Transport

Come One, Come All

Hub of the Americas

A number of new airlines are coming to Panama's Tocumen Airport this year, further consolidating the country's position as the so-called Hub of the Americas.

Its extensive network, in large part thanks to the presence of Copa Airlines, has allowed Tocumen Airport to attract increasing attention from countries around the world that are hoping to strengthen trade and travel links with Central America. Emirates Airlines, Turkish Airlines, and Lufthansa will be the first three new airlines to begin operations from Tocumen Airport in 2016.

In 2015, Emirates Airlines announced its decision to offer a new direct service from Dubai to Panama City. Initially set to commence on February 1, 2016 but later deferred to the end of 2016 due to delays in codeshare approvals, the new route will be the longest non-stop flight in the world, lasting 17 hours and 35 minutes in its westbound direction. It will be operated by a Boeing 777-200LR with a capacity of 266 passengers, of which eight will be in first class, 42 in business class, and 216 in economy, with additional capacity for up to 15 tons of cargo. The new flight route consolidates efforts to strengthen bilateral relations between Panama and the UAE. The two countries cemented ties following a visit from the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs earlier in the year, during which a joint cooperation committee on trade and investment was created. The new air link opens the door to increased tourism and trade opportunities between the two nations, with Panama already established as a key importer of pharmaceutical products, machinery, metal rods, and electronics from the UAE. The arrangement is also a strategic move for the latter, which foresees its entry into the rest of the region through Panama.

Turkish Airlines similarly began operations from Tocumen in May, with three flights a week from Istanbul to Panama. Westbound, the flight will stop over in Bogotá but flies directly from Panama to Istanbul. Lufthansa’s direct flight between Germany and Panama commenced in March 2016 following the signing of a codeshare agreement with Copa Airlines. The airline has stated that its decision to fly to Panama is based on the latter’s status as a gateway into Central America and the Caribbean. Starting with five flights a week, the airline plans to increase this to a daily service to cater to high demand, particularly from corporate clients. Together, the three new airlines are set to contribute significantly to Tocumen’s 9.5% forecast annual traffic increase. Speaking on the causes of increased interest for new direct routes to Panama, Joseph Fidanque III, General Manager of Tocumen International Airport, reiterated the message of the airlines, stating, “The number one reason is that this is a hub from which people can continue on to smaller cities in the region. Tocumen Airport is a hub, but the country itself is a bridge to the Americas.” Panama has indeed managed to establish itself as a prime alternative to increasingly congested US hubs such as Miami and New York. “We are not replacing any of those destinations; we are complementing them. Panama is filling a gap within this region of the world,” Fidanque continued.

Between January and November 2015, Tocumen airport saw 12.1 million passengers, of which 4 million were transit passengers. In order to maintain competitiveness, Tocumen Airport has embarked on a number of expansion projects, the latest being the construction of a second terminal, due to be completed in December 2018.

Panama currently has ongoing negotiations with India, New Zealand, Japan, and Austria to establish aviation agreements that will allow airlines in those countries to establish flights to Tocumen International Airport. Panama has signed over 26 such agreements and maintains aviation relations with a further 36 nations. Additionally, it has established six open skies agreements with Peru, Chile, the US, Guatemala, Curaçao, and Nicaragua to facilitate air travel between these nations.

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