The head of Copa Airlines, the carrier now offering flights from Tampa to Panama, will receive the 2014 Tony Jannus Award for exceptional leadership in the aviation community.
Pedro Heilbron, chief executive officer of Copa Airlines, established the Hub of the Americas in Panama City and the airline, as of this summer, will offer service to 69 destinations in North, Central and South America and in the Caribbean from Tocumen International Airport in Panama City.
Copa began offering service from Tampa in December 2013 and has, to date, transported some 15,000 passengers to and from that hub.
As a result of its service to Tampa, Copa has brought in thousands of new tourists from across Latin America. “He is a unique and incredible leader,” said Chris Minner, vice president of marketing for Tampa International Airport, in announcing Heilbron as the award recipient. “Copa’s business success is indisputable.”
The Tony Jannus Award was established in 1964 in honor of Jannus and the first commercial flight, which he flew on Jan. 1, 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa. The award, presented by the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, honors those who have displayed major contributions to the advancement of the aviation industry.
Fernando Fondevila, Copa’s commercial regional manager for North America, stood in for Heilbron when the award winner was announced at Tampa International Airport Wednesday.
Fondevila said he was proud to be present for Heilbron during the press conference, as his boss was recognized for “extraordinary accomplishments in aviation.”
Fondevila said Copa is a major airline in connecting passengers to the Americas. He said he was proud to acknowledge the award on behalf of the more than 8,000 employees at Copa’s headquarters in Panama, which has long been a bridge between continents.
Heilbron will actually receive the award at a dinner banquet at the historic Renaissance Vinoy in St. Petersburg in October.
Previous award winners include: Capt. Edward V. Rickenbacker, chairman, Eastern Air Lines (1967); Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle, USAF Ret., developer of instrument flight (1972); Edward C. Wells, aircraft designer-engineer (1985); Sir Richard Branson, chairman, Virgin Atlantic Airways (2000); and J. Martin Schröder, founder and CEO, Martinair Holland (1995). The 2013 Jannus Award went to Richard H. Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines.
Minner, a member of the Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, had high praise for Heilbron.
“His decision to partner with Tampa International Airport and create this new link between Tampa and Latin America is already having a profound effect on the Tampa Bay area’s regional economy and tourism industry and creates easy business and family connections for our passengers from both sides.”
Heilbron joined Copa Airlines in 1988. Under his leadership, Copa established the Hub of the Americas, the most successful and efficient hub in Latin America and developed a partnership and strategic alliance with Continental Airlines (now United) in1998, according to a press release. Copa, a leading airline in Latin America, has received several international prestigious awards, including the most recent for “Best Airline in the Central America and Caribbean region” at the 2013 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
Heilbron is a member of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Advisory Board and chairs the Panama Smithsonian Foundation. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in economics from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. and earned his Master of Business Administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
In addition to bestowing the Tony Jannus Award, the aviation society also offers scholarships to local high school students planning a future in aviation.