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[News Focus] International air routes relaunch, but worries linger

(Jin Air)
(Jin Air)

South Korean air carriers suffering from the impact of COVID-19 outbreak plan to gradually relaunch their international routes from next month but worries linger over prospects of a business recovery, according to industry sources Tuesday.

Low-cost carrier Jin Air said Tuesday that it is resuming five international routes including Incheon-Bangkok, Incheon-Hanoi, Incheon-Taipei, Incheon-Narita and Incheon-Osaka from next month. It comes two months after it suspended the routes over the virus pandemic. 

The air carrier said its decision comes after considering demand from Korean residents living abroad, students and business travelers, as well as the volume of air cargo to such destinations. 

Full service carrier Korean Air has also announced its plan to resume operations on some international routes from June. As of Tuesday, 13 out of a total of 110 international routes are being operated. From next month, up to 32 international routes connecting to US cities like Washington, Seattle, European cities like Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Southeast Asian cities like Kuala Lumpur, Yangon, Hanoi, Singapore will be available. 

Korean Air said it is resuming the service to preemptively react to the increase in passenger numbers as the COVID-19 spread is slowing down. 

Another full service carrier Asiana Airlines will also operate 27 out of 73 international routes from June, mainly focusing on recovering the Chinese routes such as to Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Qingdao. 

Other LCCs like Jeju Air, T’way Air, Air Busan, Air Seoul and Eastar Jet have announced plans to open most of their international routes from July, and are receiving reservations from this month.

Despite the move to relaunch their long-waited international routes to slowly recover from the impact of COVID-19 outbreak, industry insiders said air carriers are still worried over how long it will take for a full recovery. 

“We are currently keeping a close eye on the situation in each country, but it remains unclear whether COVID-19 will be fully contained in a near future, as situations differ across countries. There are concerns whether we can operate the international routes as planned,” an industry insider who works at a local full service carrier told The Korea Herald. 

Others also pointed to the fact that despite the resumption of international routes, passenger demand is still very low. 

According to aviation industry insiders, consumer sentiment for traveling won’t reach the same level as the previous year even during the peak season in the third quarter. 

“Although countries ease their entry restrictions of foreigners, people will still be reluctant to travel abroad, unless it is for a special purpose like a business trip,” an industry insider said. 

“Further, with reduced school days this year, it will be hard to see families going on a trip abroad during summer vacations,” he added. 

While some pinned hopes that the government will come up with measures to encourage traveling, others said it is too early for the government to act proactively as COVID-19 cases still hover below 20 cases daily in Korea.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said Tuesday that it will allow installment payments for cash-strapped air carriers in cases where they are required to pay penalties for such reasons as safety rule violations.

The ministry revised the ordinances of the Aviation Safety Act to be effective from July to lessen the financial burden on airlines. 

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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