Airport Check-in: Stimulus may help airports with bonds

Is a provision in President Obama's stimulus package helping to unlock the bond market for airports?

The Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, which operates Nashville International, says it's the first airport authority to take advantage of the stimulus bill's provision allowing airports to issue tax-exempt bonds. The airport authority priced bonds totaling $36 million to fund the second phase of a terminal renovation project at Nashville International. Its bonds are not subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for investors, thus making them cheaper for the airport to issue.

The stimulus program included a new law that excludes interest earned on certain airport revenue bonds issued this year and next from the federal AMT. In the past, federal tax law classified a majority of airport bonds as "private activity" bonds, requiring investors subject to AMT to pay taxes on income from them. (Interest on most municipal bonds isn't subject to federal tax.) Airport executives say that has made airport bonds unpopular, and they have had to pay higher interest rates to float their bonds. Airports lobbied actively for the new provision. Nashville officials estimate avoiding the AMT premium generated $3.2 million in debt-service savings.

What's new

Lufthansa lounge

Lufthansa has opened a new lounge at Washington Dulles for its elite customers. Spread across two levels in Concourse B, the 10,000-square-foot facility provides various amenities, including leather seats, TVs, food and drink, and work stations.

Airports on Facebook

Airports want to make new friends through Facebook. Akron-Canton and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta say they've launched new pages on the popular social-networking site, where customers can check in for new developments.

Hartsfield-Jackson says its page offers information on art and community programs and new facilities, links to flight status and security wait-time updates.

To attract more "friends," Akron-Canton is sponsoring a contest for new and current members of its Facebook group. Top prize: two round-trip tickets on Frontier Airlines.

Eagles in Cleveland

Cleveland Hopkins officials have teamed with wildlife specialists to scare four bald eagles, once nearly extinct in Ohio, from airport grounds.

The two adult and two juvenile eagles were spotted in December, and officials have also found a couple of eagle nests, which may have been taken over by hawks, near the airport. An adult eagle can weigh 10 pounds, and its wingspan can extend about six feet. "They've shown up enough times at the airport to have (officials) concerned," says Damon Greer of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Route news

Sun Country Airlines

will fly three times a week between Dallas/Fort Worth and the new Branson, Mo., airport, which is scheduled to open on May 11. It's the fourth route announced for Branson, the country's only privately operated commercial airport. Sun Country has previously announced it will fly between Branson and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

British Airways

will move its Atlanta flights to London Heathrow's new Terminal 5 on March 29 from London Gatwick. The arrangement is a byproduct of the EU-US Open Skies agreement that liberalized flying rules for airlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

Emirates

says it will stop flying the Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger plane, on its Dubai-New York route starting June 1 due to a drop in traffic. It will switch to Boeing's 777, which has about 130 fewer seats. Emirates will redeploy the two A380s freed up from New York to Toronto and Bangkok. That will leave Los Angeles International as the only domestic airport to have A380 service.

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