The removal of Japan from South Korea’s so-called whitelist of preferred trading partners in September looks set to have a severe impact on air travel between the two countries. The dispute will drastically affect Korean LCCs that rely heavily on Japanese routes in order to remain profitable. Jeju Air a Korean LLC has already suspended three of its 22 routes to Japan and intends to withdrawal a further six during September and October. In a similar move, LCC Jin Air will reduce its 131 weekly flights to just 78, while Korean Air is downgrading A330 operations from Incheon to Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya to a 787 service.
In response to the ongoing dispute, LCCs have begun to look towards other countries to fill the gaps in service. Jeju Air has launched new routes to China. The first new route was flown on 13 August from Incheon to Nantong, offering three weekly flights, and the airline has scheduled six-times-weekly flight from Incheon to Yangi for the 19 August. The following day the airline announced a thrice weekly service between Busan and Jiangjiajie and a similar route between Incheon and Harbin. A twice weekly service between Muan and Jiangjiajie will also start on 21 August.
A Jeju Air official, Soh Wan-ho said: “We hope the new routes will also pave the way for more use of our Boeing 737-800 fleet and strengthen bilateral relations with China.”
Air Seoul intends to replace some of its routes to Japan with alternative destinations in China and Southeast Asia. Other LCCs in the region intend to follow a similar strategy, while the dispute continues.