Incheon International Airport won the 2014 Airport Service Quality Award from Airports Council International in May for the ninth consecutive year. Located 70 km west of Seoul, the airport earned the highest score in service quality in a global survey of about 350,000 airport users over the past year.
No other airport has won the award for nine straight years, a feat described by the acting president of Incheon Airport’s operator as a “milestone for us” during the award ceremony on the sidelines of the ACI conference in Seoul.
Having opened in 2001, the airport now serves more than 41 million passengers annually, connecting them with 182 cities in 36 countries. Its departure and arrival processes take 19 and 12 minutes, respectively, well below the global average of 60 and 45 minutes. The number of transit passengers using the airport reached 5.66 million in 2012, exceeding the corresponding figure for Japan’s Narita Airport at 5.29 million.
To its concern, however, signs are mounting that the airport’s status as a transportation hub in Northeast Asia is being eroded by competition from rival airports in neighboring countries.
Its number of transit passengers has recently fallen, down by nearly 6 percent from a year earlier to 659,208 in July. This phenomenon is attributed mainly to strengthened efforts by major airports in China and Japan to increase direct flights to overseas cities and connections to local destinations.
The Japanese government recently announced an ambitious plan to increase the number of foreign cities connected by flights to and from Narita and Haneda airports from the current 88 to 140 by 2020. China’s airports, including those in Beijing and Shanghai, have also increased their numbers of flights to cities in the U.S. and Southeast Asia.
It is worrying that Incheon Airport has done little to respond to this increased competition, as the presidency of its operator has remained vacant for more than six months. The previous president of Incheon International Airport Corp., a former vice transportation minister, irresponsibly quit the job less than eight months after taking office to run for a gubernatorial post in the June local elections.
The government should facilitate the process of selecting the new head of the state-funded corporation. It is also important to fill the post with a figure with expertise and commitment to further enhancing the airport’s competitiveness.