* 17 customers late on more than $36 mln in payments
* Worst metrics since third quarter of 2009
NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters) - The number of delinquent customers at airplane leasing company ILFC more than doubled in the first quarter, the company said on Tuesday, a sign that the aviation industry remains on shaky economic ground.
The number of customers at least two months behind in lease payments is now at the highest level since the end of the third quarter of 2009, and the amount they are late on has more than tripled since the end of 2010.
A faltering economic recovery and rising fuel costs have airlines reeling, with carriers losing money unless they can take advantage of growth trends in business travel and emerging markets. [ID:nLDE7491G7]
Amid that uncertain backdrop, 17 customers were late on $36.2 million in lease payments related to some of their planes as of March 31, ILFC said in its quarterly report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
As of Dec. 31, 2010 only eight customers were similarly late on $11.1 million in payments.
The last time either the number of late customers or the amount they were late on was so high was the third quarter of 2009. Since then, premium travel rebounded and helped airlines around the world. That recovery is now under threat from triple-digit oil prices.
ILFC is a unit of American International Group (AIG.N), the insurer that was saved with a $182 billion U.S. government bailout. AIG executives said last week they would consider selling part or all of ILFC in the next year or two.
Steven Udvar-Hazy, the founder of the business that is formally known as International Lease Finance Corp, has said he would like to buy ILFC via his new leasing business, Air Lease Corp (AL.N). (Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Richard Chang)