Established as Compañía Panameña de Aviación in June, 1944, by a group of prominent Panamanian investors with assistance from Pan American, Copa started operations on the 15th of August, 1947.
International flights were introduced in the 1960s, when Copa connected Panama to cities in Jamaica, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
In 1971, the airline became wholly Panamanian owned in 1971 (Pan American had a 32% stake since Copa was founded).
In 1979, facing strong competition from Air Panama, Copa discontinued its domestic flights and acquired its first jet plane, a Boeing 737-100.
As additional Boeing 737s were added to the fleet, Copa introduced flights to San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as to the Dominican Republic and Miami, Florida.
During the first part of the 1990s, the airline expanded by adding regular flights to many important Latin American cities, like Ecuador, Lima, Mexico City, Caracas, or Havana.
In 1998, Continental Airlines acquired 49% of Copa Airlines.
In 2000, Copa Airlines started flying to Los Angeles, Cancún, and Orlando, as well as to São Paulo.
One year later, the airline began serving Quito, Ecuador, and in 2004, Copa introduced regular flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.
In June, 2005, Copa purchased 90% of the Colombian domestic air carrier AeroRepública.
Same year, in December, Copa Airlines’ parent company launched an IPO of 14 million shares in the New York Stock Exchange, becoming the fourth Latin American airline to be traded.
In 2006, Copa added new destinations to its network, and its fleet received 6 Embraer E-190s and 2 Boeing 737s, while the airline was chosen as the «Best Airline in Mexico, Central America, and The Caribbean» by Skytrax for the second time (this previously happened in 2004, and in 2007 and 2008 as well).
During 2007 and 2008, Copa received 8 Embraer E-190s and 3 Boeing 737s, adding 9 new international destinations to its network.
In 2009, Copa added a Boeing 737-800 to the fleet and announced a firm order for 13 Boeing 737-800s.
In 2010, Copa Airlines announced that Aero Republica will operate under the Copa Airlines Colombia brand name and started flying to the St. Maarten island.
Also in 2010, Copa Airlines communicated that it is in the process of joining the Star Alliance, and Boeing and Copa Airlines announced the acquisition of 32 Next Generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
In 2011, Copa Airlines expanded its Hub of the Americas in Panama from 4 to 6 flight banks and grew its network with 7 new destinations. Copa Holdings, S.A. (NYSE-Listed CPA) celebrated five years of trading.
In 2012, the company formally joined the airlines’ global network, Star Alliance. The airline announced the new MileagePlus Frequent Flyer Program, along with United Airlines, and also started its flight operations to Curazao, Guanacaste, Las Vegas, Recife, and Iquitos.
In 2013, Copa Airlines began service to Boston and Tampa and received the SkyTrax awards for the Best Airline in Central America and the Caribbean and the Airline with the Best Cabin Crew and Airport Staff in Central America and the Caribbean.
In January 2014, the Panamanian airline announced that service to Georgetown (Guyana), Fort Lauderdale (Florida) and Montreal (Canada) will begin at mid-year.
In January 2015, daily domestic flights to David were relaunched, three decades after the closure of the route. Copa Airlines also announced new flights to New Orleans and San Francisco, as well as Villahermosa and Puebla, Mexico. In July, service to Belize City beginning in December 2015 was announced.
In July 2015, MileagePlus was phased out and replaced by ConnectMiles, Copa Airlines new frequent flyer program.
In December 2016, Wingo, a low-cost subsidiary of Copa Airlines in Colombia flying under Copa Colombia’s call sign and codes, began operations with a flight from Bogota to Cancun. Wingo is operating four Boeing B737-700 aircraft previously used by Copa, offering one class of seats and charging for baggage, seat assignments, food and beverages, and priority boarding.
In November 2017, Copa Airlines will start flights to Mendoza, Argentina, and in December to Denver, United States.
In August 2018, Copa will receive the first Boeing B737 MAX 9 aircraft out of a total of 61 Boeing B737 MAX 8, 9 and 10 aircraft ordered in April 2015.
There was a single fatal accident involving Copa Airlines so far – on the 6th of June, 1992, a Boeing 737-200 crashed in the Darien Gap due to a technical failure, killing all 47 people on board.