Copa was established in 1947 by a group of Panamanian investors and Pan American World Airways, which provided technical and economic assistance as well as capital. Initially, Copa served three domestic destinations in Panama with a fleet of three Douglas C-47 aircraft. In the 1960s, Copa began its international service with three weekly flights to cities in Costa Rica, Jamaica and Colombia using a small fleet of Avro 748s and Electra 188s. In 1971, Pan American World Airways sold its stake in Copa to a group of Panamanian investors who retained control of the airline until 1986. During the 1980s, Copa suspended its domestic service to focus on international flights.
In 1986, CIASA purchased 99% of Copa, which was controlled by the group of Panamanian shareholders who currently control CIASA. From 1992 until 1998, Copa was a part of a commercial alliance with Grupo TACA’s network of Central American airline carriers. In 1997, together with Grupo TACA, Copa entered into a strategic alliance with American Airlines. After a year our alliance with American Airlines was terminated by mutual consent.
On May 6, 1998, Copa Holdings, S.A., the holding company for Copa and related companies was incorporated as a sociedad anónima under the laws of Panama to facilitate the sale by CIASA of a 49% stake in Copa Holdings to Continental. In connection with Continental’s investment, we entered into an extensive alliance agreement with Continental providing for code-sharing, joint marketing, technical exchanges and other cooperative initiatives between the airlines. At the time of our initial public offering in December 2005, Continental reduced its ownership of our total capital stock from 49% to approximately 27.3%. In a follow-on offering in June 2006, Continental further reduced its ownership of our total capital stock from 27.3% to 10.0%. In May 2008, Continental sold its remaining shares in the public market. In March 2010, CIASA sold 4.2% of its interest and as of December 31, 2019 held 25.9% of our total capital stock.
Since 1998, we have grown and modernized our fleet while improving customer service and reliability. Copa has expanded its operational fleet from 13 aircraft to 102 aircraft at December 31, 2019. In 1999, we received our first Boeing 737-700s, in 2003 we received our first Boeing 737-800, and in 2005 we received our first Embraer 190. In the first quarter of 2005, we completed our fleet renovation program and discontinued the use of our last Boeing 737-200. Since 2005, we have expanded from 24 destinations in 18 countries to 80 destinations in 33 countries. We plan to continue our expansion, which includes increasing our fleet, over the next several years. In 2018, we took delivery of our first four Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft.
On April 22, 2005, we acquired an initial 85.6% equity ownership interest in AeroRepública, which was one of the largest domestic carriers in Colombia in terms of passengers carried. Through subsequent acquisitions, we increased our total ownership interest in AeroRepública to 99.9% by the end of that year. We believe that Copa Airlines’ operational coordination with Copa Colombia creates additional passenger traffic in our existing route network by providing Colombian passengers more convenient access to the international destinations served through our Panama hub.
In July 2015, we elected to cease co-branding the MileagePlus frequent flyer program in Latin America and launched our own frequent flyer program, ConnectMiles. We have reached a scale where establishing our own direct relationship with our customers is warranted. Copa and UAL will remain strong loyalty partners through our participation in Star Alliance.
In December 2016, we launched a low-cost business model, Wingo, to diversify our offerings and to better compete with other low- cost carriers in the markets. Wingo serves domestic flights in Colombia and some international cities to and from Colombia.
We are a leading Latin American provider of airline passenger and cargo service through our two principal operating subsidiaries, Copa Airlines and Copa Colombia. Copa Airlines operates from its strategically-located position in the Republic of Panama, and Copa Colombia flies from Colombia to Copa Airlines Hub of the Americas in Panama, and operates a low-cost business model within Colombia and various cities in the region. As of December 31, 2019 we operate a fleet of 102 aircraft, 82 Boeing 737-Next Generation aircraft, 14 Embraer 190 aircraft and six Boeing 737 MAX 9 aircraft to meet our growing capacity requirements. The Company had one purchase contract with Boeing which entails 65 firm orders of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, agreed to be delivered between 2020 and 2025.
Copa currently offers approximately 361 daily scheduled flights among 80 destinations in 33 countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean from its Panama City hub. Copa provides passengers with access to flights to more than 200 other destinations through code-share arrangements with UAL and other airlines pursuant to which each airline places its name and flight designation code on the other’s flights. Through its Panama City hub, Copa is able to consolidate passenger traffic from multiple points to serve each destination effectively.
Copa has a strategic alliance with United Airlines, or “UAL” or “United,” that encompass joint marketing strategies and code-sharing arrangements, among other things. In addition, Copa has entered into a three-way JBA with UAL and Avianca that is intended to cover our combined network between the United States and Latin America (except Brazil). Copa has been a member of Star Alliance since June 2012.
Since January 2001, we have grown significantly and have established a track record of consistent profitability. Our total operating revenues increased from $0.3 billion in 2001 to $2.7 billion in 2019 while our operating income also increased from $25.0 million to $346.2 million over the same period.
We believe our primary business strengths that have allowed us to compete successfully in the airline industry include the following:
- Our “Hub of the Americas” airport is strategically located. We believe that Copa’s base of operations at the geographically central location of Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Panama provides convenient connections to our principal markets in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, enabling us to consolidate traffic to serve several destinations that do not generate enough demand to justify point-to-point service. Flights from Panama operate with few service disruptions due to weather, contributing to high completion factors and on-time performance. Tocumen International Airport’s sea-level altitude allows our aircraft to operate without the performance restrictions they would be subject to in higher altitude airports. We believe that Copa’s hub in Panama allows us to benefit from Panama City’s status as a center for financial services, shipping and commerce and from Panama’s stable, dollar-based economy, free-trade zone and growing tourism.
- We focus on keeping our operating costs low. In recent years, our low operating costs and efficiency have contributed significantly to our profitability. Our operating CASM, excluding costs for fuel was 6.63¢ in 2019, 6.79¢ in 2018, 6.31¢ in 2017, 6.48¢ in 2016 and 6.45¢ in 2015. We believe that our cost per available seat mile reflects our modern fleet, efficient operations and the competitive cost of labor in Panama.
- We operate a modern fleet. Our fleet consists of Boeing 737-MAX, Boeing 737 -Next Generation and Embraer 190 aircraft equipped with winglets and other modern cost-saving and safety features. Over the next several years, we intend to enhance our modern fleet through the addition of 65 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to be delivered between 2020 and 2025. We believe that our modern fleet contributes to our on-time performance and high completion factor (percentage of scheduled flights not cancelled).
- We believe Copa has a strong brand and a reputation for quality service. We believe that the Copa brand is associated with value to passengers, providing world-class service and competitive pricing. For the year ended December 31, 2019, Copa’s statistic for on-time performance, according to DOT standard methodology of arrivals within 14 minutes of scheduled arrival time, was and its completion factor was 99.8%. We believe our focus on customer service has helped to build passenger loyalty. In addition, the excellent response to our new loyalty program, ConnectMiles, demonstrates the strong affinity Copa customers have for the brand. During 2019, we were recognized by OAG as the second most on-time airline in the world, and by Flight Stats, for the seventh consecutive year as the most on-time airline in Latin America.
- Our management fosters a culture of teamwork and continuous improvement. Our management team has been successful at creating a culture based on teamwork and focused on continuous improvement. Each of our employees has individual objectives based on corporate goals that serve as a basis for measuring performance. When corporate operational and financial targets are met, employees are eligible to receive bonuses according to our profit sharing program. See “Item 6D. Employees”. We also recognize outstanding performance of individual employees through company-wide recognition, one-time awards, special events and, in the case of our senior management, grants of restricted stock and stock options. Our goal-oriented culture and incentive programs have contributed to a motivated work force that is focused on satisfying customers, achieving efficiencies and growing profitability.
Our goal is to continue to grow profitably and enhance our position as a leader in Latin American aviation by providing a combination of superior customer service, convenient schedules and competitive fares, while maintaining competitive costs. The key elements of our business strategy include the following:
- Expand our network by increasing frequencies and adding new destinations. We believe that demand for air travel in Latin America is likely to expand in the next decade, and we intend to use our increasing fleet capacity to meet this growing demand. We intend to focus on expanding our operations by increasing flight frequencies on our most profitable routes and initiating service to new destinations. Copa’s Panama City hub allows us to consolidate traffic and provide non-stop or one-stop connecting service to over 2,000 city pairs, and we intend to focus on providing new or increased service to destinations that we believe best enhance the overall connectivity and profitability of our network.
- Continue to focus on keeping our costs low. We seek to reduce our cost per available seat mile without sacrificing services valued by our customers as we execute our growth plans. Our goal is to maintain a modern fleet and to make effective use of our resources through efficient aircraft utilization and employee productivity. We intend to reduce our distribution costs by increasing direct sales as well as improving efficiency through technology and automated processes.
- Emphasize superior service and value to our customers. We intend to continue to focus on satisfying our customers and earning their loyalty by providing a combination of superior service and competitive fares. We believe that continuing our operational success in keeping flights on time, reducing mishandled luggage and offering convenient schedules to attractive destinations will be essential to achieving this goal. In January 2020, we were recognized by OAG as the second most on-time airline in the world and the most on-time airline in Latin America. We intend to continue to incentivize our employees to improve or maintain operating and service metrics relating to our customers’ satisfaction by continuing our profit sharing plan and employee recognition programs. We will continue to reward our customer loyalty with, ConnectMiles awards, upgrades and access to our Copa Club lounges.