South Korea’s second-largest carrier Asiana Airlines has placed a firm order for six Airbus A380s, which will help it take advantage of an expected boost in demand on transpacific routes.

An Asiana spokesman says the carrier has signed a contract with Airbus for the six A380s with the first two to come in 2014, followed by two in 2015 and two in 2017.

The Star Alliance carrier has yet to make an engine selection, adds the spokesman, who was unable to say when a decision would be made.

Asiana’s spokesman concedes that Korean Air’s decision to order A380s, with the first five coming this year, may have been a factor in Asiana’s move.

But he says a bigger reason for the decision was Asiana’s desire to capitalize on the projected increase in traffic that is set to occur between South Korea and the U.S., now that a free trade agreement between the two countries appears likely to come into effect.

He says passenger traffic between the two countries is also expected to increase because it is now easier for Koreans to get visa-free entry to the U.S.

The spokesman declines to say which U.S. cities Asiana’s A380s will serve. He also says the carrier plans to operate the aircraft to Europe.

Another reason for the move is that Asiana wants to use the A380 to reinforce its position as a top-tier premium carrier, says the spokesman.

At this stage, Asiana plans to equip its A380s with 525 passenger seats in three classes: economy, business and first.

The aircraft will be replacing some of the carrier’s Boeing 777-200ERs and its two Boeing 747-400 passenger aircraft.

Asiana in the past had a larger fleet of 747-400 passenger aircraft, but it converted some to freighters. The spokesman says the last two 747-400 passenger aircraft in the fleet might also be converted to freighters or reassigned to routes within Asia such as Seoul Incheon-Bangkok.

The spokesman says one reason Asiana chose the A380 over the Boeing 747-8 is because the carrier already has an order for 30 Airbus A350s and there is some commonality in parts and equipment between the two aircraft types.

Airbus’ chief operating officer customers, John Leahy, says the order “is a further endorsement of the A380 as the most efficient tool to meet demand on the world’s most heavily traveled routes, especially out of the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.”

“With the A380 in its fleet, Asiana will be able to increase its share of international traffic and reinforce its well-deserved status as one of the world’s premier carriers,” he says.