Korean Air to lease 787-9s to Air Premia to resolve competition concerns

Render of Air Premia Boeing 787-9 in flight
Photo Credit: Air Premia.

In a bid to address competition concerns raised by the US Department of Justice regarding its merger with Asiana Airlines, Korean Air is embarking on a strategic fleet move.

The airline is in the process of finalizing details to lease four of its B787s-9s to local competitor Air Premia.

This move comes after a prolonged four-year period of negotiations, with the US identified as being the primary hurdle to the merger.

Addressing Expansion Needs

Air Premia, positioned as a local low-cost carrier (LCC), is eyeing expansion opportunities, particularly in the lucrative US market.

The plan involves deploying the leased Dreamliners on routes to the Americas. This move aligns with Air Premia’s strategy to bolster its network in the US and enhance frequencies on existing routes.

Targeted Routes and Concerns

Currently, Air Premia operates flights from Seoul Incheon to key destinations in the US, including New York, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, with plans to commence operations to San Francisco in May 2024.

These routes are not only crucial for Air Premia’s expansion plans but also the focal point of concerns raised by the US DOJ regarding potential monopolistic implications of the Korean Air and Asiana Airlines merger.

Timeline and Delivery

Of the four B787-9s earmarked for lease, two are slated for delivery within the year 2024, with the remaining two scheduled thereafter.

This timeline underscores Korean Air’s commitment to addressing competition concerns promptly while facilitating Air Premia’s expansion endeavors.

This leasing arrangement mirrors a similar initiative undertaken by Korean Air in June 2023, wherein the airline entered into a deal with T’way Air.

The agreement, aimed at assuaging concerns raised by the European Commission, involved the lease of five A330-300s along with the deployment of 100 pilots.

T’way Air, in turn, utilized these assets to launch routes to prominent European destinations, including Paris, Rome, Barcelona, ​​and Frankfurt, thereby absorbing routes relinquished by Korean Air.

Future Outlook

With 24 aircraft pending delivery, including the B787-10, Korean Air remains poised to manage capacity fluctuations effectively.

The strategic collaboration with Air Premia not only addresses immediate competition concerns but also underscores Korean Air’s commitment to fostering a competitive aviation landscape.

A Korean Air Airbus taxis past an Asiana Airlines A380.
Hyeonwoo Noh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Korean Air – Asiana Merger

The proposed merger between Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, first announced in November 2020, aims to create a single dominant carrier in South Korea.

The combined entity would hold a significant market share in South Korea, potentially influencing flight prices and service options. Concerns about reduced competition have been raised by regulators and some industry players.

While some countries like Australia and China have approved it, concerns remain about potential anti-competitive effects.

Korean Air is optimistic about finalizing the merger within 2024, with CEO Walter Cho previously expressing confidence in overcoming the remaining hurdles.

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Korean Air will lease 4 787-9 aircraft to Air Premia in a bid to offset competition concerns expressed by the US regards the Asiana Airlines merger.
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