Hav­ing al­ready ex­ceeded its pas­sen­ger-han­dling ca­pac­ity by a few mil­lion, In­cheon Air­port’s soon-to-open Ter­mi­nal 2 comes in the nick of time, writes Craig Bright

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

In­cheon Air­port will soon open its new Ter­mi­nal 2 com­plex – and not a mo­ment too soon as pas­sen­ger through­put soars at the Korean cap­i­tal’s main avi­a­tion hub

Stand­ing calmly in a shuf­fling queue at In­cheon Air­port, the words “emer­gency sta­tus” hardly jump to mind. Yet for Seoul’s pri­mary air­port, these are pre­cisely the words used by its pres­i­dent and CEO, Il-Young Chung, as the air­port at­tempts to process mil­lions more pas­sen­gers than it has the ca­pac­ity to han­dle.

While provoca­tive, Chung’s words are a fair as­sess­ment of the cur­rent sta­tus of the air­port. In the 16 years since it opened, In­cheon has man­aged to hit its 54 mil­lion-pas­sen­ger ca­pac­ity and then some. Last year it pro­cessed a to­tal of 57.7 mil­lion trav­ellers, and this year’s fig­ure looks set to be even higher. It’s lit­tle won­der that the de­vel­op­ment of the air­port’s new Ter­mi­nal 2 build­ing (sched­uled to open be­fore the end of the year) is at the fore­front of In­cheon In­ter­na­tional Air­port Cor­po­ra­tion’s list of pri­or­i­ties.

Re­cent spikes in num­bers at In­cheon Air­port have has­tened this need – even prompt­ing a “na­tional call” for the open­ing date to be brought for­ward. In 2016, the air­port’s pas­sen­ger traf­fic jumped a mas­sive 17 per cent com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year (Bei­jing Cap­i­tal In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the busiest in Asia-Pa­cific, grew just 2.6 per cent by com­par­i­son), and from Jan­uary to March this year In­cheon saw 13 per cent more pas­sen­gers than it had in the same pe­riod in 2015. The air­port’s growth has been such that Air­ports Coun­cil In­ter­na­tional ranked it the world’s 19th busiest air­port in 2016 – up from 22nd in 2015.

“We’re ex­pect­ing a to­tal of 62 mil­lion pas­sen­gers in 2017 and these pas­sen­gers are hav­ing to be han­dled with just the Ter­mi­nal 1 and the con­course,” says Chung.“As we’ve al­ready ex­ceeded our ca­pac­ity, we’re very busy han­dling all those pas­sen­gers and a lot of the staff are work­ing un­der emer­gency sta­tus. We didn’t ex­pect such a fast in­crease in pas­sen­ger num­bers in the past, so we’re hur­ry­ing to open Ter­mi­nal 2 as fast as we can.”

Once it opens, Ter­mi­nal 2 is ex­pected to add 18 mil­lion pas­sen­gers to the air­port’s over­all han­dling ca­pac­ity, bring­ing the to­tal to 72 mil­lion.

Over­ca­pac­ity is not an is­sue faced by In­cheon Air­port alone. Speak­ing about air­ports through­out the re­gion, As­so­ci­a­tion of Asia Pa­cific Air­lines di­rec­tor gen­eral An­drew Herd­man notes that de­spite far-sighted in­vest­ment by ma­jor air­ports, pas­sen­ger growth pro­jec­tions that were once seen as “op­ti­mistic” have turned out to be true.

“Gen­er­ally speak­ing, the in­fra­struc­ture ca­pac­ity has just about kept pace but you can point to ar­eas where it’s been late,” he says.“The prob­lem is that once con­ges­tion be­comes ap­par­ent, you see de­graded ser­vice lev­els, on-time per­for­mance suf­fers, and flights can’t op­er­ate at peak times of day so they get pushed to less con­ve­nient times. If you’re not care­ful then it’s the trav­el­ling pub­lic that’s pay­ing the price.”

Ac­cord­ing to Chung, the growth of pas­sen­gers at In­cheon is be­ing driven by a num­ber of fac­tors.“We’re see­ing an in­crease in travel from Korean cit­i­zens, and as our econ­omy de­vel­ops we ex­pect more busi­ness pas­sen­gers from abroad, as well as within Korea. A lot of LCCs are also serv­ing new routes – they’re very ac­tive in do­ing so – and we are at­tract­ing more for­eign car­ri­ers to serve our air­port.”

In par­tic­u­lar, In­cheon has de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with US car­rier Delta, which has been fo­cus­ing on Seoul as an Asia-Pa­cific des­ti­na­tion. In Au­gust, Delta an­nounced it would be de­ploy­ing its new A350 on two Seoul routes, start­ing with Detroit this month and At­lanta (which it only launched in June) next March. Korean Air and Delta also agreed in March of this year to en­ter into a joint ven­ture to ex­pand their tran­spa­cific net­work, shar­ing costs and rev­enue on flights across a com­bined net­work of 290 des­ti­na­tions.

“With this agree­ment, we will re­in­force In­cheon Air­port’s po­si­tion as a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional hub in North­east Asia and sup­port the growth of Korea’s avi­a­tion in­dus­try,” Delta’s CEO, Ed Bas­tian, said at the time of the agree­ment.


The new ter­mi­nal is at the heart of the air­port’s “3 Phase Con­struc­tion Project”, which will in­clude a new pas­sen­ger ter­mi­nal, a pas­sen­ger and cargo apron, as well as con­nect­ing trans­port fa­cil­i­ties. To date, the air­port has poured ap­prox­i­mately 5 tril­lion won (US$4.4 bil­lion) into the third phase project since 2009 – it’s get­ting no fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment – with a fur­ther 4 tril­lion won (US$3.5 bil­lion) ex­pected for ad­di­tional ex­pan­sion plans.

Once the se­cond ter­mi­nal is func­tion­ing, the air­port plans to di­vide air­lines across the ter­mi­nals ac­cord­ing to al­liance. Star Al­liance air­lines will re­main in Ter­mi­nal 1, as will check-in desks for low-cost car­ri­ers fly­ing from the Con­course. Skyteam mem­ber air­lines – in­clud­ing flag car­rier Korean Air, Air France, KLM and Delta Air Lines – will shift their op­er­a­tions over to the new ter­mi­nal. Trans­port be­tween the two main ter­mi­nals will take the form of a shut­tle, with roads di­rectly to the se­cond ter­mi­nal also due to be opened.

One of the key features will be a fo­cus on lead­ing in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nol­ogy (ICT), with mod­ern sys­tems such as au­to­mated pass­port con­trol sys­tems.“We’re util­is­ing big data,” Chung says. “We need to have an in­tel­li­gent sys­tem in or­der to run the air­port more ef­fi­ciently. In terms of the check-in process and immigration at de­par­ture and ar­rival, we have to make sure the pas­sen­gers are dis­trib­uted evenly to re­duce con­ges­tion.”

Mean­while, from a con­sumer-fo­cused stand­point, guide and clean­ing ro­bots have been go­ing through test runs, and vir­tual and aug­mented re­al­ity ex­pe­ri­ences will be in­tro­duced in the tran­sit re­gions of the new ter­mi­nal.“What’s re­ally at the core is the ‘Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion’,” says Chung.“Util­is­ing these tech­nolo­gies, we want to build an air­port that is con­ve­nient, ef­fi­cient and safe, and where pas­sen­gers can be the own­ers of the air­port.”

How­ever, cut­ting-edge bio­met­ric screen­ing tech­nolo­gies that are in­creas­ingly be­ing in­tro­duced – such as the fa­cial recog­ni­tion soft­ware be­ing im­ple­mented at Changi In­ter­na­tional Air­port’s new Ter­mi­nal 4 – will not be em­ployed as yet.

Ter­mi­nal 2 will also be get­ting con­sumer-fo­cused features such as a va­ri­ety of F&B out­lets of­fer­ing Korean cui­sine from dif­fer­ent re­gions across the coun­try, and even a cos­metic surgery fa­cil­ity.

Tran­sit ameni­ties are be­ing de­signed to be “green and ecofriendly”, and duty free, which Chung notes is “the num­ber one duty free in the world”, will also be fur­ther im­proved at the new ter­mi­nal. ( Busi­ness Trav­eller read­ers voted In­cheon Air­port the “Best Duty Free in the World” at the 2017 Busi­ness Trav­eller Asia-Pa­cific Awards, see page 34 for full re­sults.)


Yet even with the com­ple­tion of its third phase project, In­cheon Air­port’s pas­sen­ger han­dling trou­bles won’t be over. The ad­di­tional 18 mil­lion ca­pac­ity will pro­vide breath­ing room for three years, but pas­sen­ger lev­els are again ex­pected to out­strip ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture by 2020.

This is what the ad­di­tional 4 mil­lion won ex­pan­sion plan aims to tackle. Plan­ning and de­sign for this fourth phase, which will com­prise the north­east­ern­most part of the H-shaped ter­mi­nal build­ing, be­gan in May and will con­tinue through to early next year, with con­struc­tion ex­pected to be­gin at the end of 2018. These en­hance­ments are sched­uled for com­ple­tion by 2023, by which point the air­port will be able to han­dle 100 mil­lion pas­sen­gers an­nu­ally.

Aside from meet­ing im­me­di­ate ca­pac­ity de­mands, the plan also en­com­passes en­ter­tain­ment and leisure fa­cil­i­ties. Back in April, the new Par­adise City in­te­grated re­sort and casino opened its doors close to the Ter­mi­nal 1 build­ing. A new project, the In­spire In­te­grated Re­sort, is also on the way, part of a col­lab­o­ra­tion with US re­sort casino com­pany Mo­he­gan Sun and Korean chem­i­cals man­u­fac­turer KCC. Be­ing built at a cost of US$5 bil­lion, the re­sort will be lo­cated on Yeongjong Is­land near the air­port and is due to open in 2020. A new golf course – the air­port’s se­cond on site – is also in the pipe­line and sim­i­larly has a 2020 open­ing date.

“What’s more im­por­tant for us is to ex­pand fur­ther and ac­tu­ally build an ‘Air City’ with the air­port at its cen­tre,” says Chung.“It will in­clude ho­tels, re­sorts, casi­nos and even cater­ing, and we have plans for that up to 2030.” Chung adds that the main goal of the air­port is to make it fun for pas­sen­gers as well as con­ve­nient, such that tran­sit pas­sen­gers could spend four hours or up to a whole day at the air­port.

As for fur­ther ex­pan­sions or even a third ter­mi­nal, Chung says these could also be on the cards, though that de­pends on how growth pro­jec­tions play out. De­spite the air­port’s boom­ing growth, cur­rent lev­els aren’t ex­pected to con­tinue at quite the same rate over the long term.“We will think about the fifth phase, or per­haps a new ter­mi­nal,” he says,“but that would have to de­pend on whether we ac­tu­ally need to ex­pand fur­ther and what our de­mand pro­jec­tions are.”

Clock­wise from above: The fi­nal touches are made to In­cheon Air­port’s T2; a ren­der­ing of the fin­ished project; and in­side the T2 Ar­rival Hall

Above: Green­ery in­side T2’s Ar­rival Hall

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