updated 11/13/2008 8:19:12 PM ET 2008-11-14T01:19:12

A $1.6 billion project to build a new international terminal at the world's busiest airport could be suspended within the next few months because the airport has been unable to sell $600 million in municipal bonds due to tight credit markets, the head of the airport said Thursday.

"Investors are not interested in our debt," Ben DeCosta, general manager of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, told The Associated Press.

He said the airport's debt rating is solid, at "A+", which is considered investment grade.

If the airport doesn't get the financing it needs, "I'm going to have to suspend the work in a matter of months," DeCosta said. About 300 jobs could be at risk, he said.

He said the airport is seeking federal financial assistance through a stimulus package that would benefit municipal governments, and thus the airport, which is run by the city of Atlanta. But with banks, automakers, states and even cities looking to the government for help amid the worst economic downturn in decades, it could be a tough sell for the airport.

"I like to gamble, but I don't know how to gamble this game," DeCosta said. "You just don't know."

Construction work on the third terminal project at the airport began this past summer and is scheduled to be completed in 2011 or 2012, airport officials said. More than $300 million has already been spent, according to DeCosta.

The plan for the Maynard H. Jackson International Terminal was part of a broader expansion project at the airport that included a fifth runway. The runway was completed in May 2006.

The airport currently has about $2.9 billion in municipal bond debt outstanding. Its projected revenue for fiscal 2009, which runs through June 30 of next year, is $402 million, DeCosta said. About 40 percent of the revenue comes from airlines, while 60 percent comes from other sources.

"I'm frozen out of the markets," DeCosta said. "I can't go to market for long-term bond financing."

DeCosta said parts of the project that are supposed to ramp up soon involving roadways and baggage systems may have to be put off.

"I have money already out there with people working and if it doesn't look like we can go to market, I would have to determine which parts of the project could continue and which can't," he said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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