Published on September 14th, 2012 | by Mark Chesnut
Panama City Airport in Growth Mode: More Gates, Flights, Food
BY MARK CHESNUT
REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM LATIN BUSINESS TRAVELER
As Panama City rides an investment boom that includes a wider canal, a fast-growing skyline and a surge in hotel openings, the capital’s international airport, Tocumen, is doing its part to keep up with the growth trajectory.
The most noticeable recent airport upgrade is the North Pier (Muelle Norte), a brand-new, 12-gate concourse that opened this year and is almost finished, except for a few moving sidewalks and retail establishments that have yet to open. With this new facility, Tocumen is better able to serve larger aircraft including the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747. Also new is a food court over the main terminal area, where travelers can refuel at an array of fast-food outlets.
This is far from the end of Tocumen’s growth spurt. Four companies have placed bids for the construction of a new south terminal concourse, with an as-yet-unannounced completion date. And just off the airport grounds, construction is underway on Global Business Terminal, a corporate park that will have eight six-story office buildings and an exhibition area with permanent corporate showrooms. A free shuttle will link the airport with this new park, which will also be home to a 300-room Crowne Plaza hotel owned by Bern Hotels & Resorts. Bern is among the hoteliers best positioned to benefit from increased traffic and expansion at Tocumen; the company owns several upscale properties throughout Panama City, including the recently opened Westin Playa Bonita and the soon-to-open Westin Panama City.
Connecting with more destinations
To further exploit Panama’s potential as a tourism and business destination, one of the goals of Panama’s tourism authority (Autoridad de Turismo de Panamá), known as ATP, is to make it easier for foreign visitors to connect between international and domestic flights. Currently, most international travelers flying into Tocumen must transit to Albrook Airport, a smaller domestic terminal near the Panama Canal, if they want to reach the interior of the country. But in July Air Panama conducted its inaugural flight connecting Bocas del Toro off the nation’s Caribbean coast with international flights at Tocumen – the result of a new alliance between Copa Airlines and Air Panama that is expected to grow.
Indeed, it’s difficult to talk about Tocumen International Airport without mentioning Copa Airlines, by far the dominant carrier there, and a primary reason for the airport’s expansion. As part of the airline’s growth plan, Copa is adding 10 new Boeing 737-800s Next Generation aircraft this year, for a total of 83 aircraft.
Copa began service between Panama and five destinations in recent months: Recife, Brazil; Guanacaste, Costa Rica; Las Vegas, Nevada; Curacao, Netherland Antilles and Iquitos, Peru, bringing Copa’s total number of destinations served from its hub to 64. The carrier has also increased frequencies on some routes, for example adding a third daily roundtrip to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In addition, the carrier recently renovated and expanded the Tocumen Copa Club, a VIP lounge that it jointly operates with United Airlines. The facility is accessible to business class passengers and travelers with Copa Club membership. And in June, Copa joined the Star Alliance, on the heels of its March switch to United’s MileagePlus frequent flyer program, which replaced the OnePass affiliation that disappeared following the United-Continental merger.
Copa is not the only airline that has changed its Tocumen lounge. American Airlines recently relaunched its Admirals Club as the Airport Club, which can be accessed with Priority Pass membership or by purchasing a day pass (the normal rate is US$40, but it’s worth bargaining; when this reporter explained to the receptionist that he only had an hour or two to kill, the rep lowered the rate to US$30).
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