EFEPanama City

U.S. President Barack Obama and Panamanian counterpart Juan Carlos Varela were on hand for a ceremony here Friday in which Panama's Copa Airlines and Chicago-based plane maker Boeing finalized an order for 61 jets.

The $6.6 billion deal for 61 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9 airplanes was signed ahead of the inauguration of the April 10-11 Summit of the Americas in this capital.

Stanley Motta, chairman of Copa Holdings, Copa Airlines' parent company; Copa Airlines CEO Pedro Heilbron; Boeing Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney; and GE Aviation President and CEO David Joyce inked the agreement.

Obama and Varela greeted the Copa and Boeing executives, and the U.S. head of state encouraged all those present at the ceremony to fly to the United States in the planes the Panamanian airline will receive between 2018 and 2024.

The 61 single-aisle aircraft will gradually replace older planes from the same family that are currently part of Copa's fleet.

Copa has enormous faith in Latin America and will continue to expand in the coming years in that regional market, Heilbron said.

The newly ordered jets, which are equipped with state-of-the-art technology that ensures lower fuel consumption and thus more environmentally friendly operations, mark a further step in the company's modernization process, the chief executive added.

In remarks to Efe, Heilbron said the $6.6 billion investment outlay was a "giant step" for a company based in a small country like Panama, but he added that the outlook for the Latin American market justifies the decision.