Fifth Street Finance said it formed First Star Aviation, a new portfolio company in the aircraft leasing sector. Pradeep Hathiramani, former principal and sector head of transportation at KKR Asset Management, will lead the operations of First Star as managing director. Hathiramani will help build a team focused on acquiring and leasing a portfolio of commercial aircraft to operators around the world.

Hathiramani has more than 15 years of lending and leasing experience in the transportation industry. Most recently, he was responsible for originating and managing a portfolio of leveraged loans, high yield and mezzanine investments at KKR. Prior to that, he spent seven years at GATX Financial as director of the Aircraft Leasing Group.

First Star recently closed its first investment in the aircraft industry, which consisted of three commercial aircraft on lease to a U.S. airline. In connection with this transaction, Fifth Street provided First Star with debt and equity capital to execute on the strategy.

“Aircraft leasing is a multibillion-dollar industry, which has grown rapidly over the last 25 years due to the increasing global demand for air travel and the rising appeal of leasing versus owning aircraft by capital constrained carriers,” said Ivelin Dimitrov, Fifth Street’s chief investment officer, adding “We believe the rapid growth of the leasing industry is poised to continue as financing costs for aircraft are rising and large banks and European financial institutions are scaling back lending activities due to new regulatory and liquidity constraints, including Basel III.”

Hathiramani commented, “Fifth Street’s established underwriting platform and access to capital provides significant competitive advantages as we execute our acquisition strategy and seek to take advantage of high quality opportunities, particularly among mid-to-end of life aircraft. By focusing on mid-age aircraft, we intend to help fill the financial void in underserved segments of the market. We plan to use a disciplined and value-oriented investment approach to acquiring aircraft and leasing them out on long-term charters to carriers around the world.”