The King Of Connections: Inside Panama’s Copa Airlines

This week, Panama’s Copa uses its Boeing 737s on routes up to 3,385 miles (5,447km). The carrier revolves around its highly coordinated hub, linking North America, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. We examine where its US/Canada passengers went in 2021, and find more people were carried from JFK to Ecuador’s Guayaquil than anywhere else.

Copa B737
Copa has eight outes over 3,000 miles: Panama City to Montevideo, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro/Galeão, Porto Alegre, São Paulo/Guarulhos, Belo Horizonte, and Los Angeles. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

An all-Boeing fleet

The fleet of Panama’s Copa consists solely of narrowbodies, and all are Boeing 737s. According to ch-aviation.com, it has 80, as shown below, but not all are active. The B737-800, which comprises the vast bulk of its fleet, have either 154 or 160 seats.

  • 60 B737-800s (including one freighter, currently stored)
  • 14 B737 MAX 9s
  • Six B737-700s

Like many other airlines, Copa used the pandemic to streamline its fleet, including removing its 15-strong Embraer 190s. It also considered withdrawing its B737-700s, but six remain, although only four are operational.

Smaller-capacity aircraft were crucial in developing its route network and achieving high frequencies. They helped to grow its hub and connectivity. But now that’s in place, larger and/or more fuel-efficient aircraft – incoming B737 MAX 8s, -9s, and 10s – are the priority. They’ll improve seat-mile costs, revenue opportunities, and overall competitiveness.

Copa's network week starting January 13th 2022
This map is pretty messy but it shows Copa’s network in the week starting January 13th. While it has an average of two daily flights, its least-served with just one weekly service each are Chiclayo (CIX), Paramaribo (PBM), and Santa Clara (SNU). Flights increase in the coming weeks. Image: GCMap.

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Its hub runs like clockwork

Copa’s Panama City hub has highly coordinated arrivals and departures, with six pronounced waves a day (a wave comprises one bank of arrivals bank and one of departures), as shown below. Its typical connection time is about 90 minutes, around the same as Icelandair and PLAY.

Cirium data shows that Copa has 69 routes from Panama City in the current week, with an average of two daily flights. Fifteen routes have three+ daily flights, led by Cancun (CUN), Bogota (BOG), San Jose (Costa Rica; SJO), Miami (MIA), and Medellín (MDE). Some 15 airports in the US and Canada are served, including Atlanta, inaugurated on December 12th, 2021.

Copa's Panama City hub
In and out again: Copa’s Panama City hub is all about quick connections. Image: OAG.

Where did its US/Canada traffic go in 2021?

In the 12 months to November 2021, booking data suggests that about 1.25 million passengers transited from the US/Canada over Panama City. More people connected between the US and Colombia than elsewhere, followed by US-Ecuador, US-Peru, US-Paraguay, and US-Brazil. While the pandemic and border restrictions meant different results than normal, the top-10 largest origins and destinations (O&Ds) were as follows:

  1. JFK over Panama City to/from Guayaquil
  2. Miami-Guayaquil
  3. Miami-Asunción
  4. Miami-Bogota
  5. JFK-Quito
  6. Orlando-Bogota
  7. Orlando-Lima
  8. Miami-Lima
  9. Orlando-Guayaquil
  10. Miami-Medellín

The top O&D, JFK-Guayaquil, was number-one despite non-stops from JetBlue and Eastern Airlines. (Avianca entered in December 2021.) Copa had a considerable share of transfer traffic because of minimal deviation (flying via Panama City was just three miles (!) farther than a non-stop) and a multi-daily choice of flights.

Have you flown Copa? If so, where did you go? Share your experiences in the comments.

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