there are more
offers is one
of the major
tax laws and
• New routes to the
U.S. & Argentina
• What’s drawing
business to Panama
• New aircraft
deliveries in 2018
Air traffic in Latin Ameri- ca increased 16.1 percent year over year in April, according to the Inter- national Air Transport
Association, and Panama-based
Copa Airlines’ corporate travel
sector is rebounding, as well, Copa
Holdings CEO Pedro Heilbron told
transportation editor Michael B.
Baker. The carrier is preparing to
capitalize on that demand.
How is this year looking for Copa?
Latin America went through two
slow years. There’s GDP growth projected this year and more so next
year, so business travel is coming
back in our region. Our hub in the
Americas, Panama, is very strong,
connecting 75 cities throughout
the Americas, including the U.S.
We serve all the major cities in our
regions but also a lot of secondary
destinations that otherwise are hard
to get to. We’re opening Mendoza, in
November, our fourth city in Argentina. We’re opening Denver [in De-cember], our 13th U.S. destination,
and two years ago, we opened San
Francisco and New Orleans.
What have you done that is of
interest to business travelers?
We just joined TSA PreCheck. In
Panama, we just inaugurated a
Star Gold Track line for immigra-
tion and security, a fast lane for
departures. We have agreements
with some of the major world cor-
porations. Every year, there are
more international firms, many
from the U.S. but also from Europe
and Latin America, establishing
their regional homes in Panama.
The connectivity our hub offers is
one of the major attractions, plus
favorable tax laws and incentives.
Have you grown your sales force?
We haven’t grown it much for the last
two years. We actually haven’t grown
the airline that much. We’ve stayed
at 100 aircraft, mostly 737-800s.
Most of our growth this year comes
from aircraft utilization. We’ll be flying our aircraft a little bit more. Next
year, we start getting the new Boeing
737 Max 9 aircraft, so then we’ll start
growing a little bit faster.
Have you determined the layout
of those new aircraft?
We hope to have that ready in the
next few months. They’re going
to fly everywhere, but they’ll have
better performance and a better
payload than our current 737-800s
so we’ll fly them on our longest
routes so we can carry more cargo and more weight. There will
be more passengers, so our routes
with higher demand, longer routes,
will get our new aircraft.
What have you done for
Improving our website and our
What role does your Star
apps. Our frequent-flyer program,
ConnectMiles, has reciprocity with
MileagePlus from United and other
Star Alliance carriers. We’re bring-
ing a lot of the ConnectMiles func-
tionalities to our apps. We have two
years in a row [as] the second most
on-time airline in the world and
four years in a row [as] the most
on-time airline in Latin America.
We also have an attractive business
class, with upgrades for our pre-
Alliance membership play?
Star is very important to us because
we don’t have a plan to serve the
whole world. We fly narrowbodies
within the Americas. We have no
plans to fly widebodies to Europe,
but we do need connectivity from
other regions. Star Alliance gives
us that and gives us access to a
network of 28 airlines, thousands
of daily flights and millions of
frequent-flyers, so it fits very well
with our business model of having
the strongest intra-America hub
but not necessarily having Europe
or Asia in our plan for direct flying.
What have you been doing to
grow ancillary revenue?
We auction upgrades. After we’ve
sold our business class seats to
paid passengers, then we upgrade
preferred frequent-flyer members.
If there are any empty remaining
available seats, we auction them
to passengers in economy class.
We hope to begin soon selling certain special seats. We will still offer
complimentary seat confirmation
for all passengers, but there will be
certain more attractive seats with
better pitch. Some passengers will
get them for free—our frequent-flyers, for sure—but other passengers
might be able to pay a difference
and get those seats ahead of time.
Copa Is Poised to Grow as
Latin America Recovers