UK competition regulators have given merging carriers Asiana Airlines and Korean Air until 21 November to submit proposals to address concerns it has raised around the impact of their tie-up on the London-Seoul route.
The basis of the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) concerns is that as the only two operators serving Seoul directly from London, a merger between the two Korean carriers would leave only indirect competitors on the route.
CMA senior mergers director Colin Raftery says: ”Korean Air and Asiana Airlines are the two main players on the London to Seoul route and the deal risks UK customers and businesses paying over the odds or receiving a lower quality of service.”
Alongside the impact on passenger services, the CMA also flags competition concerns around air cargo on the route – on which the two carriers are the main suppliers of direct cargo flights between the UK and South Korea.
The CMA has given all parties until 21 November to address its concerns.
”Should Korea Air and Asiana Airlines fail to address our concerns, this deal will progress to a more in-depth investigation,” says Raftery.
Korean Air first announced plans to acquire Asiana two years ago, as the coronavirus pandemic turned the country’s aviation sector on its head. It has since been working its way through a number of international approvals necessary for the tie-up, which also include European Union and US regulators. The airline has been aiming to secure these approvals by year-end.
Prior to the pandemic three carriers served London Heathrow-Seoul directly, all from competing alliances. Oneworld carrier British Airways served the route in addition to SkyTeam’s Korean and Asiana, which is a Star Alliance member. However, BA has not restored its Seoul service since the pandemic.