,LONDON - British Airways-owner IAG plans to raise about 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) through a bond issue, which it said would help see it through if the pandemic-driven travel downturn lasts longer than expected. Airlines are counting on a summer travel reboot after a year of minimal income due to coronavirus restrictions, but rising case numbers in some countries and delays to the vaccine roll-out in Europe could derail the recovery. IAG, which also owns Iberia and Vueling in Spain and Aer Lingus in Ireland, said last month it had liquidity to ride out the crisis, but on Thursday decided to add to its war chest. It said the proceeds from the bonds could be used to withstand a more prolonged downturn or provide "flexibility to take advantage of a recovery in demand for air travel". IAG, which is burning through about 185 million euros per week as a result of the pandemic, has been cutting costs while flying only 20% of its normal capacity. It said the senior unsecured bonds would be issued in two tranches, with 500 million euros due in 2025 and 500 million euros due in 2029. They are expected to price on Thursday. In a low rate environment and with economies set to reopen, bond investors have become increasingly keen to buy debt from well-known airlines, as it is one of the few sectors still offering a high yield, a source familiar with the deal said. At the initial stages of the bond sale, the four-year bonds were being marketed at a yield of 3.25% and the eight-year bonds at 4.25%, an announcement to investors seen by Reuters showed. The average yield for European junk-rated corporate debt is 2.59%, Markit's Iboxx indices show. Although IAG lost its investment grade rating last year after the pandemic wreaked havoc on airlines, progress on COVID-19 vaccinations has led investors to revisit the sector. "Airlines is one of the few corners of the bond market still offering some juice," said the source. "With international travel expected to reopen this year, investors feel comfortable owning this debt." Lufthansa and easyJet have already tapped bond markets in recent months, with the German airline repaying a big portion of a government bailout after its latest 1.6 billion euro debt sale and easyJet raising 1.2 billion euros in February. BBVA, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Santander are managing the IAG issue. ($1 = 0.8366 euros) REUTERS
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