Make us your home page
Instagram

Nonstop service from Tampa International to Panama City opens Latin America to Tampa Bay

TAMPA — Now more than ever, Tampa International Airport is living up to its name.

Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines announced Wednesday it will fly Tampa-to-Panama City four times a week, opening new travel and trade opportunities — and giving Tampa Bay its first-ever route to a major Latin American hub.

When airport CEO Joe Lopano took over in 2011, his mission was to restore overseas routes to Tampa. The airport had flights to Canada and Great Britain. Adding Cuba and Switzerland in the past two years were regular-season wins.

But Panama was the first pennant won by Lopano, as the Yankees' fan might put it. When he donned a brightly colored Panama hat and spoke at a news conference in the airport's main terminal, it was part pep rally, part victory lap.

"It's a great day because we are seeing ourselves achieve the greatness of an international city," Lopano said, "because of the vision and the teamwork that exists in this room today.

"We are going where we said we would go. We are doing what we said we would do."

In Copa — or Compañía Panameña de Aviación, S.A., — Tampa International has partnered with one of the world's most modern, fastest-growing and profitable airlines. Copa spent a decade transforming Tocumen International Airport into a major hub to Central and South America, giving that nation another international nexus to go along with the Panama Canal.

"It is the canal of the air," said Joseph Mohan, a senior vice president with Copa Airlines.

Copa handled more than 7 million passengers last year and serves 66 destinations in 29 countries. Now, bay area travelers can bypass Orlando or Miami and fly from Tampa to Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Caracas, Lima, Quito, Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo via Panama City.

"This is a big day for us," said D.T. Minich, the Pinellas County tourism chief. "Now it opens us up to Brazil. It opens up Colombia. It gets us into Panama and Argentina.

"This is the biggest thing to happen in 20 years."

That's because the bay area is desperate to improve international travel — and reap the economic benefits that go with it. According to Tampa International officials, every new daily nonstop international flight to a major city adds $154 million economic impact annually and helps generate 1,200 new jobs.

Tampa International had 504,790 international passengers in 2012. That same year, by comparison, Miami International saw 19.4 million.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called the Copa route another in a series of victories for his city and the greater Tampa Bay region. He compared it to last year's Republican National Convention and next summer, when Tampa will host the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards — a.k.a. the Bollywood Oscars.

"From India to Europe to Panama, I'm here to tell you that it truly is our time," the mayor said. "We aren't asking anybody's permission anymore. All of these successes, and the faith and confidence that Copa Airlines has in us by virtue of this decision, sends a message all over the world: that Tampa is truly the gateway to the Americas."

Copa will depart Tampa at 7:02 a.m. four times a week: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Arrival time in Panama City will be 10:12 a.m. The return flight will leave Panama City on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 6:34 p.m. and arrive in Tampa at 9:53 p.m. Copa will fly Boeing Next-Generation 737-700s on the Tampa route, which will seat up to 124.

Minich believes travelers may find Tampa a more attractive departure point than bigger international hubs in Miami and Orlando. Those airports have direct routes to Central and South America, but Tampa is closer for bay area travelers and has much shorter customs lines.

"It can take up to three hours sometimes to clear customs in Miami," Minich said. "So clearing customs in Tampa is a complete breeze."

Copa signed a one-year contract with Tampa International. In exchange, the airline will receive $486,754 worth of airport fee waivers and marketing dollars to push the route.

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the Pinellas tourism agency, will contribute $200,000 in marketing dollars the first year and another $200,000 in the second. It will also start a new Latin American division solely to push tourism there.

Hillsborough's tourism agency, Visit Tampa Bay, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce also have promised tens of thousands worth of in-kind contributions to market the route. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. will lead several trade missions to Panama, the next one in February.

Lopano, airport staff and local officials spent 2½ years convincing Copa officials that there is enough demand for business travel to Latin America through Tampa Bay to justify the route.

But the contract is for just one year. Bay area leaders pledged to do everything they can to fill Copa's seats and convince the airline to renew the contract.

They are confident they will succeed. Copa has never backed out of a market, Mohan said.

"We guarantee your planes will be full," said Visit Tampa Bay chief Santiago Corrada.

Said Lopano: "We will not fail."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3404.

. Fast facts

Copa Airlines

Founded: In 1947 by Panamanian investors and Pan American Airways.

Fleet size: 86 aircraft, including 60 Boeing 737s and 26 Embraer-190s.

Destinations: 66, in 29 countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Headquarters: Panama City, Panama.

Employees: 8,000.

CEO: Pedro Heilbron.

Listed: On the New York Stock Exchange, under the symbol CPA.

Member of: The Star Alliance, which includes 26 domestic and international air carriers.

Financials, first quarter 2013

Adjusted net income: $124.4 million, up 37.3% from 1st quarter 2012.

Operating margin: 22.2%. Total revenues $641.3 million, up 18%.

Passengers carried in 2012: 7.1 million, up 13.5%.

Sources: Wall Street Journal,

PR Newswire, Copa

Nonstop service from Tampa International to Panama City opens Latin America to Tampa Bay 07/17/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 11:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Home of Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman hits market at $3.45 million

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is back on the market for $3.45 million after a brief hiatus.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman is on the market for $3.45 million. [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  2. Trigaux: Halfway through 2017, a closer look at six drivers of the Tampa Bay economy

    Business

    We're nearly halfway through 2017 already, a perfect time to step back from the daily grind of business and ask: How's Tampa Bay's economy doing?

    Is there one theme or idea that captures the Tampa Bay brand? Not really but here's one possibility. The fun-loving annual Gasparilla "Invasion" of Tampa is captured in this photo of 
The Jose Gasparilla loaded with pirates of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla on its way this past January to the Tampa Convention Center. In the future a vibrant downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg may be the better theme. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Will new laws protect condo owners from apartment conversions and rogue associations?

    Real Estate

    Danny Di Nicolantonio has lived in St. Petersburg's Calais Village Condominums for 33 years. Annoyed at times by the actions, or inaction, of the condo board and property managers, he has complained to the state agency that is supposed to investigate.

    That has left him even more annoyed.

    A bill passed by the Florida Legislature would affect places like The Slade in Tampa's Channelside district, where condominium owners have battled a plan to convert homes into apartments.
[Times file photo]
  4. Walmart opens first Pinellas County in-house training academy

    Retail

    Seminole — It had all the hallmarks of a typical graduation: robe-clad graduates marching in to Pomp and Circumstance, friends and family packed together under a sweltering tent and a lineup of speakers encouraging the graduates to take charge of their future.

    New Walmart Academy graduates are congratulated Thursday morning by associates during a graduation ceremony at the Walmart store, 10237 Bay Pines Boulevard, St. Petersburg. The Walmart location is one of the company's training academies where managers complete a one week retail course. David Shultz and Richard Sheehan, both from St. Petersburg, get high fives from the crowd.
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]