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S. Korea unveils support measures for airlines amid coronavirus

All News 10:00 February 17, 2020

By Choi Kyong-ae

SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's transport ministry on Monday outlined a set of measures to help airlines weather the impact of the spreading coronavirus outbreak.

The government will extend loans worth a total of 300 billion won (US$250 million) to airlines facing a liquidity crunch due to the impact of the COVID-19 virus outbreak through the state-run Korea Development Bank and allow them to pay airport usage fees later, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said in a statement.

In other measures, the ministry plans to take administrative measures to not only allow airlines to change their business plans and set up alternative routes to offset lower demand on Chinese routes but also to allow them to operate irregular flight schedules depending on market demand.

In this photo taken on Feb. 10, 2020, and provided by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee talks to airline business leaders amid the spreading coronavirus outbreak at a meeting held at the Korea Airports Corp. in western Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The moves come one week after Transport Minister Kim Hyun-mee said her ministry will take some steps to help airlines as the pace of decline caused by the coronavirus outbreak in terms of the number of air passengers is much faster than the decrease that resulted from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in 2003 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2015.

Given the number of airlines has jumped nearly fivefold since 2003, from two full-service carriers to nine airlines now, and the number of international air passengers is four times higher, the airline business is likely to face a bigger blow from the potentially fatal virus, she said.

Eight of the country's nine airline companies sharply reduced the number of their combined flights to China to 162 per week on 59 routes in the second week of February, down 70 percent from 546 on the same routes in the first week of January, the ministry said.

South Korea has two full-service carriers -- Korean Air and Asiana Airlines Inc. -- and seven low-cost carriers (LCCs) -- Jeju Air, Jin Air, Air Busan Co., Air Seoul Inc., Eastar Jet, T'way and Fly Gangwon.

Fly Gangwon operates two routes from Yangyang, Gangwon Province, to Taipei and Jeju Island.

Two more budget carriers -- Air Premia Co. and Aero K Airlines Co. -- are expected to enter the market later this year after obtaining approval from the transport ministry over the safety of their planes, bringing the country's total number of LCCs to nine.

Starting this month, airlines began to suspend some of their flights on Chinese routes or reduce the number of flights to China due to a sharp decline in travel demand to the neighboring country.


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