Copa-Nassau route soaring
Half-a-dozen times in as many weeks Copa Airlines has had to upgrade to larger aircraft to accommodate the passenger load on its new Panama-Nassau route, one of several strong indicators that additional airlift may be on the way.
“Over the last six weeks we have had to substitute with bigger aircraft over six times because of loads being higher than the aircraft we scheduled,” Copa’s Nassau-based Airport Manager Richard Ryan told Guardian Business yesterday. Since its inaugural flight on June 15, the airline has been operating at around 90 percent load capacity for the route, Ryan noted. “With full flights, we don’t know if we’re turning people away.”
Copa utilizes three different types of aircraft in its fleet – the Embraer 190, the Boeing 737-700 and the Boeing 737-800. The Embraer 190 seats 94 and is the flight typically used for the Nassau route. The Boeings seat 124 and 160 respectively, the 124-seater being used to substitute for the Embraer when capacity demands.
An industry specialist told Guardian Business yesterday that when airlines reach a 90 percent load factor, they are generally losing a large number of potential customers. It’s a factor likely to be on the minds of Copa executives looking at the Nassau-Panama route’s early success. It may be premature to say definitively that increased service is on the way, but Ryan said if it were to happen, the first thing you would see is daily service.
“It’s hard for me to say what will happen in the future, but based on high loads the company always goes to daily service [first],” Ryan said. Currently, Copa operates four round-trip flights per week for the Nassau-Panama route.
For now, Ryan says he is looking forward to the day when the 737-800 is used for The Bahamas route, adding that additional airlift could come from both increased flights and planes with larger capacity. He said increasing both was the ultimate goal.
Ryan told Guardian Business, his observations show that outside of Panama the strongest markets passengers are connecting out of Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. The data is not scientific, he cautioned, but is based on his familiarity with connection flight data.
“We are definitely seeing a huge new market develop that was not there before,” Ryan said.
The Bahamas may even have a competitive advantage over South Florida, in that Latin American passengers are not required to have a visa to travel here. At over $100, a family of four or five could have several hundreds of dollars in added vacation money as a result of not having to secure that US travel visa.
On the other hand, Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin-Americans may fork over the extra visa dollars to go to a destination where communication is easier – a clear advantage for the largely multilingual South-Florida market.
On that front, Ryan praised the enthusiasm of the Nassau Flight Services support staff working with the airline. They are embracing Spanish flight-related vocabulary, according to Ryan — one word at a time.