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Incheon Airport cautiously expects ‘reverse L-shaped recovery’ as soon as later this year

Operator of Incheon Airport also pledges support to keep struggling duty-free businesses afloat

Kim Kyung-wook, president of the state-run Incheon International Airport Corporation, speaks during Wednesday’s press conference. (IIAC)
Kim Kyung-wook, president of the state-run Incheon International Airport Corporation, speaks during Wednesday’s press conference. (IIAC)
Incheon International Airport Corp. said Wednesday that air travel could see a “reverse L-shaped recovery” as early as the second half of this year as the vaccine rollout speeds up in South Korea.

In the most ideal scenario, IIAC said, the annual number of passengers could reach some 16.5 million, a 76.5 percent drop from 2019, but the overall pace of the recovery would remain slow and the number of passengers could be as low as 5 million by its most conservative estimate. That would be a 92.8 percent drop from 2019.

“We rely on data from various research institutes for financial forecasting. But from the strategic point of view as an operator of the airport, we expect the L-shaped recession to continue before the reverse L-shaped recovery,” said Kim Kyung-wook, the new president of IIAC, during his first media briefing since his appointment earlier this month.

“And this is the prediction model we need to be prepared for,” Kim added.

He also explained that the daily number of passengers has dropped by 96 percent from some 180,000 to some 7,000 after the pandemic and said the trend would continue until the coronavirus crisis begins to improve drastically, after which air travel would recover to pre-pandemic levels within three months.

The state-run airport, which opened in 2001 and replaced Gimpo Airport as the country’s main international airport, began making profit in 2004 but suffered an unprecedented loss of some 420 billion won ($377.82 million) in net income in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The loss is on course to double this year, according to its current estimate.

Last year, the airport said it forgave 770 billion won in airport fees and allowed the payment of 390 billion won to be delayed. The figure includes some 470 billion won in rent that was forgiven as the pandemic devastated the tourism sector.

The money spent on rent exemptions is set to grow this year as IIAC has pledged to provide further support to keep duty-free shops at the airport afloat this year.

Contracts with some of the major duty-free stores at the airport’s Terminal 1 come to an end later this month, including those with Lotte Duty Free and Shilla Duty Free.

To prevent job cuts, AIIC said it would allow other duty-free stores, including Shinsegae Duty Free and Grand Duty Free, to expand in size by as much as 100 percent.

The president added that keeping the duty-free stores open would help accommodate growing travel demand when the pandemic comes to an end.

By Yim Hyun-su (