Northeast Asian airlines are flocking to Korea as traveler numbers to the country swell in tandem with the spreading Korean Wave. Chinese and Japanese budget airlines are increasing their efforts to grab more of the Korean air market, and local companies are rolling up their sleeves to lead the competition.
Dragonair, an affiliate of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, will begin operating flights connecting Jeju and Hong Kong three times a week from May, while Taiwan's TransAsia Airways plans to fly directly between Jeju and Gaoshung from next month. Moreover, Taiwanese flagships China Airlines and Eva Air will commence new services between Gimpo and Songshan three to four times a week from the end of April.
Chinese airlines are also jumping on the bandwagon, spurring greater competition. Spring Airlines, a private low-budget carrier, is reportedly making preparations for new services to and from Korea including flights between Incheon and Shanghai. Eastern Airlines, one of China's three major airlines, has also announced its plan to join hands with Australia's Qantas to launch a budget carrier and provide short-haul flights connecting Korea, China and Japan.
Japanese low-cost carriers are also making moves to tap the growing market. Peach Aviation, a budget carrier established by ANA last year, will begin operating new flights between Incheon and Osaka from May. In October, Air Asia Japan, a joint venture between ANA and Air Asia, will launch services between Incheon and Narita, and between Busan and the Japanese city. Jetstar Japan, a start-up jointly set up by JAL and Qantas, is also gunning to enter the Korean market within the year.
Korean budget airlines are fighting to meet the increasing competition. Jeju Air is set to offer new services between Incheon and Qingdao from the end of this month, following the recent addition of new routes connecting the Korean port city with Nagoya and Fukuoka. Air Busan recently made inroads into the Chinese market by launching flights between Busan and Qingdao last month. Eastar Jet and T'way Airlines will also fly new routes between Gimpo and Songshan from the end of this month or the beginning of May.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said on Monday that the nation's air traffic reached a record high in the first quarter. Air traffic refers to incoming and outbound flights and aircraft passing through the nation's airspace. Korea saw air traffic rise 5.8 percent on-year to 132,000 planes in the first three months of this year, which translates into 1,450 planes on average a day, a two-fold increase from 1997.
Jeju International Airport posted the biggest increase of 10.3 percent on-year to reach 28,750 planes in total, or 316 a day. Gimpo International Airport saw a 6.4 percent increase to 38,049 planes, or 418 a day, while flights at Incheon International Airport rose 4.9 percent to 60,472 planes, or 664 a day.