first half, we were off 28% in terms of total passenger hours. So you can see the big drop was in the first quarter. Second quarter recovering, up 17% over the first quarter run rate. And of course, we’re expecting continued improvement as we move through the second half in our passenger operations.

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

Okay. Great. And one last one, if I could. Just trying to back into kind of a core free cash flow number. From a — keeping the planes in the air and the business running, can you give kind of an estimate for a maintenance capex number at the current fleet size? And then maybe a way to think about that as the fleet grows over time?

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Yes. If you think about maintenance capex in terms of this year’s guidance, and we’re guiding — as you know, we adjusted our total capex estimate up to around $550 million. You’re probably looking at around $160 million or so of that as maintenance capex. And that includes required heavy maintenance on the airplanes. It includes things like engine overhauls to support the fleet. As we grow the fleet, we don’t expect the maintenance capex to grow significantly.

And the reason for that is because with our business model, the lessee maintains the asset during the life of the lease. And typically, it is returned in a like-for-like sort of maintenance condition as it was at the start of the lease. And so that transfers that responsibility to the lessee under the lease. Our maintenance capex we have is — a lot of it is tied to aircraft that we lease internally to our affiliate airlines. And those assets are used to support the CMI flying and so forth. And that’s not growing as rapidly as the external lease deployments that CAM is making, which is what we’re spending the majority of our capex on.

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

Great. That’s really helpful. Thank you very much for taking my questions.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

All right, Frank.

Operator

Thank you. And we have our next question from Stephanie Moore with Truist Securities. Your line is open.

Stephanie MooreTruist Securities — Analyst

Hi, good morning. Thanks for taking the question.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Good morning.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Good morning, Stephan.

Stephanie MooreTruist Securities — Analyst

I was hoping you could talk a little bit about the A330s. I’d love to get your thoughts in terms of potential customers for those planes. I think we talked in the past, the A321s are a nice replacement for the 757s. And that represents a large really addressable market for conversion or replacement over time. So would love to hear your thoughts on the A330s as maybe as well as some of the economics and how those — it compares to the A321s or the 767? Thanks.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

That’s a great question, Stephanie. Thank you for asking it. A couple of things. We’ve been looking at the 330 for a few years, and one of the things about the 330 — there’s two variants: a 330-200 and a 330-300 that have conversion opportunities for them. The 200 is about the same size as the 767-300. It’s a little bit more expensive for feedstock and it’s got some higher operating costs because it’s a heavier airplane. It’s got great range, but it’s not something you need in an express environment.

The A330-300 is slightly bigger than the 767-300. It’s got about a 20% higher cube and about an 8% — 8% to 10% higher weight-carrying capability. In the express environment, where these midrange freighters, midsized, even wide-body freighters tend to be a solution for, cube is much more important than weight. So the A330-300 looks to be a real solid solution for the same customers that the 767 is providing service for today. It’s a newer generation aircraft. So I think it came out in 1996 — mid-’90s. The 767 came out in the early ’80s.

And so when you look at feedstock capability going into the future, into the next decade, there’ll be more prevalent feedstock coming available as the 767, over the next decade, starts to wind down. So we look at it as both a replacement, and then it also has a little bit higher cube for line haul operations, so going from country to country. As far as customers goes, we’ve got three customers that are already engaged in the airplane. DHL, I think, is one of the largest users in the world of A330 freighters.

And so, hopefully, they’ll be a customer of ours in the future. We’ve got other customers that we’re talking to about the aircraft. Now one of the other significant events that’s occurred as a result of the pandemic is feedstock values for the A330 have come down significantly. It depends on which appraiser you listen to, but pretty much the two or three that I’ve read is in the 25% range.

And that was one of the key things that when we looked at the plane, it was more expensive and therefore, the total cost of ownership and operating was higher than what the 767 could deliver. So we think — we thought at the time that it was going to be a good solution in the future when the economics made sense, and with the feedstock coming down going forward, with newer generation basis of the airplane, that we think it’s going to be a solution that’s going to be a long-term solution in the medium wide-body segment.

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Rich, the only thing maybe I’d give you a little bit more detail. There’s a couple of hundred airplanes that are in the prime age area that you talked about from 13 to 25 that represent very good opportunities to be converted into freighters. The other reason we really like the 330 is that Omni can potentially expand into the large category to operate for the DoD, which is something that we don’t have the ability to do today. So we’re excited about that potential opportunity with our Omni organization as well as all the other customers that Rich referenced prior as well.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Yes. We do have the 777s with Omni today, but Mike’s — I think what you’re saying, Mike, is that this would be additive to the large clients.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

And the last thing, obviously is it’s a great synergy with our A321. So we have kind of a multiple aircraft solution for the same customers that we have today for the 767-300. The A330 and A321 have a common cockpit, and so what that means is small differences in training that’s need to be done to move a pilot the A321 and the A330. Much smaller than having to go get a full new type rating for a different aircraft type.

So it’s a smaller effort. And so there’s significant crew savings on the synergy with that. And thinking like an airline, even though we’re a leasing company, we think it’s a really good solution to add to the coming 321 and for the future of the medium wide-body leadership that we hold.

Stephanie MooreTruist Securities — Analyst

Got it. No, that’s very helpful. And then just broadly speaking, I’d love to hear your thoughts on really contract profitability and maybe RIC pre- versus post-pandemic, just given there’s so much increased demand, increased e-commerce. Any color you can provide there would be helpful. Thank you.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

A couple of things. One is lease rates have definitely hardened. And so that plays out in a couple of different perspectives. So when we’re negotiating with new customers or for new airplanes for existing customers, it’s pretty much we’re — we’ve got better negotiating position. The other thing is any lease that’s coming on — that’s coming due, most of them tend to be extended or we’re flipping them right over once they get through a maintenance event to a new lessee because the demand is so significant.

A lot of airlines that we lease to right now that have assets coming due between now and the end of next year, we’re already talking to us about extending those. And so it’s folks that have capacity now don’t want to let it go. So the high demand is good for our existing leases for extensions. The other piece of that is most of them are extending in existing lease rates, and we’re actually in a position to get better lease rates. Usually, on the leasing side, when you go through your second and third extension on a lease, you start to — the lease rate starts to go down a little bit. But now, we’re seeing them hold up on extension.

Stephanie MooreTruist Securities — Analyst

Great. Well, that’s everything for me. Thank you.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

[Operator Instructions] And we’ll take our next question from Chris Stathoulopoulos with Susquehanna. Please go ahead, sir.

Chris StathoulopoulosSusquehanna — Analyst

Good morning, everyone. And thanks for taking my question. So Rich, Quint, it sounds like you have a fair degree of high confidence, if you will, in translating these 67 slots to actually putting the aircraft in service. So as we think about potential EBITDA earnings through the recovery, is it fair to say that you have 120 aircraft and active fleet at year-end. Could we see, by 2025, north of a fleet of 180 aircraft in service?

And then also thinking about the recovery, there’s a lot of puts and takes here, right, because eventually, long-haul belly capacity is going to come back online. At the same time, your DoD and passenger utilization should go up. So could we do better through the recovery as we get toward 2025 assuming you to fill out these slots here with actual aircraft? Could we do better than $5 million in annual EBITDA per aircraft over that period? Thanks.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Yes. I mean, I — certainly, could we be above 180 in that time frame or somewhere in that ZIP code, Chris? Yes. We believe that’s true. In terms of EBITDA contribution per tail, we think of it more in terms of return on invested capital. right? And we believe that as we build the fleet out, we will maintain the sort of attractive returns we get today on our dry lease investments on our aircraft investments.

And as Rich described a minute ago, with the current demand environment, it’s actually doing a good job of supporting higher lease rates. So we hope to even add to that return on the asset investment. As you know, our business model provides an opportunity for incremental returns for building services around the lease. And so in our case, it also depends, of course, on opportunities to provide other services to the lessee, which may be, as we do for DHL and Amazon, sort of the full range of services.

Or it could be some portion thereof, like just the maintenance, et cetera. So we certainly believe that our returns in this strong demand environment can return — or excuse me, can improve over what we’ve seen historically. And we’re taking these steps because we think we’ll certainly maintain or improve upon the returns on capital that we get for our leased assets already.

Chris StathoulopoulosSusquehanna — Analyst

Okay. Thank you. And then my second question. So the question I get a lot from investors lately is why the stock isn’t working this year. It’s down around 19% in what’s a very constructive market for freighter demand because of all the competing belly capacity is effectively sidelined. So one of the areas, in addition to folks asking about U.S. DoD contribution to EBITDA, is why not participate in the charter market or short-term missions if there’s an opportunity here to grab some rate or perhaps just — I don’t know if you can — I mean, you have such a full order book here if it’s an issue of allocating a few assets here to shorter-term missions. It’s just that if we’re — consensus is that this long-haul international passenger travel is not coming back for 2023, it would seem rates are going to stay high and there could be an opportunity here to potentially over-earn here through the recovery phase.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

So we’ve pretty much had a tenant that, for a $30 million asset, it’s a much better long-term commercial structure to get a 10-year, 8-year lease on that for their first lease and have that strong long-term cash flow then to put the aircraft on our own airline certificate and fly in the charter market. Now the pandemic has obviously made the demand perspectives on that market different, but eventually, that will come back in line. I will tell you, we have taken advantage of several charter opportunities. We put an airplane up for DHL between Hong Kong and Sydney last year.

And we’ve put two or three other international routes. We took airplanes that were flying in the domestic network and are still linking to their CVG domestic network, but are flying internationally to support their efforts. So we have gotten more block hours related to that. We tend not to have excess capacity airplanes on our airline certificate other than what we need to cover our own maintenance or meet our commitments to the DoD on the cargo side.

And again, we just think long term, it’s a better use of that asset to get the longer-term consistent cash flows out of it versus putting it in a charter environment where we’ll get — in this case, maybe we’d get 1.5 years of robust usage, but then we’d be back in a situation where we’d be getting intermittent usage on that both from a crew deployment standpoint and the asset standpoint. Generally, when we — in the past, when we’ve had situations like that, we’ve taken the airplane and leased it. So we think that long term, we’ve got the right strategy.

Chris StathoulopoulosSusquehanna — Analyst

Okay. If I could just get one in one more here. For the quarter, where were your utilization of block hours per aircraft day on the DoD and any commercial flights? Thanks.

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Well, as I said, in terms of the majority of our DoD flying is passenger and the combi. And the packs, all of our packs and our combi flying were up 17% over the first quarter. That’s still down about 8% over the prior year during the quarter, if that gives you a sense. But for the first six months, those same stats are off 28%. So that shows you the recovery in the second quarter relative to the first. A 17% improvement over the first quarter levels. So versus the prior year in the second quarter, we’re down 8% in total tax flying. And that includes a 17% sequential improvement over the first quarter.

Chris StathoulopoulosSusquehanna — Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

And we have no further questions in queue. I will now turn the call over to Mr. Rich Corrado for closing remarks.

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. Our latest commitment to convert and lease more midsized freighters over the next several years should make one thing perfectly clear: We expect e-commerce and other forces driving demand for our aircraft today will persist well into the future. Our employees at all levels believe that as well, and they have continued to deliver superior service during this time, and they’re working together to extend our leadership in this key market. I am proud to lead them, and I’m confident that their hard work will yield superior rewards for those who choose to invest with us. Thank you, and stay safe.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

Duration: 47 minutes

Call participants:

Joe PayneChief Legal Officer

Rich CorradoPresident & Chief Executive Officer

Quint TurnerChief Financial Officer

Mike BergerChief Commercial Officer

Jack AtkinsStephens — Analyst

Frank GalantiStifel — Analyst

Stephanie MooreTruist Securities — Analyst

Chris StathoulopoulosSusquehanna — Analyst

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