Jeju Air, the South Korean low-cost carrier (LCC), is eyeing expansion of its Thai operations by forming an alliance with a local LCC and launching a third Thailand-South Korea route.
The plan, disclosed by Jeju Air regional manager Kang In Ho, reflects the airline's more pronounced intention to cash in on the fast-growing passenger traffic between the countries after it topped 1.3 million last year.
Ranked as South Korea's third-largest airline after Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, Jeju is in talks with Bangkok-based budget airlines to form a code-share style partnership whereby they would feed passengers to each other.
Such an alliance would allow the seven-year-old airline to expand coverage in Thailand and Asean without its aircraft having to fly there from Inchon airport near Seoul, the South Korean executive told the Bangkok Post.
The emergence of the Asean Economic Community in 2016 is seen by Jeju as an opportunity to increase air traffic volume between South Korea and the region of 601 million people.
On the radar is a possible third route out of Thailand, Chiang Mai-Inchon, by November next year, with a daily flight on board a Boeing 737-800 with 186 seats in one class, said Mr Kang.
Jeju operates daily service between Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport and Inchon, and also between Suvarnabhumi and the city of Busan.
The carrier was the first South Korean LCC to serve Bangkok, with the launch of regular Inchon-Bangkok flights in 2009, followed by Busan~Bangkok service last year.
Jeju's current network includes 15 international routes, covering countries like China and Japan, and three domestic South Korean routes.
It has 12 aircraft in operation and is expanding its all brand-new B737-800 fleet to 20 over the next three years.
Since first taking to the skies in 2006 with the launch of two domestic routes _ Seoul~Jeju and Busan~Jeju _ the airline has carried about 10 million passengers.
As part of an effort to raise its business profile in Thailand, Jeju recently appointed Thai Star Air Co, a Bangkok-based travel agent with some 20 years in business, as its general sales agent (GSA) for the country.
Jeju's passengers are a 60:40 mix of South Korean and Thai leisure travellers, with an average load factor of 90%.
Mr Kang said the airline wants to draw more independent travellers rather than members of tour groups.
According to the Thai Tourism Ministry, South Korea ranked fifth for number of international visitors to Thailand in 2011 with a record-high 1.01 million.
South Korean inbound arrivals to Thailand are expected to hit 1.22 million this year, a 20% year-on-year rise, contributing 40 billion baht to the Thai economy, according to Kasikorn Research Center.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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