LAS VEGAS -- Tourism is the lifeblood of Las Vegas and the industry is always looking for ways to expand it's reach. Central and South America have been on the wish list for awhile.Today the Panamanian arline "Copa" announced it will begin non-stop service to Las Vegas. News 3's Sergio Avila shows us the latest step forward in our economic recovery.
Copa Airlines, Panama’s leading air carrier, will begin nonstop flights between Panama City and Las Vegas in June, the city’s first international service to Central America and the first new carrier to be served at McCarran International Airport's Terminal 3.
Flights will begin June 27, the opening day for McCarran’s new 14-gate, $2.4 billion terminal.
Copa — an acronym for Compañía Panameña de Aviación — will fly the route four times a week with 2:30 p.m. arrivals Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays and 5:37 a.m. departures Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays.
The airline will formally announce the new route Wednesday in Panama City.
“With this, we’re opening up Las Vegas to the whole world,” said Rosemary Vassiliadis, deputy director of the Clark County Aviation Department.
Vassiliadis was referencing a new region Copa will connect to Las Vegas. The airline currently offers flights to 62 destinations in 29 countries with 280 daily flights on a fleet of 73 planes.
The airline is developing a schedule to take advantage of connecting flights from 30 major cities Copa serves to deliver passengers with one stop to Las Vegas. That strategy has worked successfully for British Airways on flights to and from London’s Heathrow International Airport and for Korean Air on flights to and from Seoul, South Korea.
Among the major cities on Copa’s route map are Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador; Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; and Caracas, Venezuela. The airline also flies to 14 destinations in the Caribbean, including La Habana, Cuba. Las Vegas will be Copa’s seventh U.S. destination and 12th in North America.
McCarran and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority have worked for two years to convince Copa to give Las Vegas a try, having first made contact with the airline at a World Routes airline conference — an event Las Vegas will host in 2013.
“We think this is going to open up a lot of opportunities for us,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, president and CEO of the LVCVA. “Our goal is to eventually get them to daily service. It’s been a joint effort with McCarran to get to this point.”
Airlines often start flights with two, three or four flights a week to gauge the market, then add flights to become a daily operation when the traffic warrants it.
Copa will use 124-seat Boeing 737-700 twin-engine jets on the route most of the time. The airline also operates larger-capacity Boeing 737-800 jets with configurations that carry 155 or 160 passengers.
The prospect of adding Copa to the list of international carriers serving McCarran was one of the reasons airport officials decided to make a seventh gate at Terminal 3 flexible for international or domestic arrivals, Vassiliadis said.
Copa will be the 12th international carrier to serve Las Vegas — the 13th if you count seasonal flights offered by XL Airways France in the summer months.
-- Richard N. Velotta | VEGAS INC.