Airline Copa's profit drops 21 percent on Panama-Venezuela spat

Copa Airlines plane lands at the Tocumen International airport in Panama City Panama April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Lemos/File Photo

(Reuters) - Panama-based airline Copa Holdings CPA.N on Wednesday reported net operating income of $49 million, down 21 percent from a year earlier due in part to a diplomatic spat between Panama and Venezuela that temporarily blocked flights to Caracas.

Copa’s profit missed an average estimate of $55 million in a Thomson Reuters survey of nine analysts.

In March, a Panama government commission named Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro as an individual likely to be involved in money laundering activities, prompting retaliation that halted commercial activity between the two countries for weeks.

As a result, Copa canceled some 300 flights in April.

“This was a challenging quarter for Copa Holdings,” the airline said in its earnings release, citing the “cancellation of all flights to Venezuela,” which lasted for 90 days.

The Venezuelan market can be lucrative for Copa because most other major airlines have stopped flights to Caracas amid a deep economic crisis, including United Airlines UAL.N, Delta Air Lines Inc DAL.N and Avianca Holdings SA AVT_p.CN.

The second quarter is often Copa’s weakest. This year, higher oil prices made up a growing share of operating expenses. Fuel costs consumed 30 percent of Copa’s $634 million in revenue this quarter, compared to 22 percent a year earlier.

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Editing by James Dalgleish