As part of the plan to increase traffic to airports in South Korea, beginning in January, the government will grant rights and allot slots, preferably to foreign carriers bringing tourists from China.
According to Lee Sook-ha, an official at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MLIT), the trade feud with Japan has resulted in a drastic reduction of flights between the two countries. Lee said the global grounding of the Boeing 737 Max is also affecting the local airline industry.
Low-cost carrier Eastar Jet grounded its two Max 8s, and it is costing the carrier $152,000 a month to support both aircraft. The airline took delivery of its first Max 8 in December 2018 and the second in early 2019.
Lee said that traffic rights will be given to airlines wanting to operate to any point in South Korea, including regional airports, which have suffered more financially since the "boycott Japan anything" feud started in July.
MLIT has approved Finnair to operate the first long-haul flight from Busan’s Gimhae International Airport to Helsinki, offering thrice-weekly services with Airbus A350-900s, beginning March 31.
Ten of the 15 airports in Korea have been in the red for several years, including Gunsan, Sacheon, Pohang, Ulsan, Gwangjiu, Wonju, Yeosu, Yangyang International, Muan International, and Cheongju International.
In a separate development, effective in January, Incheon Airport will increase its throughput to 70 flights per hour, an increase of five from the current capacity. The airport, which handled 68.26 million passengers in 2018, is projected to grow 8 to 10 percent in 2019.