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COMMENTS

Airports Face A Long Haul To Recovery


Airports Face A Long Haul To Recovery

A "Swoosh-Shaped" Recovery

The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has encouraged most governments to impose mobility restrictions including blanket bans on incoming travelers or two-week quarantine requirements. Now that the peak of the virus spread appears to have passed in many countries, several governments are looking to slowly and selectively open their borders. The path to air traffic recovery will depend not just on the pace of these border openings, but also on airline fleet capacity and route planning, passenger demand, and the economic burden resulting from the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, we now expect a "swoosh-shaped" recovery for aviation--a slow climb back after a rapid decline. It will be a much more protracted recovery than the rebounds observed after 9/11 terror attack, the SARS pandemic of 2003, and the 2008/2009 global financial crisis. Over the longer term, we believe that air travel will eventually return when current health and safety concerns have been meaningfully addressed by the industry and consumer confidence rebounds, supported by steady historical growth rates in air traffic of 4%-5% per year. However, a more widespread adoption of remote working and virtual meetings could have a lingering impact on business travel, which has been the more lucrative passenger segment for the airlines.

Table 1

We Have Revised Downward Our Base-Case Assumptions For Global Passenger Air Traffic Volumes (From 2019 Real Traffic)
Year New estimates (versus 2019 actual) Previous estimate (as of March 2020)
2020 Negative 50%-55% Negative 20%-30%
2021 Negative 25%-30% Negative 10%-15%
2022 Negative 15%-20% Negative 5%
2023 Negative 5%-10% --

We now estimate that global passenger air traffic will decline by between 50% and 55% this year (see table 1). This takes into account almost three months in which traffic dropped below 90% in comparison with the same period in 2019 because of the lockdown measures. This decline may vary across regions depending on the mix of domestic and international traffic. For example, we think European air traffic will be the heaviest affected, dropping by at least 55%. Our estimates for 2020 and 2021 are relatively closely aligned with IATA's latest air travel outlook for the next five years, published on May 13 (see chart 1). Still, we expect a more prolonged recovery, possibly stretching through 2023, reflecting the many operational challenges and consumer behavior unknowns.

Chart 1

image

The example of mainland China, where the lockdown is now over and only sporadic new domestic cases of COVID-19 are being reported, gives some insight into the shape a global recovery for airports might take. Air traffic in China is gradually recovering, more recently to 40%-50% of 2019 traffic levels from a low point of minus 90% year on year in mid-February (see chart 2). However, almost all current travel is domestic because China has significantly slashed international flights, prohibited entry of foreigners, and requires mandatory quarantine measures for returning residents.

Chart 2

image

image

Post-COVID-19 Aeronautical Revenues Will Be Significantly Lower

In the post-COVID-19 era, airports will operate under a "new normal". They will have significantly higher spare capacity than in the pre-pandemic period, and will have to compete in a universe of a smaller number and financially weaker airline companies. This will increase their exposure to volume risk and put pressure on their aeronautical revenues, which generally represent over 50% of total revenues (see charts 3 and 4). We believe airports could ultimately face additional pressure to alleviate aeronautical charges. Many airports in the U.S. have offered airlines a deferral in rentals and other fees in the short term under the assumption that traffic levels will rebound.

Chart 3

image

Chart 4

image

Even though cargo flights transporting essential goods are on the rise, they do not make up for the loss of passenger traffic because the overall volumes are not material. Most airports charge parking fees for grounded aircraft, but these revenue streams are also relatively small. Moreover, airports could suffer from the debilitated credit quality of airlines. We have already seen measures to alleviate the airlines' liquidity squeeze, such as the European Commission's decision to defer air traffic control fees for several months, which are adding to the woes of the airport industry.

In theory, single-till regulatory regimes--in which all airport activities, including aeronautical and commercial, are taken into consideration to determine airport charges--allow for charges to be reset to adjust for drops in passenger volumes, albeit with a time lag to the next reset. However, this business model has not been designed to adjust tariffs in the face of a massive drop in volumes or to determine whether airlines could afford them. We believe that financially weakened airlines may have stronger negotiating power in the face of lower supply, and may be unable or unwilling to pay higher aeronautical fees. In EMEA and other regions, weighted average cost of capital (WACC)-based regulatory frameworks are likely to bring little value in the new post-pandemic reality. We expect airports may be allowed to enter bilateral commercial deals with airlines, under which aero charges are dictated by market demand, discounted, and sometimes waived.

Non-Aeronautical Revenues Are Also Struggling

Retail revenues, the share of which have risen in recent years to 45%-50% of most airports' revenue mix, will likely be even more heavily hit than aeronautical revenues. This is not just because of the drop in passenger numbers, but also because of lower purchasing power due to the global recession, which will cut average spend per passenger. Furthermore, revenue that airports previously expected under minimum guaranteed volumes from retail partners may be delayed, or not come at all, if calculated as a percentage of sales. Alternatively, tenants may request rent waivers and deferrals or, in the worst case, may not survive the disruption. Commercial and food and beverage services are all challenged: social distancing does not work for catering services, while various safety protocols could restrict retail opportunities.

Airports Under Pressure To Reduce Costs

Although the credit quality of airports tends to be significantly more resilient than that of airlines, one weakness for airports is that they have largely fixed cost structures. As long as an airport is open to flights, even if only cargo flights, it has to maintain firefighting, maintenance, and operating staff to ensure safety. If an airport also serves repatriation planes, it has to keep its terminals open and maintain light, heating and air-conditioning, as well as other utilities. Operational, maintenance, and utility costs, as well as personnel costs (detailed below) usually correspond to about one-half of an airport's costs.

Chart 5

image

Personnel costs.  These usually make up about one-third of total operating costs. Any reduction tends to be very limited, usually restricted to cutting executive salaries and making redundant the middle management layer. Similar to other industries, some airports are benefiting from wage subsidy or furlough schemes that should allow for a rapid return to full operations. Once the furlough schemes are over, however, the airports may start thinking of resizing their businesses. Two recent examples of government-owned airports adopting harsher measures to minimize cash burn include Tocumen International in Panama, which applied a 50% cut in wages, and Dublin Airport in Ireland, which is seeking to cut potentially a significant number of its 3,500 workforce.

Concession fees and taxes paid to governments.   These represent 10%-20% of costs. In Latin America, some governments have provided liquidity relief by granting deferral of the annual concession grant payment. However, most governments elsewhere have not felt the need to do so, as international airports that we rate started from a position of strong financial strength.

Capital expenditure deferment.  To alleviate immediate cash burn, airports will likely defer major capital expenditure as expansion plans are likely pushed back. A number of rated airports have already reduced their plans for 2020 and 2021 while waiting to assess the speed of recovery. Given the weak state of the airline industry, any capex that is dependent on higher charges may not eventuate until there is confidence in economic returns through appropriate charges. It remains to be seen whether the £14 billion (in 2014 prices) investment in a third runway at London Heathrow Airport will get the green light, following an appeal for climate-protection reasons. The only exception is Hong Kong International Airport, where we expect the airport authority will continue the three-runway system project through to completion in 2024 given its advanced progress (construction started in 2016). In addition, a more material cost increase is likely to come from a need to invest in technology to ensure contactless check-in and luggage handling, or face-recognition at security.

Liquidity Is Crucial

While airports generally have stronger cash positions than airlines, the pre-pandemic boom in traffic has left many airports currently highly debt-leveraged. This has two consequences. First, the ongoing cash burn for operations and servicing debt interest leaves them in need of ensuring adequate liquidity. While some governments are providing loans and/or guarantees, many others have been clear that airports must first exhaust commercial sources of support, including shareholder capital, before appealing for government help. In EMEA, major national airports are still comfortably able to access financing. However, secondary regional airports may struggle. On the other side of the globe, in Latin America, Aeropuertos Argentina and ACI Airport Sudamerica, respective concessionaires of the Argentina and Uruguay international airports, have already announced distressed debt exchanges to preserve liquidity. This has highlighted the limit in offsetting revenue decline and led to a rapid transition of ratings.

Second, we expect some airports to breach covenants depending on the severity of the deterioration of financial metrics. In general, we expect debt providers to be willing to cooperate and waive covenants as long as the breaches are related only to the effects of COVID-19 rather than underlying business weakness. Nevertheless, creditors may attach more onerous requirements to accept waivers.

S&P Global Ratings acknowledges a high degree of uncertainty about the rate of spread and peak of the coronavirus outbreak. Some government authorities estimate the pandemic will peak about midyear, and we are using this assumption in assessing the economic and credit implications. We believe the measures adopted to contain COVID-19 have pushed the global economy into recession (see our macroeconomic and credit updates here: www.spglobal.com/ratings). As the situation evolves, we will update our assumptions and estimates accordingly.

Table 3

Infrastructure Global Airports Ratings
Entity Country Rating Outlook

Adelaide Airport Ltd.

Australia BBB Watch Neg

Auckland International Airport Ltd.

Australia A- Watch Neg

Australia Pacific Airports (Melbourne) Pty Ltd.

Australia A- Watch Neg

Australia Pacific Airports Corp. Ltd.

Australia A- Watch Neg

Brisbane Airport Corp. Pty Ltd.

Australia BBB Watch Neg

Christchurch International Airport Ltd.

Australia A- Watch Neg

Perth Airport Pty Ltd.

Australia BBB Watch Neg

Southern Cross Airports Corp. Holdings Ltd.

Australia BBB+ Watch Neg

Sydney Airport Finance Co. Pty Ltd.

Australia BBB+ Watch Neg

Wellington International Airport Ltd.

Australia BBB+ Watch Neg

Airport Authority Hong Kong

Hong Kong AA+ Stable

Delhi International Airport Ltd.

India BB- Watch Neg

GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd

India BB Negative

Narita International Airport Corp.

Japan A+ Watch Neg

Aeroports de Paris

France A Negative

Flughafen Zurich AG

Switzerland AA- Watch Neg

DAA PLC

Ireland A Watch Neg

Aeroporti di Roma SpA

Italy BB+ Watch Neg

Royal Schiphol Group N.V.

Netherlands A+ Watch Neg

Schiphol Nederland B.V.

Netherlands A+ Watch Neg

Avinor AS

Norway A+ Negative

Gatwick Airport Ltd.

U.K. BBB Negative

Heathrow Funding Ltd.

U.K. BBB+ Negative

NATS (En Route) PLC

U.K. A+ Negative

Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 S.A.

Argentina CC+ Negative

Aeropuertos Dominicanos Siglo XXI S.A

Dominican Republic B+ Negative

Grupo Aeroportuario del Centro Norte S.A.B. de C.V.

Mexico mxAAA Stable

Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacifico S.A.B. de C.V.

Mexico mxAAA Stable

Mexico City Airport Trust

Mexico BBB Negative

Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen S.A.

Panama BBB+ Negative

ACI Airport Sudamerica S.A.

Uruguay CCC Watch Dev

Cerealsur S.A.

Uruguay CCC Watch Dev

Arctic Infrastructure L.P.

Canada A- Stable

AFCO Airport Real Estate Group LLC*

U.S. BBB Stable
JFK International Air Terminal LLC U.S. BBB+ Watch Neg

Transportation Infrastructure Properties LLC*

U.S. BBB+ Negative
*Air Cargo Facilities Source: S&P Global Ratings as of May 28, 2020

Table 4

U.S. Public Finance Airport And Passenger Facility Charge
Credit State Rating Outlook
Albany International Airport - 1st Lien NY A Negative
Albuquerque International Sunport - 1st Lien NM A+ Negative
Augusta Regional Airport - 1st Lien GA BBB Negative
Austin Bergstrom International Airport - 1st Lien TX A Negative
Austin Bergstrom International Airport - 2nd Lien TX A- Negative
Baltimore/Washington International Airport - 1st Lien PFC MD A+ Negative
Bradley International Airport - 1st Lien CT A+ Negative
Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority - 1st Lien CA A+ Negative
Bush Intercontinental Airport and Hobby Airport - 2nd Lien TX A+ Negative
Charleston County Airport - 1st Lien SC A+ Negative
Charlotte/Douglas International Airport - 1st Lien NC AA- Negative
Chicago Midway International Airport - 1st Lien IL A Negative
Chicago Midway International Airport - 2nd Lien IL A Negative
City of Palm Springs - 1st Lien PFC CA A Negative
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport - 1st Lien OH A Negative
Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport - 1st Lien TX A+ Negative
Dayton International Airport - 1st Lien OH BBB+ Negative
Denver International Airport - 1st Lien CO A+ Negative
Denver International Airport - 2nd Lien CO A Negative
Des Moines International Airport - 1st Lien IA A+ Negative
Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport - 1st Lien MI A Negative
Detroit Metro Wayne County Airport - 2nd Lien MI A- Negative
El Paso International Airport - 1st Lien TX A+ Negative
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport - 1st Lien FL A+ Negative
Fresno Yosemite International Airport - 1st Lien CA A Negative
Guam International Airport - 1st Lien GU BBB+ Negative
Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport - 1st Lien GA AA- Negative
Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport - 2nd Lien GA AA- Negative
Hawaii Airport System - 1st Lien HI AA- Negative
Hawaii Airport System - 2nd Lien HI A+ Negative
Indianapolis International Airport - 1st Lien IN A Negative
Jackson County Rogue Valley Intl Medford Airport - 1st Lien OR A Negative
John Wayne Airport - 1st Lien CA AA- Negative
Kansas City International Airport - 1st Lien MO A Negative
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport - 1st Lien MO A Negative
Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport - 1st Lien NV AA- Negative
Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport - 2nd Lien NV A+ Negative
Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport - 3rd Lien NV A+ Negative
Los Angeles International Airport - 1st Lien CA AA Negative
Los Angeles International Airport - 2nd Lien CA AA- Negative
Louisville International Airport - 1st Lien KY A+ Negative
Love Field Airport Modernization Corporation - 1st Lien TX A Negative
Manchester Airport - 1st Lien NH BBB+ Negative
Massachusetts Port Authority (Boston Logan International Airport) - 1st Lien MA AA Negative
Memphis International Airport - 1st Lien TN A Negative
Miami International Airport - 1st Lien FL A Negative
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport - 1st Lien MN AA- Negative
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport - 2nd Lien MN A+ Negative
Mobile Airport Authority - 1st Lien AL BBB+ Negative
Myrtle Beach International Airport - 1st Lien SC A+ Negative
Nashville International Airport - 1st Lien TN A+ Negative
New Orleans International Airport - 1st Lien LA A Negative
Norfolk Airport Authority - 1st Lien VA A Negative
O'Hare International Airport - 1st Lien IL A Negative
O'Hare International Airport - 1st Lien PFC IL A Negative
Okaloosa County - 1st Lien FL A- Negative
Omaha Eppley Airfield - 1st Lien NE AA- Negative
Ontario International Airport - 1st Lien CA A- Negative
Orlando International Airport - 1st Lien FL AA- Negative
Orlando International Airport - 2nd Lien FL A+ Negative
Palm Beach International Airport - 1st Lien FL A+ Negative
Philadelphia International Airport - 1st Lien PA A Negative
Pittsburgh International Airport - 1st Lien PA A- Negative
Port of Seattle (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) - 1st Lien WA AA- Negative
Port of Seattle (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) - 1st Lien PFC WA A+ Negative
Port of Seattle (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) - 2nd Lien WA A+ Negative
Port of Seattle (Seattle-Tacoma International Airport) - 3rd Lien WA A+ Negative
Portland International Airport - 1st Lien OR AA- Negative
Portland International Airport - 1st Lien PFC OR A+ Negative
Portland International Jetport - 1st Lien ME A- Negative
Sacramento International Airport - 1st Lien CA A+ Negative
Sacramento International Airport - 2nd Lien CA A Negative
Salt Lake City International Airport - 1st Lien UT A+ Negative
San Antonio International Airport - 1st Lien TX A+ Negative
San Antonio International Airport - 2nd Lien TX A Negative
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority - 1st Lien CA A+ Negative
San Diego County Regional Airport Authority - 2nd Lien CA A Negative
San Francisco International Airport - 1st Lien CA A+ Negative
San Jose International Airport - 1st Lien CA A Negative
Sky Harbor International Airport - 1st Lien AZ AA- Negative
Sky Harbor International Airport - 2nd Lien AZ A+ Negative
Southwest Florida International Airport - 1st Lien FL A Negative
T. F. Green International Airport - 1st Lien RI A Negative
Tampa International Airport - 1st Lien FL AA- Negative
Tampa International Airport - 2nd Lien FL A+ Negative
Tri-Cities Airport - 1st Lien WA A- Negative
Tulsa International Airport - 1st Lien OK A Negative
Washington Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport - 1st Lien DC AA- Negative
Will Rogers World Airport - 2nd Lien OK A+ Negative
Source: S&P Global Ratings as of May 28, 2020

Table 5

U.S. Public Finance Special Facilities
Credit State Rating Outlook
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Rental Car Special Facility - 1st Lien TX A Negative
Bradley International Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien CT A- Negative
Bush Intercontinental Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien TX A Negative
Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien NC A Negative
Chicago O'Hare International Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien IL BBB Negative
Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport Rental Car Facility Project- 1st Lien GA A Negative
Hawaii Airport System - 1st Lien HI A+ Negative
LAXFUEL Corporation - 1st Lien CA A Negative
Massachusetts Port Authority Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien MA A Negative
Nashville International Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien TN A Negative
New Orleans Aviation Board Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien LA A Negative
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien AZ A Negative
Portland International Airport - CFCs - 1st Lien OR A- Negative
Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation Rental Car Special Facility - 1st Lien RI A Negative
San Antonio International Airport - 1st Lien TX A Negative
San Diego Cnty Regl Arpt Auth Rental Car Facility - 1st Lien CA A Negative
SEATAC Fuel Facilities, LLC - 1st Lien WA A Negative
SFO Fuel Co LLC - 1st Lien CA A Negative
Tampa International Airport CONRAC - 1st Lien FL A Negative
Source: S&P Global Rating as of May 28, 2020

Related Research

  • Six European Airlines Downgraded As COVID-19 Impact Erodes Credit Metrics; Majority Still On Watch Negative, May 20, 2020

This report does not constitute a rating action.

Primary Credit Analysts:Julyana Yokota, Sao Paulo + 55 11 3039 9731;
julyana.yokota@spglobal.com
Tania Tsoneva, CFA, Dublin +353 1 568 0611;
tania.tsoneva@spglobal.com
Parvathy Iyer, Melbourne (61) 3-9631-2034;
parvathy.iyer@spglobal.com
Gloria Lu, CFA, FRM, Hong Kong (852) 2533-3596;
gloria.lu@spglobal.com
Kurt E Forsgren, Boston (1) 617-530-8308;
kurt.forsgren@spglobal.com
Beata Sperling-Tyler, London (44) 20-7176-3687;
beata.sperling-tyler@spglobal.com

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