On Time

 By: Panorama de las Américas
Photos: Javier Pinzón

A Race Against Time

It is shortly before ten o’clock in the morning and Tocumen International Airport in Panama City is a hotbed of activity. Children and couples, teenagers with huge backpacks, and families with babies line up to check-in for their  flights. In the duty-free area, passengers browse and make purchases and at the gates, people read or chat, have something to eat, or look out the windows at the airstrip.

Down below, on the ramp, there is even more movement. Even though each Copa Airlines employee knows exactly what his or her task is, and at what moment it is to be executed, there are so many people and departments involved in the task of planning, receiving, and dispatching the airline’s 350 flights daily that the scene out the window can appear chaotic. But nothing could be further from the truth. Bolívar Domínguez González, Vice President of Flight Operations, says that the scene out the airport windows is a perfectly choreographed series of operations that begin 45 days before a flight. This plan requires 20-30 collaborators for each flight, including mechanics, dispatchers, cleaning personnel, pilots, crew members, passenger service agents, stevedores, and drivers, to name only a few.

From the moment the plane approaches the airport, the entire Copa Operations team springs into action to receive it and comply with the allotted times for each process. As passengers leave the plane, their suitcases travel down ramps, the toilets are cleaned, and the plane is inspected, refueled, and loaded with drinking water. Once all the passengers have exited, the cleaning staff vacuums, picks up the trash, and rearranges the magazines and the safety manuals in the seat pockets, while On-board Supply personnel restock the drinks,  food trays, and other supplies. Everything is timed: unloading of the suitcases should take no more than twenty minutes; loading of suitcases for the following flight, no more than thirty; cleaning, a maximum of twelve.

While all this is happening, the pilots are already inside the plane verifying that all inspection, boarding, and luggage-loading processes are complete. They then begin a review of the flight’s technical information.

By the time the door to the plane closes, five minutes before the scheduled flight time, many hands –and heads– have made its on time take off possible. In the words of César Rivera, Baggage Control Manager, each flight is a race against the clock, requiring coordination and teamwork.

Every Copa Airlines flight involves the following departments:

Above the wing:

– Central Planning.

– Maintenance Planning.

– Operations Control Center.

– Dispatch.

– Crew Itinerary Control.

– Pilot Headquarters.

– Passenger Services.

– On-board Service.

– Cabin Cleaning.

– On-board Supply.

– Hub Control Center.

Below the wing:

– Ground Operations.

– Loading.

– Auditing.

– Maintenance.

– Fuel Supplies.

– On-board Supply.

Copa operates:

• 350 flights daily.

• 10,500 flights monthly.

In 2018:

• 89.79% of all flights arrived on time.

• 80% of all flights left on time.