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Copa sees 2020 timeframe for launch of JV with Avianca and United

Copa Airlines chief executive Pedro Heilbron expects a planned three-way joint venture with Avianca and United Airlines to go into effect in end-2020 "at best", underlining the several rounds of regulatory approvals needed for the deal.

Negotiations among the three airlines are still ongoing and have not concluded, Heilbron pointed out on an earnings call on 15 November.

"Hopefully that will happen before the end of the year and it's going to then take at least a year-and-a-half to get it all approved especially in Panama, Colombia, and the US," says Heilbron. "So this will at best enter into effect towards the end of 2020."

In August, Copa emerged as the third airline involved in joint venture discussions between Avianca and United, which were made public in early 2017. Heilbron told FlightGlobal that Copa had been part of the talks since day one, "but chose not to make it public thinking we were going to finalise the three-way negotiations much sooner".

All three airlines are members of the Star Alliance.

The regulatory approval process for the potential joint venture among the three airlines will likely take some time, going by the recent experience of LATAM Airlines Group which is seeking to implement separate joint ventures with American Airlines and IAG.

The Santiago-based carrier recently received Chilean approval for the deals, just under three years from when they were first announced. The airline still has to file for US Department of Transportation approval for the planned American joint venture.

While Copa progresses in talks with Avianca and United, it recently announced a codeshare agreement with Brazil's Azul, of which United owns a small share. The codeshare is expected to improve the feed to Copa's network from Brazil, says Heilbron. Copa operates to nine destinations in Brazil from its hub in Panama City.

Azul has the largest network in Brazil in terms of destinations, offering more than a hundred cities.

"This is going to strengthen our connectivity inside Brazil and help the performance of our Brazilian network going forward," says Heilbron. "There's really no downside to implementing a codeshare especially with an airline with a vast network in a country that's very important for us."

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