DALLAS — Corpus Christi International Airport is in danger of losing its investment-grade rating amid declining enplanements, Standard & Poor’s warned yesterday.
Analysts shifted the outlook on the South Texas airport’s BBB-minus rating to negative, citing a violation of its bond covenant in 2009 due to faltering debt-service ratios.
“The outlook revision reflects a rate covenant violation in fiscal 2009 and our concerns that continued enplanement declines could adversely affect the airport’s operating performance further, leading to a downgrade,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Adam Torres.
The airport’s rate covenants on its Series 2000 revenue bonds require a coverage ratio of at least 1.25. In fiscal 2009, however, revenues fell to 1.09 times debt service.
Airport officials anticipate a coverage ratio of 1.3 based on spending cuts and flat enplanements, Torres said.
Fitch Ratings last August affirmed its BBB rating with a stable outlook.
Moody’s Investors Service has taken no rating action on the airport since 2006, when it affirmed its Baa1 with a stable outlook.
Corpus Christi International has only $19 million of outstanding debt, but falling traffic is reducing revenue. The airport is operating under a five-year capital plan of $18 million but expects to fund all projects through federal grants and passenger facilities charges instead of bonds.
The long-range capital improvement plan beginning in 2012 is expected to total $65.6 million, with runway improvements claiming the lion’s share.
Only three airlines serve the airport with connections to Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. One of the carriers is Houston-based Continental Airlines, which is in the process of merging with United Airlines.
In 2008, Delta Air Lines discontinued its two daily nonstop flights to Atlanta, leaving American Airlines, Continental, and Southwest Airlines as the only other carriers.
“Fitch views this limited service level as the primary risk characteristic of the airport,” analysts wrote last year. “A loss of service from one of these carriers would likely have credit implications.”
The airport is about eight miles from downtown Corpus Christi.
Enplanements were 359,000 in fiscal 2009, down nearly 24% from 431,587 in 2008.
The airport competes for passengers with San Antonio International Airport, which is about 2.5 hours from the city by car. San Antonio offers nonstop service to 34 destinations, compared with only two from Corpus Christi. Fares from San Antonio are $30 to $200 lower, according to one study.
Corpus Christi, with a population of 297,447, continues to grow, analysts noted. Anchoring the Coastal Bend region of Texas, the city has a diversified economy that includes the petrochemical industry, military, trade, tourism, education, services, and government sectors.
“The city has historically had sound financial performances and strong financial management practices, in our view,” Torres wrote.