CHICAGO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Fitch Ratings has affirmed the 'A' rating on Kansas City, MO's $29 million subordinated airport revenue bonds, issued on behalf of the Kansas City International (KCI) Airport. The Rating Outlook is Stable. Fitch does not rate the airport's outstanding $189 million senior airport revenue bonds.
The rating reflects a midsize airport market of five million enplanements with a solid origination/destination demand profile. Also reflected is the inherent residual strength within the senior master bond ordinance executed in 2013 and the airport's airline use and lease agreement (AUL) which have bolstered the airport's total financial position. Total debt service coverage has significantly increased while the airport's reasonable cost per enplanement (CPE) levels and liquidity position remain intact.
KEY RATING DRIVERS
Revenue Risk -Volume: Midrange
Occasionally Volatile Service Area: The airport benefits from a 95% origination/destination enplanement base with no competing alternatives within the MSA. In the last decade, enplanements have experienced years of elevated volatility, most recently in fiscal 2014 with an 8% drop; however, traffic has since stabilized in the last two fiscal years. Moderate carrier concentration exists with Southwest Airlines Co. (Southwest, rated 'BBB'/Positive Outlook by Fitch) servicing approximately half of enplaned passengers.
Revenue Risk - Price: Midrange
Strengthened Cost Recovery Framework: The amended hybrid AUL executed in 2013 greatly increases KCI's ability to recover costs and bolsters their airline revenue generation, although some cost exposures remain. CPE levels are currently in the high $6 dollar range and are competitive with many airports of similar size and rating level.
Infrastructure Development and Renewal: Midrange
Manageable Capital Improvement Program: KCI's five-year $123 million capital plan is funded via grants, passenger facility charges (PFCs) and airport funds, with no additional debt. The terminal development plan remains in the early stages of development with no funding sources outlined at this time; however, it may be reasonably assumed that borrowings will cover a substantial portion of this cost.
Debt Structure: Midrange
Rapid Amortization: The remaining weighted average life of the airport's subordinated debt is 2.7 years, and 4.6 years on all outstanding indebtedness. All debt is fixed rate with standard reserve covenants and KCI's revised master bond ordinance includes beneficial covenants that inherently protect both liens. The midrange score reflects the subordinated nature of the rated debt and covenant levels at lower coverage ratios versus the airport's senior obligations.
Low Leverage, Strengthened Metrics: KCI's fiscal 2015 total net general airport revenue bond (GARB) debt-to-cash flow available for debt service (CFADS) of 0.78x is very low compared to peers. Liquidity of 430 days cash on hand (DCOH) is viewed as a key offset to limited subordinate lien covenants. Including the new rolling coverage account at the senior lien level, total GARB coverage is forecast to remain above 2x.
Peers: Amongst its peers in the mid-to-high 'A' rating category, such as Columbus (OH) and San Antonio (TX) airports, Kansas City demonstrates low leverage, comparable to Columbus, and CPE levels comparable to San Antonio. Kansas City boasts higher debt service coverage and softened susceptibility to economic activity given its revenue generation capabilities.
--Traffic Base: Measurable contraction or elevated volatility in passenger traffic as a result of airline service changes;
--Revenue Generation: Deterioration of the airport's non-airline revenue or reduced AUL terms in the future;
--Financial Flexibility: Dilution of total debt service coverage for a sustained period below 1.5x or a material increase in leverage due to future terminal redevelopment.
--The proposed terminal redevelopment, and its funding uncertainty, currently restricts the likelihood of a higher rating at this time.
The airport's enplanements continue to grow behind increased flight frequency by airlines. In fiscal 2015, traffic increased 3.6% to 5 million, and through three months of fiscal 2016, has increased an additional 3.8%. Carriers such as Southwest, American Airlines ('B+'/Stable Outlook), Alaska Airlines ('BBB-'/Stable Outlook) and Spirit Airlines, Inc. ('BB+'/Stable Outlook) expanded their own service offerings with recent increases in daily flight frequency. Other changes include inaugural service by Allegiant Airlines to three separate destinations set to begin in November. Despite recent increases, service and traffic levels remain moderately volatile, as reflected by an 8% drop during fiscal 2013 that resulted in 0.4% annual growth over the prior five fiscal years.
Stemming from an increase in traffic and a favorable AUL, total operating revenue increased 14.6% to $120.2 million in fiscal 2015. Total operating revenue grew 5.3% annually over the last five years, resulting in improving operating margins of approximately 33% in fiscal 2015. Airline revenue historically made up approximately a quarter of total operating revenue at the airport, but with the revised terms within the AUL, airline revenue comprises 30% of total operating revenue. The airport's non-airline revenue streams, both operating and non-operating, remain stable and well-diversified.
Operating expenses at the airport increased 4.9% in fiscal 2015. The airport's ample liquidity and recently implemented major maintenance surcharge requirement, the continued realization of reduced expense related to the Terminal A closing, and the rolling coverage account should help soften any future effects of occasional traffic volatility experienced at the airport. The airport expects to maintain the current level of expenses in the near term. As a result of the 2013 restructuring, which offset a year of debt service, coupled with increased revenue and moderate expense growth in fiscal 2015, the airport recorded a total coverage level (including coverage account) of 3.84x. Fitch expects, as annual debt service obligations normalize, that coverage will stabilize above 2x.
Fitch's base case assumes moderate enplanement growth and reasonable cost escalation, and results in total GARB debt service coverage above 2x through fiscal 2020. The rating case assumes a near-term enplanement shock consistent with recent stresses and greater cost increases. This scenario results in total GARB debt service coverage that averages above 1.8x. In both cases leverage evolves down to zero within two years as half of the airport's total GARB debt amortizes.
The bonds are secured, on a subordinate basis, by a pledge of the airport's net revenue including customer facility charges (CFCs).
Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com
Rating Criteria for Airports (pub. 13 Dec 2013)
Rating Criteria for Infrastructure and Project Finance (pub. 12 Jul 2012)
Dodd-Frank Rating Information Disclosure Form