Avianca-TACA, Copa and United-Continental forge partnership

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Avianca-TACA, Copa and United-Continental have unveiled plans to begin comprehensive codesharing one year ahead of the two Latin American airline groups joining United-Continental in the Star Alliance.

In a joint press conference today in Bogota, Avianca, TACA, Copa, Copa Colombia, Continental and United announced the signing of a framework agreement which envisions the 1 April launch of codesharing and frequent flier reciprocity.

Star last November approved Avianca-TACA and Copa, including the Copa Colombia unit, as new members of the alliance. The two airline groups are now working towards formally joining Star in early 2012.

El Salvador-based TACA already has had codeshare relationship with United since 2006 while Copa has had for over a decade a comprehensive codeshare with Continental, which previously owned a stake in the Panamanian carrier. These bilaterals will now be extended as Colombia's Avianca, which completed its merger with TACA early last year, and Copa Colombia also start codesharing with United Continental. United and Continental completed the financial transaction covering their merger last October.

Rival airline groups Avianca-TACA and Copa will also start codesharing with each other for the first time. The carriers say as part of the first phase of their agreement the codeshares will include flights between the US and Colombia, the US and Central America as well as between Central America and Colombia.

The joint statement does not say when or if Avianca and Copa will codeshare in the domestic Colombian market or international routes within South America. Avianca and Copa Colombia are two of the three largest carriers in Colombia, accounting for about 70% of the domestic market and nearly the entire international market.

In addition to nearly every major Colombian domestic route and several Colombia-Central America markets, Avianca and Copa Colombia currently compete on a few South American routes including Bogota to Guayaquil and Quito in Ecuador.

ATI reported in November that Avianca and Copa Colombia were planning to consider codesharing in the Colombian domestic market. ATI also reported that Avianca was discussing with United-Continental a new codeshare to extend the existing bilateral sister carrier TACA has with United. ATI also reported in November that Copa was aiming to extend its relationship with legacy Continental to include Untied-operated flights.

In a statement Copa Colombia president Roberto Junguito says the agreement announced today "is a complete breakthrough for Copa Airlines and a definitive step in the process of joining Star Alliances' network. Now we are planning to sign bilateral agreements of cooperation with Avianca-TACA, thus to create a more extensive network of services that benefit travellers."

Avianca-TACA CEO Fabio Villegas states all the new codeshares will multiply "the opportunities of connectivity and services for who ever require it and/or for those who desire an air option of quality in order to travel around Latin America and the world. For years, Avianca-TACA, maintained a productive relationship with United Airlines, which is now strengthening with its alliance to Continental Airlines, thus adding multiple opportunities to our clients."

Adds United senior VP president of alliances Mark Schwab: "We are focused on strengthening our world class network and adding more destinations for our customers. This partnership with Avianca-TACA will expand our network breadth into new Colombian destinations and complement our existing alliance with Copa."