South Korea’s two major air carriers – Asiana Airlines Inc. and Korean Air Lines Co. – are moving to reorganize their fleet for Chinese passengers as the Chinese government has lifted the restrictions on group tours to South Korea.
The two companies will introduce larger-capacity airplanes for Chinese cities that have lifted the ban on group tours to South Korea, such as Beijing and Shanghai. After Korean low cost carriers (LCCs) have resumed flights to Chinese cities, full service carriers (FSCs) have also normalized their flights to China.
According to aviation industry sources on Sept. 5, Asiana Airlines is planning to replace the 170-seat Airbus A321 with the A330 and the Boeing 767 with 300 seats for flights to Chinese cities that lifted the restrictions. Korean Air is also considering replacing the 190-seat B737 with the A330 and the B777 that have 340 seats.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea stood at 8.06 million in 2016 before plunging to 4.17 million last year after the THAAD issue. The falling number of tourists led LCCs to discontinue flights to some Chinese cities.
Asiana Airlines currently has 31 lines to China, while Korean Air has 38 lines. They maintain the major lines but has replaced their 300-seat planes with smaller ones.
However, the Chinese government has been lifting the ban on the Korean wave starting with the major cities as the relations between the two countries have improved with President Moon Jae-in’s visit to China and the inter-Korean summit. China lifted the ban in Beijing and Shandong in December last year and Hubei and Chongqing in May and Shanghai and Jiangsu in August this year.
The number of Chinese tourists to South Korea decreased to 250,000 a month on average last year but it increased to 300,000 in January this year and hit a record high for the year at 410,000 in July.