Korean Air delivers Northeast Asia’s only non-stop link to Barcelona

Korean Air is to establish the first non-stop link between Northeast Asia and the Catalan city of Barcelona in more than ten years when it launches a three times weekly flight from its Incheon International Airport, serving Seoul. The flight will complement the SkyTeam alliance member’s existing three times weekly flight into the Spanish capital Madrid.

The link into next year’s World Routes host city will commence from April 28, 2017 and will be operated using a Boeing 777-200ER configured with 248 seats. The airline has been a major target for Aeroports de Catalunya as it seeks to boost connectivity into Northeast Asia, one of the fastest growing regions of the world and a major outbound market. There are also growing business links between Barcelona and South Korea, particularly in the automotive and pharmaceutical industries.

The last time Barcelona was directly linked to this part of the world was in 2006 when both Air Europa and Air Plus Comet offered flights to Shanghai. The city has had a summer link into Ekaterinburg in the Russian Federation (parts of Siberia are sometimes classed as being in Northeast Asia) for the past six years, while elsewhere in Asia Singapore Airlines continues to serve Singapore’s Changi International Airport (via Milan Malpensa) despite recently ending direct Singapore – Barcelona – Sao Paulo flights.

New Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) services between December 2016 and March 2017 will also link Barcelona to both Islamabad and Lahore this winter in a further boost of long-haul operations from Catalunya’s main gateway and Spain’s second city.

Korean Air’s network growth follows a period of scheduled charters this past summer linking Seoul Incheon and Barcelona. These weekly flights operated between late April and early July and are likely to have helped the airline to commit to the permanent scheduled service for summer 2017.

Data from AirVision Market Intelligence from Sabre Airline Solutions shows that in the last year (12 months to October 2016) an estimated 820,000 bi-directional passengers flew between Barcelona and destinations across Far East Asia, this is over 1,100 PPDEW (Passenger Per-Day Each-Way). This traffic was up 23.3 per cent versus the previous 12 month period, with Soul Incheon the largest point for demand and an annual market of over 200,000 passengers, up 35.7 per cent on the previous period.

Alongside the Barcelona link, Korean Air will also grow its activities in North America with additional flights into San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. The Seoul Incheon – San Francisco market will see a second daily rotation being introduced through 2017, growing frequencies from seven a week to 12 initially between April 2017 and June 2017, to 13 a week through to August 2017 and up to double daily from September 2017. The Seoul Incheon – Los Angeles market will see a third daily rotation for the summer high season from June 2017 to August 2017, while flights between Seoul Incheon and Seattle Tacoma International will increase from five to seven a week from May 2017.

Elsewhere, Korean Air confirms it continues to study the launch of flights into Tehran, having secured permission to serve the Iranian capital in March this year. It says it will decide the timing of the launch following the completion of market conditions and financial trade environment study.

The network growth will be offset by some cuts to the Korean Air network and the closure of routes to Siem Reap in Cambodia from early February 2017 as well as to Jeddah (via Riyadh) in Saudi Arabia. The airline says it will maintain ‘KE’ flight connections to these markets though through “increased connections with Middle Eastern airlines,” namely Emirates Airline via Dubai International Airport.

“Through constant development of new routes and the reduction of flights with low demand, Korean Air will maximise its profitability to ensure sustainability and competitiveness,” the airline said in a statement.

Korean Air recently announced its biggest quarterly profit in its history, dispelling recent worries about its financial instability. For the third quarter of this year, it recorded sales revenue of 3.06 trillion won ($2.6 billion), an operating profit of 447.6 billion won ($378 million) and a net profit of 428 billion won ($362 million).

The 447.6 billion won operating profit was the biggest ever quarterly operating profit for the South Korean carrier, surpassing previous record of 416.5 billion ($352 million) won in the third quarter of 2010. Sales and operating profit were up by 4.7 per cent and 34.9 per cent respectively, compared to the same period last year. The airline’s net income also returned to profit.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…