Copa Airlines announced that it will begin offering non-stop service four times a week between New Orleans and Panama on June 24, 2015. The announcement makes New Orleans the 11th U.S. destination for Copa Airlines and its 71stoverall.
Until now New Orleans has been one of the only U.S. cities without non-stop service to Latin America.
Pedro Heilbron, CEO of Copa Airlines, said in a statement that the new flights will not only boost business opportunities between Louisiana and Panama, but will also improve connectivity to more than 55 destinations in Latin America.
The announcement drew a range of local officials to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett, and New Orleans Aviation Board Chairwoman Cheryl Teamer.
Among those pushing hardest for the new international flight has been economic development organization Greater New Orleans Inc. Over the past two years, representatives from GNO Inc. visited Panama City on two occasions to meet with Copa Airlines chairman Stanley Mota and president Pedro Heilbron, according to GNO Inc. spokeswoman Caitlin Berni.
During the announcement ceremony, GNO Inc. CEO Michael Hecht said the new direct flights between Panama and New Orleans represent a "re-opening of the Gateway to the Americas."
In an accompanying email, Hecht noted that the new partnership "fulfills one of our top priorities - to reconnect Greater New Orleans to its historical ties to Central and South America - and thus catalyze a broad range of growth opportunities for the businesses, ports, universities and hospitals of our region."
The airport's director of aviation Iktikhar Ahmad said he and his team have been pursuing the Copa Airlines for close to five years.
Flights from New Orleans will depart on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 6:55 a.m. and arrive at Copa's Hub of the Americas at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City at 10:19 a.m.
Return flights depart Panama on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays at 6:33 p.m. and arrive in New Orleans at 10:02 pm.
The plane, a Boeing 737-700, has seating for 12 passengers in first-class and 112 in the main cabin. Flight time is approximately three and a half hours.