The Korea Herald


Airlines to retain air traffic rights without flying

New move comes as prolonged pandemic continues to hurt aviation industry

By Yim Hyun-su

Published : Feb. 21, 2021 - 15:21

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Airplanes are grounded at Incheon Airport. (Yonhap) Airplanes are grounded at Incheon Airport. (Yonhap)
The government is poised to further extend the period when airlines can suspend flights without losing their air traffic rights for the routes, as the pandemic continues to affect the aviation industry.

According to sources close to the matter, the new extension is currently being “positively considered,” as the current extension comes to an end next month.

“Given the prolonged pandemic, the measure is being positively considered to help support airlines,” one Transport Ministry official told The Korea Herald.

“Similar to the decision to delay the withdrawal of traffic rights last year, the move is part of the efforts to help the industry that has still not recovered,” the official added.

In March last year, the government announced a comprehensive plan to support the virus-hit aviation sector. Measures included delaying the withdrawal of air traffic rights and allocated slots from airlines, as well as lowering landing fees to give the industry some breathing space in a year marred by the pandemic.

Airlines had to suspend many of their international flights as global travel demand fell and travel restrictions were introduced around the world.

According to data from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, the number of airline passengers saw a 68.1 percent year-on-year drop to the lowest level in 20 years. The number of international air travelers dropped by 84.2 percent to 14.24 million.

Airlines normally have to cancel flights on routes they have not flown for over six to 12 months. Korean Air currently operates only 35 of its 110 international routes.

“As a result of COVID-19, we are currently operating on the routes where there is high cargo demand and travel demand from Koreans abroad and those working in other countries,” one Korean Air official told The Korea Herald.

The national flag carrier recently stopped direct flights between Incheon and Barcelona, Madrid and Vladivostok.

In December the Transport Ministry, Incheon International Airport Corporation and Korea Airports Corporation announced that they would reduce airport facility fees for airlines for another six months.

As a result, landing fees will be cut by 10 percent to 20 percent during that time while other fees will be forgiven, such as those for using mooring facilities.

By Yim Hyun-su (