CHICAGO — The Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission enters the market as soon as tomorrow with its first sale this year, a $156 million refunding that should generate about $7 million in savings to help the agency as it manages through the recession and its impact on air travel and the airlines.

The bonds will current refund senior-lien general airport revenue bonds from 1999 and 2000 issues with anticipated present-value savings of at least 5%, though the figure remains fluid given market fluctuations. The bonds are divided into two series one $24 million and one $132 million.

RBC Capital Markets is the lead manager and Citi, Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Piper Jaffray & Co. are co-managers. Jefferies & Co. is financial adviser and Kutak Rock LLP is bond counsel.

The deal comes as the agency is awaiting responses, due Nov. 2 at 4 P.M. Eastern Time, to its request for qualifications from underwriters interested in working on future transactions for the commission. The current pool has shrunk to four firms from seven due to the exit of some firms from the industry and the consolidation of others following the turmoil of last year.

“We really need to rebuild our team of underwriters,” said deputy director of finance and administration Steve Busch. The commission has limited new-money borrowing plans of between $20 million and $80 million next year, depending on whether the commercial paper market remains strong or a longer-term issue is done.

While it is wrapping up its $2.7 billion expansion of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, launched in 1998, the commission is revising its future capital plans. The current capital improvement program calls for $523 million to be spent on projects through 2016. Most of the projects relate to airfield and runway rehabilitation, noise mitigation, and routine terminal improvements.

The commission had planned a follow-up to its $2.7 billion plan designed to accommodate travel growth through 2010 with a $500 million terminal expansion plan to see the airport through 2020, but that plan was put on hold after the airport’s lead carrier — Northwest Airlines — filed for bankruptcy in September 2005.

The terminal project will be factored into the revised capital program. Delta Air Lines’ acquired Northwest Airlines last year and together the two account for about 80% of flights at the airport where Northwest has long operated a hub and was previously headquartered.

The commission turned its attention in recent years from expansion plans to trimming expenses and managing through the economic downtown and has fared better than comparably sized airports, according to rating agencies.

Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s affirmed the airport’s senior-lien and junior-lien general revenue bond ratings ahead of the sale. Both rate the airport’s $747 million of senior-lien debt AA-minus and its $704 million of subordinate bonds A with stable outlooks.

“The ratings are based on the solid air trade area and competitive business position; very good senior-lien margins and overall good financial performance; a reasonable cost structure; and in the case of the senior-lien bonds, strong legal provisions,” Standard & Poor’s analyst Mary Ellen Wriedt wrote.

Fitch wrote that the commission’s financial profile remains strong despite the recent economic stresses in the aviation industry, but that a key credit concern remains the dominance of Delta-Northwest. There remains the potential over time for cuts as the two realign their service.

“The key strengths to the credit are based on the considerable demand for air service generated from a broad-based local economy, a well-balanced traffic profile of originating and connecting passengers, and the lack of competing facilities in the upper Midwest,” according to Fitch.

The airport has about 16.4 million travelers a year. Passenger traffic has dropped 10% overall since 2006 and a decline of 4.6% expected this year over last. Net revenues provided more than two times senior-lien debt service coverage and 1.48 times subordinate coverage in 2008.

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