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Finnair Airbus A330 (photo: Finnair)

Finnair’s new Busan route irritates Korean airlines

Korean carriers are grumbling about Finnair opening up a new route to the southern coastal city when it already flies to Seoul.

Finnair will start direct flights between Helsinki and the Korean holiday destination of Busan in 2020, a development prompted by President Moon Jae-in’s summit with his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinistö this week, Chosun Ilbo reports. But Korean carriers are irritated by the move.

Finnair will operate Busan-Helsinki three times a week from March 30 – the first direct flight to Europe from the coastal city’s Gimhae International Airport, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced.

That’s bad news for Korean airlines, which stand to lose business as passengers from the southern part of the country will be tempted to fly to Europe from Gimhae instead of using their usual routes from Seoul’s busy Incheon International Airport.

The ministry said it would open Busan-Helsinki to Korean carriers in the second half of this year, but neither Korean Air nor Asiana Airlines are likely to apply, Chosun Ilbo said.

“People in southern parts have had to travel all the way to Incheon by domestic flight or train to take the long-haul flights to Europe, but this will give them an option to fly direct,” a ministry official said, referring to the Finnish airport’s numerous connections.

Fastest to Europe
Korean airlines are grumbling because Finnair also operates Incheon-Helsinki, alone, and the new route will only expand its customer base.

Passenger numbers from Incheon to Helsinki rose from 176,780 in 2016 to 217,082 in 2018, as it has been billed as the fastest route to Europe, taking nine hours and 35 minutes over the Arctic. More than 81% were just passing through to reach other destinations in Europe.

The International Air Transport Association forecasts that only about 570 people a year will use the Busan-Helsinki route to actually visit Finland, while the rest will use it for transfers, according to Chosun Ilbo.

“We already have direct or indirect routes to major European cities, so it’s a losing game to open a new direct route just to compete with Finnair as it would decrease the number of passengers on existing routes and cost us a lot of money setting up a new office and maintaining it,” one executive at a Korean airline grumbled.

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