Incheon Airport Must Not Rest on Its Laurels

      November 21, 2014 13:11

      Choi Jong-seok

      Dubai International Airport has been growing at an impressive rate over the last nine years. The airport is expected to rank top in the world in terms of passenger traffic this year from 11th place in 2005. Dubai's transit passenger ratio, which is a key indicator of a regional air traffic hub, stands at 53 percent. 

      Dubai officials plan to expand the airport so that it can handle 100 million passengers by 2020 compared to the present 75 million, and build another airport nearby that can handle 200 million flyers. The new airport will be called Dubai World Central.

      A spokesman for the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing said, "We're very eager to become the world's No. 1. So we try not to say 'no.'" In other words, Dubai officials are more than ready to accommodate the changing needs of tourists.

      They certainly have been quick to respond to the changing needs of tourists. When Incheon International Airport first grabbed the top honors in an airport service evaluation by Airports Council International in 2006, Dubai wasted no time in forming a relationship with the Korean airport and sent staff to learn the tricks of the trade. In 2007, the head of Dubai airport visited Incheon with other high-ranking executives.

      A Dubai airport spokesman said the key to its success has been the government's keen interest in the aviation sector. UAE authorities have adopted an "open skies" policy which gives carriers from all over the world access. Thanks to that, Emirates Airlines, which opened in 1985, has become the world's fourth-largest carrier. 

      Incheon has ranked at the top in terms of service quality for nine years running, but competitors are catching up fast and it is losing transit passengers on European routes to Dubai. Incheon’s share of transit passengers from Northeast Asia to Europe almost halved from 22.8 percent in 2008 to 11.3 percent in 2013. The number further went down to a mere eight percent until September this year, even lower than Beijing Capital International Airport's 8.3 percent. 

      Despite all that, the government sat idle for months while Incheon’s top management position remained vacant. And while passengers are complaining that prices are too high at Incheon, executives and staff have no qualms about taking big paychecks.

      The number of passengers at Incheon is expected to surpass its handling capacity this year, but a new terminal being built there will not be ready until 2018. And fast-track boarding lanes created this spring for senior citizens and pregnant women will not actually open until early next year due to a lack of immigration officers.

      The government and airport authorities, in short, are resting on their laurels. The service quality award recognizes efficiency in processing passengers and cleanliness of facilities, but the basic strength of an international airport is how well it can attract a wide range of carriers to accommodate more passengers and transit travelers. One Dubai official said, "Two thirds of the world's population lives less than eight hours away from Dubai. If we can let these people use our facilities more efficiently, the number of our customers will increase." 

      Dubai used to look to Incheon for inspiration. Now the government and Incheon airport have much to learn from Dubai. 

      By Choi Jong-seok from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk

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