Seoul's Incheon steadily racking up new routes

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Seoul's Incheon International airport is enjoying a strong 2013, with key full-service carriers launching services to the hub, and booming low-cost traffic.

In an interview with Flightglobal Pro, the executive director of Incheon’s planning and coordination group Kwang-Soo Lee says the airport is close to achieving its goal of having ten of the world’s top carriers by passenger traffic flying to Seoul.

British Airways’ launch of a service from London Heathrow in December 2012 and American Airlines’ launch of a Dallas Fort Worth service in May 2013 means nine of the world’s ten top carriers have services to Incheon. The only holdout, says Lee, is Australia’s Qantas Airways.

While Incheon unquestionably benefits from being the home base of two major carriers – Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, this effectively doubles the competitive challenge faced by foreign carriers seeking to open a Seoul Incheon route.

According to FlightMaps Analytics, Asiana and Korean operate a total of 55 services monthly on the Seoul Incheon-Sydney route, and Korean operates 22 services monthly to Brisbane.

Nonetheless, the airport has notched up a number of notable wins this year, including its first African carrier, Ethiopian Airlines. Other carriers that have commenced service to Seoul are Czech Airlines, Lao Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, and Singapore’s Scoot. This brings Incheon’s total number of carriers to 89.

This, however, makes for more crowds. Seoul’s single terminal and tarmac concourse have a capacity for 44 million passengers, but this will grow to 62 million when a second terminal is opened in late 2017. The airport is in talks with carriers on which will move to the new terminal, but it hopes tentatively to dedicate the apron concourse, which passengers reach via an underground train, for the exclusive use of low-cost carriers (LCCs).

LCC traffic is growing strongly. In 2012, LCCs accounted for 9.6% of overall traffic, but this is likely to rise to 14%, says Lee. Key LCC markets from Seoul Incheon are China, Japan, and Taiwan – all domestic LCC traffic is channelled through Seoul’s Gimpo airport.

Although landing fees are the same at both Incheon and Gimpo, LCCs tend to charge more for services to Gimpo owing to its proximity to downtown Seoul. In addition, Gimpo has a 11pm-6am curfew due to noise regulations, whereas Incheon operates around the clock.

Longer term, Lee says Seoul Incheon plans to increase capacity to 100 million by 2035. Eventually, the airport could add a fourth parallel runway to the west.