A week before the announcement of operators of the air route between Incheon and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the South Korean aviation industry appears to be in a strange atmosphere. The air route to Mongolia, one of the most lucrative air routes that are booked over 90 percent in high seasons, has been monopolized by Korean Air for the past 30 years.
According to industry sources on Wednesday, the South Korean Ministry of Land, Transport and Infrastructure and its Mongolian counterpart on Sunday agreed to increase the number of flights between Incheon and Ulaanbaatar from six (1,656 seats) to nine times (2,500 seats) a week. The ministry will announce a new airliner that will operate the additional three flights (844 seats) around next Tuesday.
The nation's flag carrier Korean Air Lines recently expressed its stance on the operating rights through a letter sent to the ministry under the name of its president Cho Won-tae, requesting to allow them to operate the Incheon-Ulaanbaatar route regardless of aircraft type and number of seats. This is practically asking to give them part of the newly opened seats.
In the aviation industry, it is a norm for carriers currently operating the exiting routes not to apply for newly opened seats and maintain the existing seats instead. This is why the industry thinks it is “unusual” for Korean Air to request distribution of operating rights and ask for more seats.
What is more unusual is that low cost carriers are siding with Korean Air, saying that Korean Air’s demand is reasonable. What would be their intention of taking sides with Korean Air when their share is about to be reduced?
“As the demand for Incheon-Ulaanbaatar route is expected to keep increasing, the airline companies will have to find ways to cater to passengers through negotiation,” said professor Heo Hee-young at Korea Aerospace University.