Latitudinal Intermediacy: COPA Airlines

Latitudinal Intermediacy COPA Airlines

Source: Network from COPA Airlines web site. Paths are approximate.

COPA Airlines is a medium-sized Panamanian company operating from its major hub in Panama City (Tocumen International Airport – PTY). Panama City is strategically located as the intermediate location of the Americas; the main reason why the airline labels its hub as “Hub of the Americas in Panama”. This hub services two ranges; the circum-Caribbean through a standard hub-and-spoke network structure and a latitudinal intermediacy connecting medium / long-distance destinations in the northern and southern hemispheres (longitudinal intermediacy connects airports along an east/west range). Because of its central location, Panama particularly well covers the Caribbean and offers a competitive alternative for Miami, particularly for passengers from Central and South America. COPA’s fleet is composed of Boeing 737-700/800s and Embraer E190s, which are medium-ranged aircraft (3,200 and 2,400 nm respectively) having a capacity between 100 and 160 passengers and therefore well suited to the service network configuration. The range of the 737-800 is around 5,500 km, placing services such as Panama – Montevideo (5,400 km) at the extreme range. From Tocumen, COPA Airlines is thus able to reach almost all the major destinations in North and South America except for the Pacific Northwest and the tip of South America (southern Chile and Argentina).

Panama has historically been a small actor in the Latin American airline industry. The national economy did not generate a large amount of air traffic and because of the small size of the country, there is almost no domestic market to develop on, unlike countries like Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia that support significant and fast-growing domestic markets. With traffic of 16.2 million passengers and 113,000 tons of air cargo in 2018, Tocumen ranked first airport in Central America, but only ranked the 20th largest Latin American airport. Still, airports such as Mexico City, Bogota (a major hub), and Lima are respectively handling traffic 2 to 4 times as much as Panama City, in large part because of their substantial local populations. The growth of Tocumen and COPA is however indicative that Panama will play a larger role in Latin America by connecting the circum-Caribbean, North, and South American air transport systems.