March 18, 2020 / 4:24 PM / 19 days ago

Panama's Copa is latest Latam airline to be impacted by outbreak, may halt operations

March 18 (Reuters) - Panama’s Copa Airlines said a “complete, temporary shutdown” of its operations was possible by April, while Brazil’s carriers said international travel demand has tumbled as much as 85%, hurt by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

Many countries in Latin America have shut down or restricted flights in recent days due to the coronavirus outbreak, heavily affecting the operations of regional airlines and leaving passengers stranded.

Brazil’s two largest airlines, LATAM Airlines Group and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, have seen international travel demand sink 85% in the second half of March. Domestic travel has fallen 50%, industry group Abear said on Wednesday.

Brazil’s No. 3 airline, Azul SA, said their numbers were in line with the competition.

Brazil’s carriers have been waiting for a government relief package since Monday, when industry group Abear told reporters an announcement was imminent. But since then the government has been silent.

In Panama, Copa said late on Tuesday it had yet to make a decision regarding a potential full shutdown, but said that in April, it will reduce 80% of its flights and ground most of its fleet, making it the most affected carrier in Latin America.

Competitor LATAM Airlines said it will cut 70% of its flights.

Copa uses Panama City as a hub for connecting North American and South American travelers through short layovers at Tocumen Airport.

The strain on regional carriers pushed credit ratings agency Moody’s to downgrade airlines Azul, LATAM and Aeromexico late on Tuesday. Gol was put under review for a potential downgrade. (Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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