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Established in 2007, Eastar Jet is a low-cost airline based in Seoul, South Korea. The carrier operates to destinations within South Korea as well as international destinations in Asia from its main base at Gimpo International Airport.
Location of Eastar Jet main hub (Jeju Airport)
LCCs will continue to evolve into hybrids of the original core model. CAPA and OAG consider Eastar Jet fits the LCC profile and it is included in our reporting on this basis. Please note: when reporting for an airline is changed from or to LCC the historical data is not affected and it can lead to a distortion in the current reported data. Contact us if you have any queries.
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Korean LCCs are increasing their market share, accounting for 10% of the international market and just under 50% in the much smaller domestic arena. But they are still passing up numerous opportunities, and these are becoming more apparent and with greater impact as LCCs increase in North Asia, notably Japan.
Two – Air Busan and Jin Air – are tethered to their full-service parents while independent Jeju Air has done comparatively well and preparing for an IPO to advance growth. But smaller independent LCCs Eastar Jet and t'way are still moving up. They straddle the low-cost and full-service spectrum, being closer to low fare than low-cost airlines. While they argue the Korean market is not ready for LCCs, they know they must move as international competition intensifies. They only need to look at Japan's Peach, which is finding success in another market once thought to be too sensitive for LCCs. AirAsia Japan's failure is a reminder that finding the nuances and achieving balance between management style, market demand and the balance sheet is not easy.
As liberalisation and more progressive thinking spreads across North Asia, the region's pan-Asian LCCs are looking at how to have a local presence in South Korea. While South Korea in the middle of last decade became the first North Asian country to see the launch of LCCs, there has been stagnation at the expense of cost bases, creating room for a new LCC with a lower cost base to enter. An effort in 2008 from Tiger Airways to establish Tiger Incheon backfired, which, combined with weak performances at some incumbents, has caused foreign LCC groups to look at acquiring an existing carrier.
AirAsia is understood to have looked but left, leaving Tiger as most likely Asian LCC group to enter the South Korean market because Jetstar is now bedding down growth elsewhere and following from its Vietnam experience does not take a positive view towards acquiring another carrier. Indeed, global examples of LCC mergers are few, but this may be the platform necessary for South Korea.
It has no domestic market like Japan but a thriving international market with surprising numbers of liberalised air services, the spark to generate growth. Whether an acquisition pans out or not, South Korean aviation is in need of a shake-up.
It certainly took North Asia some years to have momentum for low-cost airlines that was anything like booming Southeast Asia. 2012 delivered on that with three new LCCs launching in Japan and plans underfoot in Hong Kong for Jetstar Hong Kong as well as a possible transformation of Hong Kong Express into a LCC. While elsewhere the region may not have gone as far as producing LCCs, there is active discussion of having LCCs and the reforms needed to welcome and support them.
Talk is strongest in Taiwan, which has seen considerable growth from LCCs in North and Southeast Asia. South Korea is considering how and when its LCCs can become better competitors, shedding some of the comforts they have been unwilling to charge passengers. Japan will see growth, from existing LCCs and new ones, a challenge for incumbents. Reforms in China may enable LCCs in the future to launch, while all LCCs are watching how to be hybrid and chase yields. These are eight North Asian LCC topics to watch for in 2013.
South Korea's Jeju Air has undergone a management changeover, with new CEO Kyu Nam Choi at CAPA's LCC and New Age Airlines conference on 05-Sep-2012 giving the message that he brings the wheels of change but with an endpoint that is undetermined and open to influence, be it from airline partners or investors as it considers an IPO in the medium-term.
Such an open tabula rosa strategy is revolutionary but welcome in the stagnating Korean LCC market where carriers, some second-fiddle to parent company interests, are showing a lack of direction as they confront high cost bases and lack of liberalised access. That combination will place the carriers under pressure as foreign LCCs – namely from Japan – enter, likely resulting in the LCCs transitioning from hybrid to more barebones LCC models. The timeframe of this is uncertain, and while it seemed Korea, the original market for LCCs in North Asia, would not promulgate further innovation, Mr Choi may set out to change that – with implications for all the country's carriers.
The nearly 20 year duopoly on South Korean air services held by Asiana and Korean Air was broken in 2006 with the launch of Jeju Air. That gave Korea its first low-cost alternative, establishing the country as a vibrant ground for potential new carriers, but only two made it to market and amassed scale: Jeju Air and Eastar Jet. More recently, t'way – rebranded from Hansung Airlines – has launched, but with a rocky experience and uncertain future as the airline remains for sale.
The experience for Eastar Jet and Jeju has not been equal. Jeju Air had to forge a path as a new carrier, and so encountered typical resistances, but has been rewarded with the status as Korea’s third largest carrier, larger than the LCC spin-offs from Asiana and Korean Air. Eastar Jet, the last of the new carriers to launch, has found it difficult to secure a position. Jeju Air is closer to being a hybrid carrier and both must re-define themselves and their cost base as regional competition increases. No position is guaranteed or forced.
South Korea’s five major LCCs held an aggregate domestic market share of 42.3% in 3Q2011 in the third quarter of 2011, up from the 40.3% in the six months to Jun-2011 (1H2011), which itself was a new record for LCC penetration in the North Asian nation. This penetration, as confirmed by South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, marks a significant rise from a combined market share of just 9.7% three years ago.
However, profitable growth remains a continued challenge for South Korea’s LCCs. In 2008, two LCCs in the market, namely Hansung Airline and Yeongnam Air, collapsed amid challenges economic conditions, high fuel costs, a weakened Korean won and funding challenges amid the global economic financial crisis. Among those left standing, losses were heavy, with the nation’s four LCCs in 2009 – EastarJet, Jeju Air, Jin Air and Air Busan, reporting combined losses in excess of USD55 million in 2009.
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