The Panamanian carrier Copa Airlines expects to increase its Boeing 737 MAX fleet from six it had when it resumed operations with the type to 20 by the end of 2022. The plan is already in motion since the airline has already received four new Boeing 737 MAX 9 in the last few weeks.
Latest developments of Copa’s MAX
Well before the pandemic, Copa Airlines signed a deal with Boeing to acquire up to 61 Boeing 737 MAX airplanes. The Panamanian carrier’s plan was to upgauge and replace older planes, like the Embraer E190 and Boeing 737-700 fleets.
At the time, Pedro Heilbron, Copa’s CEO, said,
“The Next-Generation 737 is the backbone for our fleet today, and our order for the 737 MAX shows our continued commitment for the future to bring people together across all of the Americas using the most modern and efficient airplanes in the sky.”
Nevertheless, the grounding of the 737 MAX put a hold on Copa’s plans. Then, the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the retirement of the older fleets. In the last few months, Copa sold its 14 Embraer 190 aircraft and stored the remaining 12 Boeing 737-700 it had.
On December 30, 2020, Copa Airlines quietly resumed its 737 MAX flights. It operated a flight between Panama City and San José, Costa Rica. Unlike other carriers like WestJet and American Airlines, Copa brought back the MAX fleet without too much noise. Fortunately for the airline, it seems like its traveling public is not very worried about being inside a MAX. Pedro Heilbron said,
“There have been no negative comments. No passengers are refusing to fly the airplane. It’s been just like any other aircraft in our fleet, with no issues. It is no different than an average flight with a regular 737-800 NG, which is, of course, good news.”
Copa’s plans for the 737 MAX
Since the Boeing 737 MAX ungrounding in the US, Copa has received four new Boeing 737 MAX 9, said the carrier. One arrived in December, and the other three have come between January and February 2021.
Furthermore, the airline expects to add three more MAX 9 to its fleet during 2021’s first quarter. Copa Airlines explained the plan to add a total of eight planes in 2021 and five more in 2022. Therefore, by the end of 2022, Copa would have a fleet of 20 737 MAX 9.
In December, the Export-Import Bank of the United States authorized a final commitment for a guaranteed loan of up to US$327.9 million, related to seven 737 MAX 9 aircraft to be delivered to Copa Airlines during 2020 and 2021.
Copa’s MAX planes have a capacity for 166 passengers and include 16 lie-flat seats. The airline would love to use the 737 MAX on business-oriented routes, using these lie-flat seats to attract corporate travel. In the meantime,
“The aircraft will be deployed in our longer market, and that’s already happening, and as we get more, we’ll do more of that. They’re going to be mostly serving those markets,” said Pedro Heilbron.
A quick outlook on Copa Airlines’ finances
In 2020, Copa Airlines reported an operating loss of US$598.6 million due to the COVID-19 crisis. The continued effects of the pandemic force Copa to operate, on average, at approximately 27% of the capacity it had previously.
Moreover, between April and September, Copa Airlines remained grounded due to travel restrictions in Panama and Latin America. In October, it resumed operations, flying at 15% of its previous capacity; by November, it increased to 28%, 39% in December, and 45% in January.
Copa Airlines ended 2020 with US$1.3 billion of available liquidity. Of this amount, approximately US$1.0 billion was in cash, short-term and long-term investments, and US$305 million in committed and undrawn credit facilities.
The airline didn’t provide financial guidance for 2021 due to the current uncertainty in the aviation market. Nevertheless, Copa expects a decrease in demand for the first quarter of 2021. Pedro Heilbron said,
“Despite the encouraging results in the fourth quarter, increasing COVID-19 cases and new international travel requirements and restrictions have stalled demand starting in the second half of December.”
Have you ever traveled onboard a Copa Airlines Boeing 737 MAX? How was it? Let us know in the comments.