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United wants Azul in Latin American venture with Copa, Avianca

FILE PHOTO: United Airlines first new livery Boeing 737-800 sits at a gate after arriving at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

CHICAGO/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - United Airlines UAL.O wants to include Brazil's Azul AZUL.N in its planned tie-up with Copa Holdings CPA.N and Colombia's Avianca Holdings AVT_p.CN to create a four-way partnership in Latin America, a senior executive said on Friday.

“Working together gives us a shot at being No. 1 in Latin America. We need partners to do it,” United Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nocella told journalists.

United, Avianca and Copa announced last November their intention to create a joint venture for travel between the United States and Latin America. The proposal requires antitrust approval before it can be implemented. When first announced, the partnership did not include trips to and from Brazil.

Azul’s participation would expand the venture’s reach to roughly a third of the region’s residents. Azul is Brazil’s No. 3 airline and operates few flights to the United States. But its domestic reach is expansive, including more flights within Latin America’s largest economy than any other airline.

Azul is also a natural partner for United, which already owns about 8% of Azul’s non-voting shares.

Azul said earlier this month at an event with analysts in the Brazilian city of Campinas that it was interested in joining the partnership with United, but that nothing was certain.

Nocella's comments follow surprise news a month ago of a $1.9 billion investment by Delta Air Lines DAL.N in LATAM Airlines Group LTM.SN, firing up competition in South America.

That partnership would make Delta and LATAM the leader in Latin America, a market that Chile-based LATAM already dominates on its own.

Reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Marcelo Rochabrun in Sao Paulo, Editing by Franklin Paul and Nick Zieminski