(Reuters) – United Continental Holdings Inc <UAL.O> has finalized a three-way joint venture with carriers Avianca Holdings SA <AVT_p.CN> of Colombia and Copa Airlines of Panama, giving the No. 3 U.S. air carrier a stronger foothold in Latin America where travel demand is rising.
United announced the deal on Friday. It still needs government approval.
Like its main U.S. rivals, United has been eyeing untapped potential for leisure and business travelers in Latin America, where many still travel long distances by car and bus.
United’s deal with Avianca, long in the works, has undergone significant legal back-and-forth after the Colombian flagship carrier’s No. 2 shareholder Kingsland Ltd tried to halt negotiations between United and another top shareholder, Synergy Group Corp. The parties eventually came to an agreement.
The Wall Street Journal first reported on Friday that the three-way deal between United, Avianca and Copa was nearing completion.
It said that under the deal, United would lend money to cash-strapped Avianca’s controlling shareholder German Efromovich, which would be used to pay debt owed by Avianca to hedge fund Elliott Management.
United did not initially disclose financial details in its statement.
(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru, Marcelo Alonso Rochabrun in Sao Paulo and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Tom Brown)