Panama’s Copa Airlines To Launch Service To Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

copa 737-800
Credit: Markus Mainka/Alamy Stock Photo

Panama’s Copa Airlines will add its 16th U.S. destination with service to North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) in June, plus new routes to Mexico and Brazil.

RDU, which handled its highest-ever volume of annual passengers in 2023, added Air France to its roster of airlines with flights to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport starting in October 2023. The North Carolina hub will also see Lufthansa commence service to Frankfurt Airport in June. With Copa flights to Panama City’s Tocumen International Airport (PTY) starting in June, RDU will have 10 international routes, up from five in 2019.

The PTY-RDU route will be flown 4X-weekly from June 21 using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 160 seats, including 16 in business class. RDU follows Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport (service started in June 2023) and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas (service started in July 2023) as U.S. destinations joining Copa’s network.

Copa will become the 18th airline serving RDU, which handled a record 14.5 million passengers in 2023, up 22% over 2022 and up 2% over 2019. Airlines are attracted to RDU because it serves one of the fastest-growing areas in the U.S: the “Research Triangle” region of North Carolina, in which three top-tier research universities—Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—are located within 25 mi. of each other and support a burgeoning technology sector.

The region is “known for its proximity to prestigious higher education centers and their position as a hub for innovation and technology,” Copa says in a statement.

RDU CEO says PTY “will provide Triangle travelers easy access to Central and South America and the Caribbean through Copa Airlines’ vast international network.”

Copa CCO Dennis Cary told Aviation Week Network last year that on most of the carrier's routes, about one-third of passengers are traveling to Panama, while two-thirds are connecting via PTY, which Copa touts as the “Hub of the Americas.”

“Part of our unique offering has always been the number of cities that we serve with a single connection at our hub in Panama,” Cary said, noting the Star Alliance carrier serves around 80 destinations in the Americas.

Copa will add two more routes in June. From June 26, it will fly between PTY and Felipe Carrillo Puerto International Airport (TQO)—the new airport in Tulum, Mexico. TQO will begin accepting international flights from March 28. The route will be operated 4X-weekly with a 737.

TQO is located about 85 mi. south of Cancun. “This tourist destination, situated in the heart of the Riviera Maya, on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, is renowned for its vibrant nightlife, authentic Mexican cuisine and proximity to iconic beaches,” Copa says.

Tulum will become Copa’s fifth Mexican destination. The carrier currently serves Cancun, Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterey.

Additionally, the airline will commence service from PTY to Florianopolis, its seventh destination in Brazil, on June 25. Copa points to the beaches and natural parks accessible via the southern Brazilian city. The route will be flown 3X-weekly with a 737.

Aaron Karp

Aaron Karp is a Contributing Editor to the Aviation Week Network.