Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Budget airlines branch out abroad

Ever since Hansung Airlines launched the nation’s first low-cost carrier in 2005, the local budget airline market has been hot with competition. Even now, with the poor economy, budget carriers are pushing to take more of the skies.

Following Jeju Air, the nation’s first budget airline to offer regular international service to Osaka and Kitakyushu in Japan, Jin Air, the carrier unit of Korean Air, announced yesterday it will also fly regular international routes to Bangkok and Macao from October. 

“We [Jin Air] will offer a total of five international flights to destinations including Osaka within this year,” said CEO Kim Jae-kun at a conference yesterday.

Jin Air announced it will lease a B737-800 plane by early next month and one more of the same kind by fall. The carrier currently operates three planes for domestic routes, including from Gimpo to Jeju and Busan to Jeju. 

“By 2011, we [Jin Air] plan to offer up to 16 international routes to regions in China, Japan and Southeast Asia,” Kim said.

The company predicts a sales profit of up to 160 billion won ($115 million) by next year, when it officially starts operating international routes.

Jin Air isn’t alone in its international launching.

Air Busan, the budget unit of Asiana Airlines, also has plans to operate international flights as early as next year to Japan.

But with the local low-budget carriers expanding routes, the focal concerns remain over equipment safety.

In fact, Koreans still remember grieving over the Cambodia PMT Air accident in 2007 that killed 22 passengers, including 13 Koreans, caused by a failure to maintain equipment.

“Safety is also our foremost concern, and we can guarantee you that safety,” says Chung Hun-sik, director of Jin Air’s operations department.

Meanwhile, Jin Air announced it successfully completed operational safety audits conducted by the International Air Transport Association last week. It was the first local budget airline to undergo the safety audits.

By Lee Eun-joo []

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