Airport Authority of Pittsburgh in talks with Copa Airlines

Airport Authority of Pittsburgh in talks with Copa Airlines

After landing nonstop flights to Iceland and Frankfurt, Pittsburgh International Airport is turning its eye south to Panama.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority is talking to Copa Airlines about starting service to Panama City. Christina Cassotis, the authority’s CEO, has had conversations with the airline about flights between Pittsburgh and Panama City, spokeswoman Alyson Walls confirmed.

After landing nonstop flights to Iceland and Frankfurt, Pittsburgh International Airport is turning its eye south to Panama.

“There’s nothing imminent. There’s no timetable. It’s part of that overall international air service strategy. She thinks they would be a good fit for here,” Ms. Walls said.

Ms. Cassotis mentioned the talks during a recent breakfast meeting. She also discussed the possibility of landing Copa during an interview after becoming the authority’s CEO in 2015.

Copa operates from its hub at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, the capital of Panama. It offers about 355 flights to 69 destinations in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean from its headquarters, according to its website.

In recent years, Copa has been expanding rapidly in the United States. In December, Denver will become its 13th market in the U.S. Other cities it flies to include Boston, Fort Lauderdale, New Orleans, Tampa and Las Vegas.

“They’re definitely a carrier in a growth mode,” said William Swelbar, executive vice president of Boston-based Intervistas Consulting, an economic and financial consultant to airlines and airports.

After becoming CEO, Ms. Cassotis described Copa as a “long-term play,” and Ms. Walls said there’s no timetable for the airline’s recruitment. “We’re watching them. We’re aware of them. We’re trying to see how they fit into the plan and market here,” Ms. Walls said. Mr. Swelbar said Copa would be a “great addition to the Pittsburgh route portfolio.”

“To get access to Copa would really open up Latin America to the Pittsburgh market,” he said. “[Copa] has a very good hub structure there. It is a financially strong carrier.”

But Blair Pomeroy, a longtime aviation strategy consultant who has worked for airlines in the past, saw little value in recruiting Copa to start service in Pittsburgh.

He predicted “very minimal traffic” between Pittsburgh and Panama City, adding that the number of passengers connecting to other destinations in Central or South America would be “tiny” in his view.

Based on his research, Mr. Pomeroy said fewer than five people a day currently fly from Pittsburgh to Panama City. He said that likely would increase with nonstop service, but not nearly enough to fill a small narrow body mainline jet like a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320. “There’s just absolutely no way that would ever work,” he said.


Bob Kerlik, an authority spokesman, said the flight has the potential to generate much more traffic. Because Tocumen airport is a connecting hub for Copa, the flight would offer travelers easy access to other destinations in Central and South America.

Miguel Sanchiz - Panama Business - misancosa@gmail.com