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Partnerships the key for Korean Air at IATA AGM

Korean Air chairman and chief executive Walter Cho believes that IATA remains as relevant as ever, especially when it comes to how airlines work together.

“If it wasn’t for IATA there would be no standards between airlines – it would be chaos. It would be very expensive to just do a codeshare,” he told FlightGlobal in an interview on the eve of the association's Annual General Meeting in Seoul.

The SkyTeam carrier is the host of this year’s AGM, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of Cho’s grandfather, Cho Choong Hoon, purchased struggling carrier Korean National Airlines from the government in 1969.

At that stage, the near-bankrupt carrier had only eight aircraft and a limited network – a far cry from the global span of the airline today, and its fleet of 168 aircraft.

As it has in past years, Cho expects that the meeting will focus on some of the broad opportunities and challenges that the industry is facing.

“This year we are looking at the future of the industry, and the threats we face coming in the future,” he says, adding that global standards, capacity and regulation will be particularly hot topics.

Cho says that regulatory issues are a key concern in the Korean context, where the transport ministry can be quite restrictive, and has been known to fine carriers for some safety infractions.

The meeting also comes after the death of Walter’s father and Korean Air’ previous chairman and chief executive Cho Yang-ho, who led the airline for 19 years.

Walter has been working at the airline since 2004, and says that his father built a great legacy around strong service levels, and a focus on safety - the latter driven by its previously poor record on accidents.

“Almost every day I heard him emphasising safety and structure of the airline, because we had a dark time in our history. But ever since I came to Korean Air we have had a flawless record on safety, and I give full credit to my father – he has been adamant about keeping that standard,” says Cho.

“It’s not just safety, it’s also on the service side. He was very adamant about having the highest standard of service for our customers.”

Another key development for the airline overseen by Cho’s father was the start of its landmark network joint venture with Delta Air Lines on the transpacific market in May 2018.

That followed almost ten years of discussions between the two carriers, but there were challenges around gaining antitrust immunity in Korea for a joint venture.

Undeterred, Cho says that the talks accelerated once Ed Bastian was appointed as the US carrier’s chief executive in May 2016. “After that we put everything in high gear and just pushed on,” he says.

Despite some challenges, the results for both carriers have exceeded their expectations, and made all the pain involved worth it.

“Last year, our transpacific routes together showed a very significant growth in terms of the number of passengers, connectivity, profitability – in every sense it was a great year for us,” says Cho.

Read all the latest news and information from the 2019 IATA AGM on our dedicated page.

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