The paperwork for anti-trust immunity for a joint venture between United Airlines, Panama's Copa Airlines and Colombia's Avianca will likely not be filed with regulators until next year, thus pushing back a potential start for the project to 2021 at the earliest, Copa's chief executive Pedro Heilbron said at the ALTA Airline Leaders Forum in Brasilia on 27 October.
The Star Alliance carriers unveiled the deal for the three-way joint venture in November 2018. The accord would require approvals from regulators in several countries, including the US Department of Transportation, which has to grant anti-trust immunity.
"It's a three-way business agreement and it's been delayed for obvious reasons, considering everything that's going on in our southern neighbour," Heilbron says, referring to uncertainty at Colombia's crisis-ridden flag carrier Avianca.
"I would have told you a few months ago that it would be before the end of the year but right now I will not promise anything," he adds. "It will get filed eventually."
In the past months, Avianca has gone through a deep financial crisis during which it restructured debt, changed ownership, hired a new management team and launched a new strategic plan.
Under its "Avianca 2021" strategic plan, announced in August, the Bogota-based carrier said it will slash its fleet and capacity, sell older aircraft, and work to cut unprofitable flying. The airline also said that it expects capacity growth will turn negative year-over-year in the fourth quarter. A major pillar of the plan is optimisation of the airline's Bogota hub operation with new destinations and connections better suited to higher-yield traffic.
Heilbron adds that once the airlines officially apply for the joint venture in writing, it will take up to two years to go into effect, pushing the planned collaboration into 2021 at the earliest.
"It takes from 18 to 24 months to get something like that approved, and we will know more [about the timing] once the papers are filed," Heilbron adds.