We sent a series of questions to Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines in Panama.
How has the pandemic impacted your airline and the markets it serves?
During 2020 we had to stop flying for six months and were only able to gradually restart operations towards the end of the year. We closed 2020 with a 75% reduction in the volume of passengers carried, compared to 2019.
Most markets served by the Company suffered flight and travel restrictions during the year, many of which remain in place as of today.
Have you seen indications of a recovery?
Even though we are seeing some positive demand trends, the outlook for 2021 remains uncertain and therefore difficult to predict. For the first quarter of 2021, we flew slightly below 40% of 2019 capacity and are guiding to around 45% of 2019 capacity for the second quarter of 2021.
Your airline has an all-Boeing fleet. What are your thoughts on the return of the MAX?
The 737 MAX has undergone an unprecedented level of global regulatory supervision, testing, and analysis, making it one of the most thoroughly inspected aircraft in the history of aviation. We are excited to be flying the MAX 9 and our passengers seem very pleased with the aircraft and onboard product.
If we look five years out, what should we expect in terms of the Latin market and COPA?
In five years, we expect the Latin American market to be at pre-Covid levels or higher. We expect Copa to recover at an even faster pace. Short term, the tourism segment has shown a higher recovery rate, so we hope that once the virus is under control and more people are vaccinated, we will see an even higher number of travelers in our region.
In the US we are seeing a recovery curve closely following the vaccination rates. What can you tell us about the Latin market?
According to IATA, passenger traffic in Latin America improved in the first quarter but remained significantly below pre-COVID levels. For Latin America, COVID-19 cases have risen considerably since mid-February due to the emergence of new variants and a slow rate of vaccination in most countries. Even so, Latin America continues to have some of the highest load factors in the industry, which is a positive sign for when the virus is more under control.