Dubai: Emirates is still planning for Panama to be its foothold into Latin America despite having twice deferred launching flights after it failed to gain approval from regional governments to code-share with a local airline.

Emirates in March put its plans to set up a Panama hub connecting Latin American cities with Asia on hold after just three or four out of 13 South America governments approved codeshares with Copa Airlines.

“We do not consider an alternative to Panama. We are still working on … this code-share agreement,” Thierry Antinori, Emirates executive vice president and chief commercial officer, told reporters after a press conference in Dubai on Sunday.

Panama would be Emirates’ fourth destination in Latin America after Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil and Buenos Aires in Argentina. Emirates has said it would now launch flights to Panama at the end of 2016 or in early 2017. The 17 hour and 35 minute flight, which would be the world’s longest, was originally set to launch on February 1 and later March 31 before being deferred again.

“The day we have all the code-share agreements we target in place we will consider to resume our project,” Antinori said.

Market of the future

Emirates sees Panama, a business and trading hub, as a regional entry point and its own hub Dubai as the city to link growing ties between Latin America and Asia.

“Latin America is a market of the future and Dubai, geographically, is a market that should benefit,” Antinori said.

Latin America’s economy will rebound in 2017 to grow by 1.5 per cent after contracting 0.3 per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund said this month. Brazil’s political crisis, where President Dilma Roussef faces impeachment, is dragging down the region’s economy, while other markets such as Mexico will grow this year.

“Brazil is still a little shaky,” Antinori said.

Emirates, the world’s biggest operator of the Airbus A380, still plans to launch superjumbo flights to Sao Paolo once the airport is upgraded to handle the aircraft, he said.