February 7 2015
BY RAMON ANTONIO VARGAS, THE ADVOCATE
Copa Airlines of Panama will be launching service to that Central American country’s capital city from Louis Armstrong International Airport this summer, Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced Thursday.
Officials said Copa will have flights from New Orleans to Panama City four times a week beginning in late June, using a Boeing 737-700 Next-Generation aircraft. From Panama, there will be connections to more than 55 destinations in Central and South America.
“Copa Airlines will open a gateway to the Americas,” Landrieu said in a written statement.
Copa’s website shows the first direct flight from Armstrong Airport to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport leaving at 6:55 a.m. June 25, a Thursday. Its estimated duration is three hours and 24 minutes.
The airline’s site also indicates that the first direct flight from Tocumen to Armstrong will leave at 6:33 p.m. Friday, June 26.
Officials said the service will typically depart New Orleans on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 6:55 a.m. and arrive in Panama City at 10:19 a.m. The return flight will typically depart Panama on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 6:33 p.m., arriving in New Orleans at 10:02 p.m.
Louisiana and Panama have been developing business ties in recent years. Mario Jaramillo, Panama’s ambassador to the United States, told The New Orleans Advocate last year that Louisiana exported $1.7 billion in goods to his country in 2013.
Panama has a population of about 3.6 million. The nation is famous for its inter-ocean canal that was originally completed by the U.S. in 1914 and then transferred to Panamanian ownership in 1999.
When he spoke to The New Orleans Advocate, Jaramillo said that discussions between Copa Airlines and New Orleans airport officials about bringing direct service to the city had been ongoing.
The flight carrier already had a link to New Orleans: Stanley Motta, chairman of airline owner Copa Holdings, graduated from Tulane University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1967.
In a statement Thursday, Armstrong Airport Director of Aviation Iftikhar Ahmad said New Orleans had pursued Copa Airlines “aggressively ... for almost five years.”
Michael Hecht, the president and CEO of the economic development organization Greater New Orleans Inc., said he traveled to Panama City twice within the past 24 months to meet with Motta and Copa chief Pedro Heilbron. GNO Inc. noted that Hecht also hosted the airline’s leadership in New Orleans.
“This fulfills one of our top priorities — to reconnect Greater New Orleans to ... Central and South America — and thus catalyze a broad range of growth opportunities for the businesses, ports, universities and hospitals of our region,” Hecht said of Thursday’s announcement. “We look forward to working with Copa Airlines, one of the best air carriers in the world, in order to make this flight a great success.”
Heilbron on Thursday called it a pleasure to launch nonstop service between Panama and “an exciting tourist and cultural destination” that one estimate says has more than 20,000 Hispanic and Latin American residents.
New Orleans will be the 11th U.S. city and 71st destination worldwide where Copa Airlines operates. Officials said the New Orleans-to-Panama flight will allow passengers to connect to the Honduras cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula; San Jose, Costa Rica; and nine destinations each in Colombia — including Bogota and Medellin — and Brazil, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Passengers will also be able to connect to places such as Santiago, Chile; Lima, Peru; and Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador. Passengers making connections in Panama will not have to go through immigration and customs there, and their baggage will be checked to their final destination, officials said.
City Councilman Jared Brossett, chairman of the council’s Transportation and Aviation Committee, said a direct international flight like the one to Panama with so many connections was a signal that “New Orleans is a thriving international destination.”