Airlines Feel Effects of Japan-Korea Trade and Economic Row

 - July 30, 2019, 6:33 AM
Korean Air and other South Korean airlines are reducing flights to Narita and other Japanese Airports due to fallout from a trade spat between the two Asian countries. (Photo: Kerwin McKenzie /

The escalating Japan-South Korea trade and economic row has spread to the civil aviation sector as boycotts by South Korean consumers pick up steam. Five South Korean carriers, led by flag carrier Korean Air, will cut capacity on certain routes between the two countries in the coming weeks due to falling passenger loads following the crisis. The other four are Asiana Airlines, and low-cost carriers (LCCs) T’way Air, Air Seoul, and Eastar Jet.

According to South Korea Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT) official Lee Hong-tae, the airlines have informed the Ministry of the decision to reduce capacity.

Korean Air will suspend its three-times-weekly Busan-Sapporo flights on September 3 and plans later to cut capacity on other routes between the two countries as a result of the crisis. Asiana Airlines will cut capacity on the Fukuoka, Okinawa, and Osaka routes starting September 1. 

Meanwhile, T’way Air suspended its daily Muan-Oita service on July 23 and is laying plans to suspend three other routes between August and October while it evaluates demand on all other routes to Japan. The airline flies to six other Japanese cities: Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya, Osaka (Kansai), Fukuoka, Saga, and Kumamoto.

Eastar Jet will suspend its daily Busan-Sapporo service on September 1. The airline also operates to Fukuoka, Miyazaki, Kagoshima, Osaka, Okinawa, Tokyo Narita, and Ibraki Airports.

Air Seoul operates 17 international routes, 11 of which connect Japan and are under review. More than 50 percent of its revenue comes from the flights to Japan.

Three other LCCs that operate to Japan are Jin Air, Busan Air, and Jeju Air. Those airlines have said they will monitor the market before making a decision about whether to reduce capacity.

Lee said MLIT carries no authority to request the airlines to continue operating infeasible routes as the Ministry does not interfere in the day-to-day operations of the airlines.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organisation, South Koreans accounted for 24.2 percent of travelers to Japan in 2018, the second largest group after China.  

In June, Japan imposed restrictions on the exports of high-tech chip-making components to South Korea in apparent retaliation for a latter’s court ruling of forced labor during Japanese rule from 1910 to 1945.

The move by Japan prompted a response by South Korean companies in several industries, civil aviation being the most recent to boycott Japan as a holiday destination. The planned cuts will not only result in loss of revenue for the airlines but also for the respective airports in Japan in terms of landing and parking charges.