Established in 1947 by a group of Panamanian investors and Pan American World Airways, Copa Holdings SA initially served three domestic destinations in Panama with a fleet of just three aircraft. In the 1960s, Copa began its international services to Costa Rica, Jamaica and Colombia, and today flies to destinations throughout North America, South America and the Caribbean.
To bolster its market presence, Copa Holdings acquired the domestic and regional airline, AeroRepublica, in 2005, and subsequently renamed it Copa Colombia. In late 2016, to reignite competition, the group launched lower frills brand Wingo – the first low-cost carrier (LCC) under a Latin American full-service airline group. Today, Wingo operates 17 short-haul international and domestic routes, including many that were previously under the Copa Colombia brand, as well as new point-to-point leisure routes that wouldn’t have been viable under its full-service offering.
Rather than establishing the new airline from scratch, Bogotá-based Wingo operates administratively and functionally under Copa Airlines Colombia, providing economies of scale and minimizing risk. As Julio Toro, CIO at Copa explains, “Wingo has an autonomous management team which handles all aspects of commercialization, distribution systems and customer service, keeping the two business models and cultures separate.”
SITA and Copa have a relationship that stretches back over two decades, so when we were approached in August to propose a solution, we had both the capability and the appetite to deliver this time-sensitive and operationally confidential project.
Elbson Quadros, Vice President, Latin America, SITA
Copa Holdings needed connectivity services to enable Wingo to start operating against a highly ambitious three-month timeline – one that telecoms providers had already baulked at.
As SITA’s Elbson Quadros, VP Latin America, recalls, “Copa needed a managed, secure, cost-effective and reliable IP connection for Wingo, to provide front-office access for check-in and departure control, and access to corporate applications and tools from the back office. With a hard deadline looming of December 1, 2016 for the airline’s launch, no other communications provider would risk committing to the compressed three-month timeframe. But SITA and Copa have a relationship that stretches back over two decades, so when we were approached in August to propose a solution, we had both the capability and the appetite to deliver this time-sensitive and operationally confidential project.”
CorporateConnect@Airports, part of the SITA Connect portfolio, would enable Wingo to securely connect to all its corporate applications and key systems as well as the internet, via dedicated virtual private network.
CorporateConnect@Airports is available in more than 300 international airports where SITA has deployed its shared connectivity platform, AirportHub™, which provides airlines, airports and other air transport industry players with reliable and flexible network connectivity. Designed to avoid single points of failure, AirportHub would deliver the high availability Wingo needed to carry out its daily operations and reduce the risk of disruption caused by network outages.
The implementation included a network of 7 CorporateConnect@Airports connections to domestic and international airports, connectivity to and integration with Radixx (an internet-based departure control system), common-use terminal equipment (CUTE) installations, and pilot testing.
“With AirportHub, deployment typically takes around two weeks – not the six months airport tenants might otherwise face,” says Quadros. “No matter where airlines connect to AirportHub, the process is the same, allowing common-use solutions to be deployed much more easily, and saving the time, cost and stress of dealing with multiple local providers,” he adds.
This agility was absolutely key to the success of the project, as Copa’s CIO, Julio Toro explains. “Connectivity was a prerequisite to getting Wingo fully operational, and furthermore crucial to Copa’s ROI by enabling us to capitalize the subsidiary as of December 1, 2016. SITA got us up and running with the complete solution in record time – just six weeks including contract negotiations, testing and deployment.”
“SITA committed to deliver when no other IT provider or expert was prepared to take the risk,” Toro attests. “What made it all possible was SITA’s knowledge, teamwork and excellent coordination. Project management was very coherent and professional, with a dedicated contact to address our needs and resolve any problems,” he adds.
Once connected to the world’s largest IP network, Wingo was able to hit its single-minded launch date of December 1, 2016, commencing operations with an international flight from Bogotá to Cancun.
Julio Toro sums up the experience from Copa’s perspective: “The service is rock solid and was launched in a timely manner, particularly given the circumstances that had to be confronted. Now we have seen how SITA’s products and services are working for Wingo, we have started considering how SITA can bring connectivity services to the other sites in which Copa Airlines operates.”
As a strategic response to dynamic market opportunities and a reflection of Copa Holdings’ experience and strength, Wingo has already captured a 2% share of seat capacity in its home markets of Colombia and Panama. Toro concludes: “Following the smooth deployment of connectivity within an unprecedented timescale, this project represents the start of a strong technology innovation partnership between SITA and Copa Holdings. We are confident this will be a winning formula.”