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Copa Airlines' expansion of Tampa flights has a broader purpose

TAMPA — Copa Airlines' decision to expand its Tampa-to-Panama City service to seven days a week is about more than just those two destinations.

Instead, for the airline, bringing daily service to Tampa starting next month is part of an effort to knit together a growing network that will have 79 destinations in 32 countries by year's end.

"As we added new destinations, we had the need of getting the Tampa Bay community closer to Latin America," said Fernando Fondevila, Copa's regional manager for North American commercial operations, who was in Tampa on Thursday for business meetings. "Connecting through Panama, Copa offers more international destinations than any other airline in the region."

Copa caters to business travelers. It touts that its on-time performance has been the best in the Americas five years running and fourth best worldwide. Its on-board service doesn't charge for food, headsets or entertainment. And its membership in the Star Alliance allows travelers to earn and redeem frequent flier miles on 28 different airlines.

That said, its jets to and from Tampa tend to carry about 60 percent leisure travelers and 40 percent corporate.

"When it comes to corporate, they want flexibility, they want more options, they want more destinations, and we are confident that adding a daily service would actually attract more corporate on board," Fondevila said.

That is consistent with what Tampa International Airport has heard since Copa began four-times-a-week service in December 2013.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Copa Airlines launches nonstop service between Tampa and Panama City

Initially, Copa saw mixed results from its service to the bay area. In 2014, its Tampa flights had a load factor, or percentage of filled seats, of 67 percent.

More recently, Copa's Tampa flights ran 82 percent full for October through May of this year, up from 77.7 percent for the same period a year ago. And airport officials said they have indications that demand will rise as options do.

"When you're trying to book a trip — whether it's Panama, Colombia or Brazil — you need to get there on the day you need to get there and not necessarily on the day that the airline is currently flying," said Chris Minner, TIA's executive vice president of marketing and communications. "The No. 1 feedback we've received at the airport is that if this flight were daily I would use it much more frequently."

The airport has estimated that daily flights will have an economic impact of $33.8 million a year.

Copa's daily service to and from Tampa begins July 14. The flights leave Panama's Tocumen International Airport at 9:10 a.m., arriving in Tampa at 1:30 p.m. They fly out of Tampa at 3:09 p.m., landing in Panama at 5:33 p.m.

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Contact > Richard Danielson