With the start of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea now less than three months away, aviation businesses there are gearing up for what they hope is a blizzard of private aircraft. Avjet Asia operates at the Seoul-Gimpo Business Aviation Center (SGBAC), the new government-owned FBO at Seoul Gimpo International Airport and the only Western-style service facility in the country. It has received reservations from several operators, and since the beginning of November, the number of inquiries has started to rise.
The South Korean capital, which is also home to Incheon International Airport, sits more than 100 miles from Pyeongchang, which will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as the snow sports venues. The nearest airport to the Olympic site is Yangyang International Airport, which opened in 2002 and has a single 8,500-foot runway. It is expected to change to 24-hour operation and CIQ support for the duration of the games, and authorities there plan to nearly double its normal customs processing capabilities for the event. As all other airports in the country aside from Gimpo, the main terminal at Yangyang will be used for processing all arriving and departing flights. Fueling there will be available 24/7 and credit can be arranged before uplift, according to local handler ANC International.
Landing slots at Yangyang will be required and should be applied for no later than three days ahead of arrival. Scheduled commercial flights will receive priority and private jet parking at Yangyang will be limited to two hours. They are encouraged to relocate to Gimpo, which operates from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. local time. While the airport normally has ample parking, that situation may change during the games.
The SGBAC, which opened in 2016, offers a 32,000-sq-ft (2,983-sq-m) executive terminal with onsite CIQ, passenger suites, and crew lounges. The facility also has a pair of 55,200-sq-ft (5,130-sq-m) hangars, co-operated with the Korea Airports Corporation (KAC), large enough to accommodate eight G650s. The company noted that since parking cannot be secured at the airports until just before the games, its hangar is “the best option to be 100 percent confident of having a spot.” Added Avjet Asia CEO Wook Sang Cho, “Avjet Asia will do the utmost to perfectly provide all aspects of flight support, and we expect Gimpo Airport to be the hub of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.”
Incheon International Airport currently has even less space available for GA aircraft, yet Avjet Asia is preparing to handle arrivals there, as well. “During the games period we will have staff stationed at all three airports [Gimpo, Incheon, Yangyang], to ensure someone is on location for smooth processing—as well as at any other airports as required,” noted Anthony Boocock, Avjet’s flight support manager. “At both Incheon and Yangyang, we are able to provide all services through our local partners.”
The landing permit and slot process is standardized in South Korea, but operators should expect delays in processing times or find lack of slot availability as the event nears, warned Sarah Kalmeta, Universal Aviation's Asia-Pacific regional director of operations. In addition, operators should avoid making changes to approved permits and airport slots to prevent issues with reapproval, she added.
ANC International, one of the biggest private aviation handlers in South Korea, will also be providing assistance in obtaining parking, overflight and landing permits for the games. “We do not expect that GA operators will have significant issues with arrival and departure slots as well as repositioning during the event period,” stated H.K. Oh, the company’s chief operating officer. He estimates that while Gimpo has approximately 45 GA parking spots, many of the aircraft expected for the games are Boeing 737-size, which could diminish the number of spots available for the event. Overnight parking at Incheon could be limited to as few as three spots for GA aircraft. Oh noted his company can provide handling services for any size aircraft at any of the country’s airports and added that Korea Express Airline will run daily flights to Yangyang from Busan/Gimhae International Airport as well as Jeju International Airport, the country’s second largest behind Incheon.
For those customers who wish to travel to the games from the capital, there will be direct shuttle buses from the airports, ANC noted. A new high-speed rail line, expected to open by the end of 2017, will link Incheon Airport with Gangneung, the host of the ice events, in approximately two hours.
Regarding crew accommodations, ANC warned that while preferred hotels near the Olympic venues will likely be booked, there should be sufficient four-star crew lodgings in Seoul.
In terms of catering, choices are limited to Korean Air’s catering department, along with the usual business aviation fallback of flight attendents getting meals from local hotels and/or restaurants. To address this dearth of options, Les Chefs, a Seoul-based, dedicated private aviation catering provider, plans to begin operations on January 25, offering a variety of Western and Asian selections prepared to order.
Operators are ready for an influx of visitors, but ticket sales to the games have been sluggish thus far. According to USA Today, by mid-November, organizers had sold less than 41 percent of the approximately 1 million tickets. Some blame the slow pace on the recent increasingly volatile rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S., while others cite as possible deterrents the distances involved, both to South Korea itself, and even from Seoul to the event venues.