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The U.S. airport sector is showing stabilization and even modest improvement as the United States emerges from the recession, Standard & Poor’s said in a study released this week. The study, entitled “2013 U.S. Airport Medians Report: The Slow Ascent From The Recession Continues,” relies on medians of financial and operational metrics based on 2011 data.

“We believe larger airports have been credit quality than their smaller counterparts, but airports of all sizes continue to face the side effects of airline consolidation and rightsizing efforts, as well as the higher fuel costs and weak recovery, S&P credit analyst Joseph Pezzimenti said in the report.

S&P said ratings are recovering as the economy improves. General airport revenue bond (GARB) rating downgrades outpaced upgrades 17 to 11 from 2009-2011 due to the recession’s length and severity. But financial resilience through this period resulted in five upgrades and no downgrades in 2012. Currently 91 percent of S&P’s GARB ratings carry a stable outlook, although the agency warned that credit stresses remain.

The ratings agency pointed out that airports reacted to the recession with an array of measures to shore up finances. “These moves include raising rates, building cash by enhancing non-airline revenues, deferring demand-driven and maintenance capital projects, renegotiating agreements with airlines and concessionaires, and funding projects from other revenue streams (such as customer facility charge revenues),” the S&P report said. “We believe these measures enabled airports to maintain relatively stable financial performance despite lower demand or some revenue volatility.”

Traffic recovery is evident among nearly 60 percent of the airports rated by S&P, but financial metrics, except for liquidity, are still lower than pre-recession figures. The future still holds risks, the report said, due to continuing economic uncertainty that is limiting passenger traffic growth.