South Korea’s plan to drop Japan from its so-called whitelist of preferred trading partners in September will further disrupt air travel between the two countries, particularly affecting Korean low-cost carriers that rely heavily on Japanese routes to sustain profitability. With three of its 22 routes to Japan already suspended, low-cost carrier (LCC) Jeju Air will subtract another six in September and October. During the same period, fellow LCC Jin Air plans to reduce its current 131 weekly flights to 78 while flag carrier Korean Air downgrades Airbus A330-300 operations from Incheon to Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya to Boeing 737-800 service.
As travel between the two countries continues to wane, LCCs have begun to look to other countries to fill the gap. Jeju Air, for example, has turned to China to add new routes with the hope of compensating for its losses in Japan. The airline on Tuesday launched service from Incheon to Nantong, offering three weekly flights, and the airline has scheduled six-times-weekly flights from Incheon to Yangi for August 19. A day later it launches three-times-weekly services between Busan and Jiangjajie and another route of the same frequency between Incheon and Harbin. It also has scheduled a twice-weekly service between Muan and Jiangjiajie to start on August 21.
Jeju plans to introduce flights on the Incheon-Beijing Daxing International Airport route when the new facility opens for operations later this year. The carrier is also looking to operate Jeju-Beijing Shoudou Airport, located 19 miles outside the city, and Jeju to Xi’an late in the third quarter of the year.
According to a Jeju Air official in Incheon, Soh Wan-ho, the carrier hopes the new routes will also pave the way for more use of its Boeing 737-800 fleet and strengthen bilateral relations with China.
Jeju Air started operations in 2005 as a joint venture between the Aekyung Conglomerate and the Jeju municipal government. It now operates a network of eight domestic and 36 international destinations with a fleet of 45 Boeing 737-800s. It awaits 40 Boeing 737 Max 8s on firm order, the contract for which calls for delivery from 2022 to 2027.
Meanwhile, Air Seoul plans to replace some of its 11 routes to Japan with new destinations in China and Southeast Asia. Fellow LCCs T’Way Air, Eastar Jet, and Air Busan plan to increase capacity to Shanghai, Taipei, Hanoi, and Kota Kinabalu over the next two months to cope with increased bookings as South Koreans opt for other holiday destinations.