The Korea Times
LCCs expand to China on improving Sino-Korea ties
Domestic low-cost carriers (LCCs) are expanding or reopening their routes to China, as the chilled relations between Korea and China are showing signs of recovery.
According to carriers on Tuesday, they have high expectations on the comeback of Chinese group tourists, whose visits to Korea have been a significant revenue source for them.
In the wake of Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery on its soil last year, diplomatic friction between Korea and China stirred the latter’s economic pressure and large group tours, such as 1,000-member groups, to Korea have been stopped since then.
“Though it is yet to have a tangible outcome, we have a rosy expectation that Chinese group tourists could soon resume their travels to Korea as there are signs of improvements in Korea-China relations,” an airline official said.
Spurring their expectation was President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with President Xi Jinping’s envoy State Councilor Yang Jiechi last week. During the meeting Yang said China is lifting THAAD-related measures, while Moon expressed Korea’s interest in the return of group tourists.
Amid a friendly mood between Korea and China, LCCs and other large carriers are planning to increase the number of flights to China.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, it has recently approved domestic and foreign airlines’ flight schedule for March 25 to Oct. 27 this year.
In the schedule, carriers applied for 1,205 flights to China, up 14.7 percent from six months earlier.
From March to October last year, airlines applied to the ministry for 1,343 flights, in a belief the THAAD row would end soon, but only 993 flights took off during the period, the ministry said.
Also, LCCs are expanding their routes to China. In a press conference last month, Jeju Air CEO Lee Seok-joo said his LCC will add another route to China and focus on the demand in the world’s most populated market in the future.
“I visited China two weeks ago and heard from travel agencies there is a thawing mood in China,” he said. “I believe it will be about China from now and will work with our employees in preparing to expand to the Chinese market.”
Starting Thursday, Jeju Air will fly from Incheon to Yantai in Shandong province seven times a week. It is Jeju Air’s third route to the Shandong Peninsula, following Qingdao and Weihai, and its eighth regular route to China. Jeju Air believes it can secure demand from many Korean companies in Shandong through tailored promotion events.
T’way Air will also commence its Incheon-Weihai route on Friday, as well as resuming flights from Incheon to Jinan in Shandong. It has already resumed flights from Incheon to Wenzhou in Zhejiang last month.
Eastar Jet on Tuesday will re-operate its Incheon-Jinan route, which has been stopped since October 2016. It will also resume flights to Chinese cities of Shenyang, Ningbo, Dalian, Harbin and Shanghai in the second half of this year.