CHICAGO -- Northwest Airlines Inc. last week reaffirmed its commitment to build two airplane maintenance facilities in northern Minnesota if the state issues up to $350 million of bonds for the projects as planned.
"We remain committed to building bases and we intend to honor that commitment," said Doug Miller, a Northwest spokesman.
Northwest made the announcement after the appearance of news stories saying the airline would review its need for the facilities. Miller said Friday that a Minneapolis newspaper "misconstrued" comments Northwest made after announcing it would cancel and delay airplane orders. He said the airline has never wavered in its commitment to the projects.
"We will begin discussions with the state shortly after Jan. 1 as to whether the scope and timing of the bases will change at all, given the smaller number of airbuses in our fleet," Miller said. "It is not an indication that the bases will be smaller. We are going to discuss that."
Last week, the financially troubled carrier canceled 74 airplane orders and delayed the delivery of 44 airplanes that would have cost the airline $6.2 billion. In addition, the airline secured agreements with its banks, suppliers, and shareholders, and reached an agreement with its unions to provide over $2.2 billion in new financing and cost savings.
In November 1991, Northwest, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission, and the state agreed to a bond-financed deal to expand the airline's operations in the state.
The airports commission issued $270 million of taxable GOs in April and loaned the proceeds to the airline as part of a sale-leaseback arrangement to help the airline restructure some of its outstanding debt.
Under the second part of the agreement, the state would issue up to $350 million of bonds to finance the construction of an airplane maintenance facility in Duluth and an engine repair facility in Hibbing. Up to $175 million of the state bonds would carry Minnesota's GO pledge. Rating agency officials have said the deal would mark the first time a state would lend its GO pledge to fund capital construction for a major airline.
Last month, the state, said it would review Northwest's finances before it makes a decision to issue bonds amid reports that the airline could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Bob Benner, Gov. Arne Carlson's spokesman on the Northwest financing, said Friday that the state is committed to issuing the bonds for Northwest under the right economic conditions.
Benner said the state will commission a "due diligence" study of Northwest's finances after the airline finalizes agreements with its unions, banks, suppliers, and shareholders. That study, which will be conducted by an independent group, will determine if Northwest has the ability to make lease payments that will back the bonds.
The study could be conducted no later than March and the bonds could be issued as early as mid-1993 under a "best-case scenario," Benner said.
Based on conclusions of the study, state Finance Commissioner John Gunyou will determine whether Northwest has the ability to fulfill its end of the deal and whether the state will issue bonds for the project, Benner said.
Northwest's announcement to reaffirm its commitment to the bases was issued after John Dasburg, the airline's chief executive officer, met with U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Chisholm, who represents an area where one of the facilities would be built.
Oberstar requested the meeting last week after learning of reports that Northwest would review its need for the maintenance facilities because of its reduced air fleet, according to Jim Berard, Oberstar's spokesman.
Northwest's reported "review" caused concerns among legislators and others that construction of the facilities, which could provide thousands of jobs, could be in jeopardy. In addition, the reported "review" raised questions about Northwest's ability to repay the bond-financed $270 million loan to the airports commission.
Officials at the airports commission did not return phone calls.
The $270 million of taxable bonds are rated Aaa by Moody's Investors Service and AAA by Standard & Poor's Corp.
Officials at Moody's and Standard & Poor's said payment of the outstanding bonds will not be affected if the bases are not built.