By Winston Shek
Air Premia To Launch Inaugural Flight This Week with First Route to Jeju
Korean startup Air Premia plans to launch its inaugural flight this week on Aug. 11 from Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport to the popular island of Jeju, the busiest route in the world pre-pandemic.
The hybrid-service carrier intends to operate two daily frequencies through Oct. 30, with a morning and evening frequency. Utilizing its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the inaugural flight, numbered YP541, departs Gimpo at 6:30 a.m. and arrives at Jeju at 7:40 a.m. On the return leg, YP542 departs Jeju at 8:40 a.m. and arrives at Gimpo at 9:50 a.m. Usually, the evening frequency departs Seoul’s Gimpo at 6:45 p.m. and arrives at Jeju at 7:55 p.m. Returning, YP546 departs Jeju at 9:15 p.m. and arrives at Gimpo at 10:25 p.m.
Seoul-based Air Premia plans to deploy its only Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner on the route. Its aircraft showcases 308 seats, including 56 premium economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration and 253 economy seats in a 3-3-3 configuration.
According to data from AirlineRoute, the route from Seoul to Jeju saw more than 11.5 million passengers in 2019. Currently, there are nine airlines operating flights between Seoul and Jeju, including Air Busan, Air Seoul, Asiana Airlines, Eastar Jet, Hi Air, Jeju Air, Jin Air, Korean Air and T’Way Airlines. Notably, all of these carriers except Hi Air offer at least five daily frequencies, showcasing tough competition, yet high demand in the market Air Premia is seeking to enter.
Initially, Air Premia planned to launch services in September 2020, focusing on international long-haul travel without domestic operations. However, the Covid-19 pandemic and international travel restrictions forced the Seoul-based carrier to change its plans, delaying the induction of its first aircraft from July 2020 to April 2021. As a result, Air Premia received its operating certificate from South Korea on July 16.
Currently, Air Premia has two more Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners slated for delivery as part of a lease agreement with Air Lease Corporation. Initially scheduled for delivery in 2020, it is unknown when both of these aircraft will be delivered. In the future, according to a press release from 2019, Air Premia plans to operate 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.
Air Premia intends to launch its first international flights to Singapore and destinations in Thailand and Vietnam in 2022. While pre-pandemic, the only low-cost carrier competition was Scoot on a route from Seoul to Singapore, Air Premia will now face heavy pressure from low-cost carriers on services to Thailand and Vietnam.
Additionally, last week, the airline applied for a foreign air carrier permit to operate transpacific flights to the U.S. According to its filing with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Air Premia detailed its plans to launch a route from Seoul to Los Angeles in the second quarter of 2022.
Currently, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines operate services between Seoul and Los Angeles. During the winter season, Korean Air will operate double daily flights with its Boeing 777-300ER, while Asiana Airlines will operate nine weekly flights with its A350-900. Tentatively, Korean Air intends to operate double daily Airbus A380 flights during the second quarter, while Asiana Airlines intends to operate a daily Airbus A380 and a daily Boeing 777.
With a Korean Air and Asiana Airlines merger impending in 2024, Air Premia could contest a potential future monopoly. According to its website, the hybrid-service carrier aims to offer economy fares at 80-90% of the prices of Korea’s full-service carriers and offer premium economy prices at 140% of a regular economy fare on a Korean full-service carrier.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Air Premia eyed services to San Jose, Calif., in tandem with flights to Los Angeles for a launch in 2021. Additionally, it identified “target destinations” in the North American cities of Honolulu and Vancouver. Furthermore, the hybrid-service carrier mulled services to Europe and Oceania, listing Cairns, Australia, as well as Munich and Berlin as possible destinations.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, airline startups in Asia are pushing ahead with their launch plans.
Japanese low-cost carrier ZIPAIR launched its inaugural service from Tokyo to Seoul in October 2020. Amid travel restrictions limiting travel demand, the airline has added routes to Bangkok and plans to add services to Singapore. Korean startup Aero K launched its inaugural flight between central Korean city Cheongju and Jeju in April. Meanwhile, hybrid carrier Vietravel Airlines launched its first flight in January 2021.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, transpacific service between Asia and the U.S. is severely hindered. Amid this, other carriers have gauged this downturn to start or mull service. For example, ZIPAIR launched a flight from Tokyo to Honolulu to Honolulu in 2021, using its Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Meanwhile, Bamboo Airways and Vietnam Airlines are mulling routes from Vietnam to the U.S.