Copa Holdings, parent of Panama’s Copa Airlines, achieved a small profit during the second quarter of 2021 as operations began to normalise following the long Covid-19-driven disruption.

But travel restrictions in many countries in Latin America are continuing to drag on the company’s ability to reinstate flights, preventing it from quickly returning to 2019 levels.

The Panama City-headquartered carrier earned a $28 million profit in three months ending on 30 June, it says on 5 August. Revenue for the quarter came in at $304 million, down 53% from the $645 million it earned in the same period in pre-coronavirus 2019.

Copa 737 Max 9

Source: Copa Airlines

Copa struggles to reinstate capacity as Latin American countries maintain or tighten travel restrictions

But the two diverging trends that Copa reported in the first quarter – some countries opening travel, others locking down further – continues, chief executive Pedro Heilbron says during the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

“The story has not changed much. Several countries have maintained, and in some cases increased, travel restrictions, which has affected our ability to reinstate capacity,” Heilbron says. The industry, he adds, “still faces significant challenges” in Latin America.

“Practically every market has some sort of travel restrictions,” Heilbron says. Some countries have testing requirements, some require quarantines. “Where we are most affected is when countries like Argentina restrict the number of flights.”

“The open markets – like Brazil, Mexico and the US for most origins – those markets are seeing a faster recovery than the ones that have higher restrictions,” he adds.

Copa’s capacity during the second quarter was 48% its capacity in the same period in 2019, up from 39% in the first quarter of the year.

For the third quarter, the airline aims to fly 70% of 2019 capacity – which would be 50% more than in the second quarter. It expects third-quarter revenue will reach about $415 million, or about 58% of revenue during same period two years ago. Copa also hopes to be cash-neutral in the third quarter.

The airline sees its “Hub of the Americas” – Panama City’s Tocumen International airport – as a key advantage, enabling it to again connect secondary cities in the region not served by larger carriers.

“It’s about rebuilding the hub… We believe the ramp-up of the hub and maintaining frequencies is very important in the future development of it,” says Copa’s chief financial officer Jose Montero.

“We think we have all the pieces in place to remain successful, even though we do expect more competition from others” as the industry rebuilds, Heilbron adds.


Copa ended the second quarter with a operating fleet of 81 aircraft, including 68 Boeing 737-800s and 13 737 Max 9s, the airline says. The carrier sold three Embraer 190s during the quarter; in July, its last E190 was delivered to a new owner.

During the quarter Copa also agreed to sell six of its 12 737-700s. The remaining six of that type are still in storage, according to Cirium fleets data. The rationale to keep the smaller 737 type is to maintain flexibility through the uneven post-coronavirus recovery, executives say.

“We are hedging our bets,” Heilbron says. “Those aircraft are owned and paid for, and not very expensive. They have the same great reliability as the rest of the fleet, the cost of keeping those aircraft is nothing, and the cost of being short aircraft could be very high.”

Copa intends to deploy 737-700s on routes that had previously been the mainstay of its E190s, he adds.