International carriers are busy launching more flights to Korea, boosting choice and convenience for business and leisure travelers.
According to the Incheon International Airport Corporation, 84 foreign airlines have been permitted to launch flights to Korea. Newcomers include many no-frills and budget airlines from Asia and Europe.
British Airways, one of the biggest European carriers, has resumed direct flights between Seoul and London for the first time in 14 years. AirAsia Japan, a joint venture between AirAsia and ANA, has chosen the Incheon-Narita route as its first international flight. And Peach Aviation, Japan's first budget carrier, launched flights between Incheon and Osaka this year.
International carriers are attracted by the growing aviation market in East Asia, and Korea in particular. According to a survey by Airbus, airlines in Asia and the Pacific will see their passenger traffic grow at an annual rate of 5.9 percent over the next 20 years, way above the global annual average growth rate of 4.8 percent.
Korean airports continue to break passenger records despite the global recession. The number of passengers on international flights here stood at 12.95 million in the third quarter this year, up 10.4 percent from the previous third-quarter record of 11.73 million in 2011.
The reasons were a surge in outbound travel during the summer vacation and Chuseok or Korean Thanksgiving as well as a rise in the number of Japanese and Chinese visitors, the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs said.
The trend is expected to continue next year. Orient Thai Airlines, a mid-budget carrier, has recently been acquired a permit to fly seven times a week between Incheon and Bangkok. Hawaiian Airlines is preparing to launch four weekly flights between Incheon and Honolulu from January.
American Airlines, one of the world's biggest carriers, plans to launch flights between Incheon and Dallas in May.
Jetstar Japan, a budget carrier owned jointly by JAL and Australia's Qantas, plans to start flying between Korea and Japan next year.
Korea is a favorite destination for Southeast Asians because of the Korean Wave, said Tony Fernandes, CEO of Malaysia's AirAisa Group, Asia's biggest low-cost carrier. The company is negotiating to open new routes to Incheon and Busan from Clark Airport in the Philippines, which serves Angeles City, Luzon and Metro Manila.