The company also has invested millions of dollars in expanding its Hub of the Americas in Panama City, so it can offer frequent flights to more destinations. In previous years, travelers from Panama to South America often had to make a stop in Miami.
Copa went public in 2005 to be better positioned to finance is growth plan, and the same year acquired Aero República, a large Colombian passenger airline.
Heilbron also pointed to Copa’s strategic alliance in 1998 with Continental Airlines (now United Airlines). “We adopted their international service standards, their training techniques, their frequent flyer program, and co-branded our clubs and liveries. ... As a result, a small airline was able to develop world-class standards.”
To keep up with growth, Copa last year was adding about 100 new employees per month, Heilbron said.
The stock price has been growing fast, too, and recent performance has far outpaced the average performance of airline stocks. Shares closed at $110.51 Friday, giving it a one-year return of 73 percent. Thomson/First Call reported that three analysts gave Copa Holdings shares a “strong buy” rating, 10 assigned a “buy,” three gave them a “hold” rating and no analysts rated them “underperform” or “sell.”
In a recent report, Raymond James analysts said: “We continue to rate Copa Outperform because of its strong unit [revenue] growth, desirable hub location, defensive market position in the rapidly growing Latin America air travel market and attractive valuation.”
Heilbron sees more growth ahead after the Panama Canal expansion is completed. “Canal-related businesses — including banking and other services — will experience new growth and Panama will gain importance as a hemispheric logistics center. This will provide new opportunities to Copa.”