Korean Air is cautiously optimistic about recent political developments vis-à-vis North Korea, with the easing of tensions helping the general visitor environment for South Korea.
Last year saw a rapprochement of sorts between the two Koreas, with summits between South Korean president Moon Jae-in and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, in addition to a June summit between US president Donald Trump and Kim in Singapore.
The warming of ties has generated hopes of increased business activity between the two Koreas – although much progress has yet to be made on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
In response to a reporter’s question about improving conditions on the peninsula, Korean Air chief executive Walter Cho was reluctant to discuss politics, but welcomesd a less volatile political situation.
“As a Korean it's a relief just as it is,” he says. “For the business it's a very good sign. When the tension was at the highest the interest in Korea was the tension, and not Korea itself. People would try to avoid Korea. That was a very critical situation for the 2018 Winter Olympics [in PyeongChang] as well, but fortunately everything became very calm and is going in the right direction. If everything turns out well we'll have a very big opportunity into North Korea.”
Cho made the remarks during a roundtable with reporters at the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines' Assembly of Presidents, which was held recently on the resort island of Jeju, South Korea.
He adds that there are still many challenges, not least North Korea’s dilapidated infrastructure and lack of an air travel market.
“But once the political situation gets better, hopefully there will be some traffic generated and we’ll take a shot at it.”
Internally, the carrier has discussed the possibility of overflying North Korea. “This will save a lot of cost for us, but we’ll have to be very careful when to start that due to US sanctions.”
Flight Fleets Analyzer illustrates the under-developed nature of North Korea’s air transport sector. State carrier Air Koryo operates just 14 aircraft, most of which were built in the former Soviet Union. The average age of its fleet is 32.2 years.
Its most modern aircraft are a pair of Antonov An-148s with an average age of 4.8 years, and a 2009 vintage United Aircraft Corporation (Tupolev) Tu-204 100.