Thoughts from the CAPA LCCs in North Asia Summit 2018

The LCCs in North Asia Summit held by CAPA – Centre for Aviation returned to Seoul – one of the more advanced North Asian LCC markets – over the last two days to discuss the key challenges and strategic issues facing LCC operators in North Asia as they seek further opportunities for growth.

Below is a snapshot of some of the thought provoking discussion from the two day event:

The booming LCC market

CAPA – Centre for Aviation executive chairman Peter Harbison:

  • 60% of the world’s LCCs are based in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions. Mr Harbison said the LCC sector in the Asia Pacific is “highly competitive”, with competition between LCCs more common in Asia Pacific than in Europe. He added that there is potential for consolidation and/or market exit in the Asia Pacific LCC sector in the coming years;
  • South Korea’s LCCs have a combined fleet of 121 aircraft as of 2017, up from nine aircraft in 2008. Mr Harbison reported South Korea LCCs typically have fleets of mostly older, second hand, leased aircraft, while Japan’s LCCs have fleets made up largely of new aircraft. He noted the average aircraft age for South Korea’s LCCs exceeds 10 years, while the average for Japan’s LCCs is less than four years;
  • The number of unique city pairs worldwide has approximately doubled over the past 20 years, exceeding 20,000 unique city pairs for the first time in 2017. Mr Harbison said new smaller widebody aircraft and long haul narrowbody aircraft both create new city pair opportunities, which benefits local airports and can generate economic growth for local communities.

T’Way Air executive VP Hyung Yi Kim:

  • North Korea has the potential to be a very attractive market for LCCs, adding that LCCs have a lot to gain from the opening up of North Korea’s aviation sector. Mr Kim said that access to North Korea airspace could allow T’Way Air to launch new routes to mainland China and Russia. He said T’Way hopes that any slots that become available at Pyongyang Airport will be evenly distributed.

Samsung Securities junior analyst Youngho Kim:

  • “I don’t think we need to worry about oversaturation or peaking off” in South Korea’s aviation market, even in the highly competitive LCC sector. Mr Kim said there is 1.2 LCCs per 10 million people in South Korea, which is higher than more mature LCC markets in southeast Asia and noted continued load factor year-on-year increases for all South Korea airlines. He added that outbound international travel growth is strong in South Korea, with 51% of South Koreans travelling internationally in 2017, according to Korea Tourism Organisation.

LCC airlines in the region

JEJU air president and CEO Seok Joo Lee:

  • Because demand in most of South Korea’s major cities is quite mature LCCs need to focus on development demand in secondary cities. Mr Lee said the convenience for passengers needs to improved in many secondary city airports in South Korea. He added that JEJU air is exploring plans to establish a third base airport in a secondary South Korea city to diversify its operations, in addition to its existing bases at Jeju International Airport and Busan Gimhae Airport.

Eastar Jet VP Pil Je Cho:

  • Eastar Jet’s international airport strategy in developed primary markets, such as Japan, includes targeting secondary airports as hub airports are typically saturated. Mr Cho said the LCC could consider operating to airports like Asahikawa Airport as an alternative to capacity constrained Sapporo Chitose Airport, or Ibaraki Airport as an alternative to Tokyo Narita Airport and Tokyo Haneda Airport. He added that in less developed markets, such as Vietnam, Eastar targets primary hub airports.

Jetstar Japan chief executive advisor Nick Rohrlach:

  • Jetstar Japan is “really happy” about Japan Airlines’ (JAL) plans to establish a long haul lost cost airline based at Tokyo Narita Airport, adding that it demonstrates JAL’s commitment to the LCC sector. Mr Rohrlach noted Jetstar Japan has the largest domestic network amongst Japan’s LCCs in terms of destinations and frequencies, and said the LCC aims to establish connections between its domestic operations at Narita and the proposed long haul low cost airline’s international operations at Narita. He said airports in Europe, including London Gatwick Airport, are making efforts to facilitate LCC to LCC connections.

Airport updates

Korea Airports Corporation KAC) market development and commercial director Jae Hee Park:

  • KAC is a “very LCC friendly corporation”. Mr Park said KAC plans to implement a solution to ease slot scarcity and constraints at Jeju International Airport and Busan Gimhae Airport in the near future. He added that KAC also expects to reach a favourable outcome regarding noise pollution issues at Seoul Gimpo International Airport;
  • KAC recognises the importance of local and foreign LCCs. Mr Kim said KAC has undertaken a range of measures to improve conditions for LCCs at its 14 airports, including offering financial incentives for route development, providing round the clock ground handling services and offering pilot training services. He added that KAC plans to expand its pilot training programme and provide stronger support for group travel in South Korea.

Sendai International Airport CCO Katsuhiko Okazaki:

  • Sendai Airport’s operational hours are “very limited” at present at 07:30 to 21:30. Mr Okazaki said “we have to extend our operational hours” in order to attract airlines, including LCCs, and said Sendai aims to win regulatory approval to do so.