August 09, 2013 12:16
Budget carriers are becoming increasingly popular among Korean fliers, but a study reveals that low-cost airlines have six times as many pilots than larger airlines with less than five years of flight experience.
Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee No-keun on Thursday cited data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport as showing that the budget carrier with the largest proportion of pilots of less experienced pilots is Jin Air with 95.7 percent.
Jeju Air is next with 51.1 percent of its pilots with less than five years of experience, followed by T'way Airlines (39.7 percent) and Eastar Jet (35.2 percent). At flag carrier Korean Air, the proportion is just 29.3 percent and at Asiana Airlines 16.1 percent.
The main reason for the large number of less experienced pilots is that Chinese airlines are scouting experienced pilots by offering fat paychecks, according to one industry source. A Jin Air spokesperson said, "The pilots are qualified and we train them for another year, so there are no problems with their abilities."
A total of 7.38 million people used budget Korean airlines in the first half of this year, up 21 percent compared to the same period of 2012. Budget carriers now account for 47.8 percent of the domestic market, posing a threat to major airlines.
Korean Air has 148 planes, Asiana 80, Jeju Air 13, Jin Air and Air Busan 10 each, Eastar Jet eight, and T'way Airlines five. Korean Air employs 9.4 pilots per plane and Asiana 8.1. But Jeju Air employs only 5.3 pilots per aircraft, T'way Airlines six, Eastar Jet 6.4 and Jin Air 6.5. That boils down to longer flying hours for pilots at budget carriers. Last year, T'way Airlines had the longest flying time per pilot at 504.1 hours, compared to just 367 hours at Korean Air.
But the shorter years of experience do not translate into higher accident rates. The number of minor accidents over the last five years was the highest at Asiana with seven and Korean Air with five. Jeju Air and Air Busan suffered two each and Eastar Jet one.
Airline industry insiders say that is because no-frills airlines fly shorter routes, have fewer planes and serve fewer airports. But one insider said these conditions could change after budget airlines started expanding overseas routes last year.
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