Korean Air (KAL) is betting big on the fast-growing China market and has outlined bold plans for expansion in the country.

KAL executives outlined their ambitious expansion blueprint at a recent ceremony in Dalian to mark the launch of new services to the Chinese city.

They say KAL will "focus its efforts in China and turn it into its second home market" over the next four years. Plans call for the airline to fly to 12 more Chinese destinations, raising the total to 32 by the end of 2010. It currently operates on 27 routes to 20 Chinese cities, including the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

KAL says it expects this year's sales in China to amount to 830 billion won ($880 million), rising to 1.3 trillion won by 2010, "thus making China the largest overseas market" for the airline.

Korean Air  
© Korean Air   
" The growth of chinese civil aviation has only just started"

It also intends to boost existing services to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to give it thrice-daily "shuttle flights" from its home country by 2007.

"With a continuous increase in new routes and frequency of service, Korean Air's weekly China route operation in 2007 will rise 40%," it says. The ability of KAL to expand at this rate follows the signing of a highly liberal air services agreement between China and South Korea in June.

KAL is a founding member of the SkyTeam alliance, which Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines intends to join next year. However KAL says it plans to expand ties with other airlines in China, such as Star Alliance-bound Air China of Beijing and Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, "to secure favourable connections to China's domestic routes". On the cargo front, KAL recently signed a contract with China's largest logistics company, Sinotrans, which will see the two parties jointly launching a new all-freight airline sometime during 2007. KAL is one of the world's largest cargo carriers.

KAL began flying to China at the end of 1994. It says the number of passengers carried annually on its services to and from the country increased eightfold between 1995 and 2005, to 2.25 million. Cargo carried increased 28 times over the same period, to 21,000t last year. "Nevertheless, it is the general consensus of the airline industry that the growth of Chinese civil aviation has only [just] started," says KAL.

"The 2008 Beijing Olympics is expected to bring tremendous opportunities to the cargo and passenger transportation business. At the same time, the Chinese government's open policy such as opening its sky to foreign airlines will grant more opportunities than ever," according to the carrier.

Source: Airline Business