Korean low-cost carriers have set their sights on long-haul flights to Hawaii, Sydney, Singapore and even some European cities. Some are looking to buy larger jets capable of carrying 280 to 300 passengers.
One industry insider said, "The only option for us is to target long-distance routes where there is relatively little competition."
Jin Air, which is wholly owned by Korean Air, is leading the way with plans to fly to Hawaii at the end of this year. CEO Ma Won said, "The only way to achieve a breakthrough in growth is to offer long-range flights that go beyond Phuket."
Jin Air is considering buying B777-200 and A330 jets to service those routes.
Air Busan is pushing to lease two or three A330 jets to fly long-distance international routes. The A330 can carry 250 to 280 passengers and fly up to 13,000 km. Air Busan is working on market research to gauge demand for flights to Hawaii, Sydney, Turkey and even some European cities.
Jeju Air has apparently set its sights on long-distance flights as well.
The reason budget carriers are casting their nets wider is that their bread-and-butter short-haul business on domestic routes and to Japan and Southeast Asia has become saturated.
According to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, budget carriers attracted just 9.7 percent of air passengers in 2008, but by 2011 their share had risen to 34.7 percent and since 2012 hovered around 40 percent. Industry insiders believe that is more or less the limit and they will not get beyond 50 percent.
As long as Korean Air and Asiana Airlines control most of the passenger flight market here, low-cost carriers will have a tough time winning more customers.
AirAsia, one of the world's leading low-cost airline, said on Tuesday it will offer discounts of up to 50 percent for flights from Busan to Jeju to those who travel from Kuala Lumpur to Busan and then transfer to Air Busan from the southern port city to Jeju Island under a deal between the two carriers.
Huh Hee-young at Korea Aerospace University said, "If domestic budget carriers branch out into long-distance flights, consumers will be able to enjoy a wider range of flight choices."