A new terminal at Seoul’s Incheon airport aims to ease the bottleneck
Passenger numbers at Seoul’s Incheon International airport have boomed in recent years. The new Terminal 2 eases the burden
Standing calmly in a shuffling queue at Incheon International airport, the words “emergency status” hardly spring to mind. Yet for Seoul’s primary airport, these were precisely the words its president and CEO, Il-Young Chung, used to describe the airport’s capacity issues as it attempted to process millions more passengers than it had the capacity to handle. While provocative, Chung’s words were a fair assessment of the status of the airport back in 2017. In the 17 years since it opened, Incheon has managed to hit its original 54 million passenger capacity and then some. In 2016 it processed a total of 57.7 million travellers, with this increasing to 62 million the following year, a jump of 7.5 per cent, according to industry body Airports Council International (ACI). In contrast, Beijing Capital International airport, the busiest in Asia-Pacific and second busiest in the world, grew just 1.5 per cent in that same period. The airport’s growth has been such that Incheon has been climbing ACI’s ranks of the world’s busiest airports, taking the number 19 spot in 2017 – up from 20th in 2016 and 22nd in 2015.
It’s little wonder that the development of the airport’s new Terminal 2 building, which opened in January this year, had for a long time been at the forefront of Incheon International Airport Corporation’s list of priorities.
Chung told Business Traveller before the new terminal building had opened its doors that “a lot of the staff [were] working under emergency status.” Now that it has opened, Terminal 2 has added some 18 million passengers to the airport’s overall handling capacity, bringing the total to 72 million across its two terminals and concourse, and hopefully reduced the stress on those working there, and perhaps passengers too.
According to Chung, Incheon’s growth has been driven by a number of factors. “We’re seeing an increase in travel from [South] 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 positioned Seoul as one of its two major hubs in Asia-Pacific alongside Tokyo Narita. The airline’s newest aircraft, the Airbus A350-900, now flies both of its routes between Seoul and Detroit and Atlanta (the latter route having been launched in June 2017). Meanwhile next year, it plans to begin a new →
nonstop service between Seoul and the Midwestern twin cities of Minneapolis-St Paul.
Much of Delta’s focus on Incheon has been the result of the launch of its joint-venture agreement with Korean Air in April this year. Under the agreement, both airlines offer full reciprocal codesharing across each others’ networks, providing travellers with access to more than 290 destinations in the Americas and in excess of 80 in Asia.
“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 when the two carriers initially announced the agreement.
TERMINAL 2: WHAT’S NEW?
The terminal is at the heart of the airport’s “3 Phase Construction Project”, which includes 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 (£3.4 billion) into the third phase project since 2009 – it’s getting no funding from the government – with a further 4 trillion won (£2.7 billion) expected for additional expansion plans.
Since the opening of the second terminal, a number of airlines have relocated to the new facility including Skyteam members Korean Air, Delta, Air France and KLM, which moved to Terminal 2 back in January. Korean Air has even set up dedicated counters for travellers going to the US and Guam in order to comply with heightened security measures implemented by the US government.
Carriers from other alliances, meanwhile, have remained in Terminal 1, as have check-in desks for low-cost carriers flying from T1’s Concourse A. Passengers can transfer between the two main terminals in about 15 to 18 minutes using the shuttle trains that go via the concourse.
For travellers with a bit of time to spare, Terminal 2 has plenty of lounges. Korean Air has two KAL Lounges – one near gate 249 and another near gate 253 – while independent lounges including the L Lounge, Matina Lounge and SPC Lounge are available for Priority Pass members. The terminal also offers a number of shower rooms and spas, along with two “digital gyms”, offering space for exercising using fitness devices and apps, a transit hotel attached to the Matina Lounge, a capsule hotel and a nap zone.
One of the key features of Terminal
2 is 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.” From a consumer standpoint, the airport’s mobile app uses augmented reality to assist travellers with wayfinding, and Incheon airport has even begun employing guide and cleaning robots. “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.” →
Incheon has developed a close relationship with Delta, which has positioned Seoul as a major hub
While cutting-edge biometric security-screening technology, such as the facial-recognition software being implemented at Changi International airport’s newest Terminal 4 building, is also available at Incheon, it is largely restricted to Korean passport holders.
Terminal 2 also offers a variety of food and beverage outlets, many of which focus on Korean cuisine from different regions of the country. Chung says that the idea for a cosmetic-surgery facility right in the new terminal building has even been floated, though as yet no such offering appears to have opened up.
On the duty-free side the new terminal features outlets from Lotte, The Shilla, Shinsegae, City Duty Free and SM, along with numerous high-end brands ranging from Longchamp and Salvatore Ferragamo to Rimowa and Montblanc.
PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE
Yet even with the completion of its third phase project, Incheon Airport’s passenger handling challenges 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 an additional four trillion won (£2.8 billion) expansion plan aims to tackle. Planning and design for this fourth phase, which will comprise the northeastern part of the new H-shaped terminal building, began in May last year with construction expected to begin at the end of 2018. It is 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 2017, 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 casino resort 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 are tempted to spend four hours or even 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.”
“We want to build an airport that is convenient, efficient and safe”
The landside part of Incheon’s new Terminal 2 houses many restaurants and shops
The new departure halls at Incheon’s Terminal 2 have greatly reduced congestion