The Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that President Obama signed into law Tuesday did not give airports new flexibility to raise fees used to back bonds, but an analysis by Moody’s Investors Service said the law will still strengthen airport credits.
Airport lobbyists had hoped the long-awaited four-year reauthorization law would raise the cap on passenger facility charges, per-passenger fees that produce revenue that airports use to back bonds.
The PFC has been capped at $4.50 since 2000, and spokespersons for airport advocacy groups said the power of those dollars has been reduced by inflation. The groups wanted the cap raised to $7.00, a figure the Obama administration has suggested it supports, though its recently released fiscal 2013 budget proposal did not provide for it.
A report released Tuesday by Moody’s, however, said the failure of the new law to include a PFC cap increase won’t cause airport credits to lose altitude because of the reduced costs of construction in a down economy.
“We think lower current construction costs because of the depressed construction market mitigate the threat of erosion from the current level of PFCs,” the report said.
The law includes $3.35 billion per year for the federal airport improvement program, which distributes money to fund airport projects. That amount is lower than the $3.5 billion annual funding level the program had been allotted under the previous 23 short-term authorizations, though higher than the $3 billion initially proposed by the House.
Despite the funding cut, Moody’s said the benefits of four years of funding outweigh the $150 million in lost grants.
“The stability created with the long-term reauthorization more than compensates for the slight reduction in funding levels,” Moody’s said.
Airports particularly likely to see a credit benefit from the new law are those undertaking large improvement projects, such as Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Florida’s Fort Lauderdale International Airport, according to the rating agency.
The report warned, though, that just because certain amounts of funds are authorized by the new law there is no guarantee that those dollars will be there.
“We still see uncertainty in the ultimate funding process,” the report said, “since it is still dependent on two annual appropriations through the regular budget process. In the past, Congress has funded this program at or near authorized levels and we think the economic importance of air transportation promotes this practice.”