Korean Air Lines is considering expanding its service on existing routes to China and Japan with 70- to 120-seat regional jets in two years. “We may inject the planes into routes operated by our budget carrier unit Jin Air as well,” said KAL chairman Cho Yang-Ho. KAL does not currently operate any regional jets; its smallest aircraft are 737-800s operated by its low-cost Jin Air division. It will reportedly use those aircraft on long-haul routes in mainly Asian markets. Cho has not revealed how many RJs the carrier will require, nor what models are under consideration for the next routes, only that it is too early for that decision to be made.
While the assumption may be that the business would go to regional jet giants Bombardier or Embraer, upstart Mitsubishi’s new MRJ might be a contender. The MRJ will be available in the timeframe in which KAL requires 70- and 90-seat capacity, and its promised efficiency will come from new Pratt & Whitney geared turbofans. The MRJ’s first delivery to launch customer ANA is scheduled for the first quarter in 2014. Bombardier’s CRJ series seats up to 100 passengers, and could fill the lower end of the airline’s seating requirement. The upper end could be met by the two members of the new Bombardier CSeries family, designed to cover a capacity range of between 100 and 145 seats. Embraer could offer its largest capacity regional jet currently available, the 108- to 122-seat E195.