BRADENTON, Fla. — Fitch Ratings revised the rating outlook to stable from negative on bonds issued for Southwest Florida International Airport because traffic levels are showing improvement amid a recovery in the airport's service area.
Fitch also affirmed its A ratings on $307.4 million of outstanding airport revenue bonds in a July 30 credit review. The airport's bonds are issued by Lee County.
In fiscal 2013, and year-to-date in 2014, Fitch said air traffic has nearly recovered all losses experienced since 2008. So far in fiscal 2014, enplanements have grown nearly 3%, following a nearly 5% increase last fiscal year.
SWFIA serves an origination and destination enplanement base of approximately 3.86 million passengers.
"Airlines have begun adding or increasing the frequency of routes to various destinations as they iron out consolidation plans," said Fitch analyst Casey Cathcart. "Additionally, airlines are experiencing 85% load factors as demand builds on the back of record-high population levels in the county."
Enplanement and population growth are projected to continue moderately in the near future, Cathcart said. However, the airport remains vulnerable to discretionary spending related to the travel and leisure industry.
The airport's rating is based on a "well-balanced" mix of major carriers serving leisure travel with competitive cost per enplanement levels, at $7.09 in fiscal 2013, according to Fitch. The rating is also supported by a recently renewed airline agreement, as well as manageable capital needs and robust liquidity as compared to peers.
Revenue increased nearly 7% in fiscal 2013, and is currently forecasted to increase an additional 9% based on year-to-date results due to higher non-aviation revenue, which makes up a majority of the airport's total operating revenue, Catchcart said.
Management is phasing in deferred maintenance items in light of stronger revenue performance, leading to a 5% increase in fiscal 2013 operating expense. The five-year capital improvement plan totals $146 million, and will be funded from grants, passenger facility charges, and surplus funds. No additional borrowing is anticipated.
Moody's Investors Service revised the airport revenue bonds to stable from negative in May 2013 while affirming its A2 ratings on the debt. At the time, Moody's said the stable outlook reflected improvements in the passenger traffic in fiscal 2013 as well as the stabilizing economic condition of the service area.
Standard & Poor's affirmed its A-minus ratings and stable outlook in June 2013.
Lee County said several new projects are being designed in its comprehensive annual financial report for fiscal 2013. Those include a $385 million new 9,100-foot parallel runway, a $44 million air traffic control tower, $40 million in new apron and taxiway pavement, a $5.8 million flight information display system, and relocation of the rental car facility for $5 million.
The population of the county, whose two largest municipalities are Fort Myers and Coral Gables, grew by 46.2% to 638,029 between 2000 and 2013.