Fitch Ratings raised Miami-Dade County’s $4.9 billion of aviation revenue and revenue refunding bonds to A-plus from A after a year where Miami International Airport took the title of busiest airport in Florida.
The bonds, issued for the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department, have a stable credit outlook.
Fitch said MIA surpassed its pre-pandemic traffic high by nearly 10% in fiscal 2022 and the upgrade reflected MIA’s “outperformance in enplanement recovery, demonstrating the airport’s superior franchise strength.”
The rating also reflects MIA’s strong position in the south Florida market for both domestic and international air service, Fitch said.
“Miami stands out as one of the nation’s strongest international gateway airports with a dominant position for Latin American and Caribbean air services,” the rating agency said.
Fitch noted the airport is an important hub for American Airlines.
“MIA’s resilient traffic rebound from the pandemic demonstrates its strong franchise strength and importance to both American and the national aviation network,” Fitch said.
Miami-Dade County noted American Airlines and its subsidiary Envoy, served 31.8 million passengers in 2022, or 63% of the airport’s total, an increase of one million passengers from 2019.
Since 2019, low-cost carriers Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and JetBlue Airways, have opened for business at MIA, and now rank as the airport’s second, fourth and eighth-busiest passenger airlines in seat capacity, respectively, the county said last month.
MIA became the busiest airport in Florida last year.
In 2022, MIA saw 50.6 million passengers, breaking the previous record of 45.9 million set in 2019 and surpassing Orlando International Airport’s total of 50.1 million.
“In addition to MIA leading our community’s successful economic recovery from the pandemic, it is again leading the way for the state of Florida as well,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a statement. “Passenger growth represents tourism revenue, job creation and expanded opportunities in Miami-Dade County.”
According to the Airport Council International’s rankings, MIA was also number one in the U.S. last year for international passengers and international freight, number four for total freight and number 10 for total passengers.
Fitch said MIA successfully completed its $6.5 billion north and south terminal program and has adopted a long-term successor capital improvement plan (CIP) totaling about $6.4 billion.
“Together with its successful completion of the prior multi-billion-dollar capital plan, MIA is well positioned as it embarks on the successor capex plan,” Fitch said.
The comprehensive program is designed to address all of the airport’s future capacity and operational needs through five sub-programs, the rating agency added.
“The current approved portion of the CIP, which includes projects through 2033, is at $2.9 billion, including $2.3 billion in majority-in-interest (MII) approved projects and $0.6 billion not requiring MII,” Fitch said.
The $2.9 billion of approved projects is expected to be about 65% bond funded with the remaining 35% coming from grants, passenger facility charges and other sources.
“The rating further reflects a strong cost-recovery framework and stable financial results, although a $4 billion-$5 billion CIP with longer-term needs will be phased in through 2035,” Fitch said. “The rating also factors in total debt leverage of around nine times for fiscal 2022 that is expected to remain below 10 times in Fitch’s rating case despite plans for additional borrowings.”
In November, Kroll Bond Rating Agency upgraded the long-term rating on the county’s aviation revenue bonds to AA-minus from A-plus and kept the outlook at stable.
KBRA’s action followed upgrades by S&P Global Ratings in August and Moody’s Investor Service in July, when they raised their ratings on MIA’s bonds to A from A-minus and to A1 from A2, respectively.
Residents also appreciate the contribution the airport makes to the regional economy.
By an almost four-to-one margin, the county’s voters on Nov. 8 approved a charter amendment that requires voter approval for the commissioners to transfer ownership or governing authority of the Miami International Airport or that of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and PortMiami.