International flight schedules fast returning to normal
The Transport Ministry is resuming control of international flight operations at Korean airports from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) as the pandemic comes to an end.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Wednesday, the government hopes the number of international flights — arrivals plus departures — will return to 50 percent of 2019 levels this year.
Year to date, the number of regular international flights operating are 8.9 percent of 2019 levels.
Currently, 420 international flights are arriving or departing Korea every week. In May, the number will be raised to 520 and in June 620. By July, weekly international flights will break 900.
If all goes according to plan, 2,420 international flights will arrive in or depart from Korea a week by the end of the year, which would be equivalent to 51 percent of the 4,700 flights a week in 2019.
During the pandemic, the government needed to negotiate with the health authorities when increasing the number of international flights.
Local airports, including Gimpo, Cheongju and Jeju, will be resuming international flights halted during the pandemic. The restrictions implemented on international flights at regional airports will be lifted starting May as it will take time to complete preparations.
Regional airports — except for Gimhae and Daegu — were prohibited from operating international flights so most people would be arriving at Incheon International Airport.
Even after restrictions are lifted, foreigners traveling to and from overseas destinations will have to use Incheon International Airport.
The Transport Ministry said the changes are being made as airline policies are expected to normalize as Covid-19 becomes endemic.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects the number of global travelers of all types — domestic and international — to reach 83 percent of 2019 levels, up from 47 percent last year. International traveler numbers are expected to be 69 percent of 2019 levels, up from 27 percent in 2021.
A full recovery is projected for 2024.
"People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies. There is still a long way to go to reach a normal state of affairs, but the forecast for the evolution in passenger numbers gives good reason to be optimistic," said Willie Walsh, IATA Director General, in a statement released in March.
Incheon International Airport Corp. estimates travel to recover to between 35 and 54 percent of 2019 levels this year.
Overseas travel has increased, especially since the government eased regulations on people traveling abroad last month.
Korea residents with proof of vaccination or proof of a recent infection in Korea no longer have to quarantine when returning from abroad.
According to the government, last month, 241,000 people flew internationally up from 113,380 in the same month a year earlier, and up 34 percent from February.
Koreans can enter 39 countries without quarantine, though in about 29, they need proof of vaccination. In Europe, 19 countries, including Britain and France, allow for quarantine-free entry from Korea.
Airlines and travel agencies are anticipating a strong comeback.
Asiana Airlines earlier this month announced it resumed flights to Hawaii, which have been halted for two years.
The airline said 80 percent of the seats on the route are already reserved and that reservations for flights to popular tourist destinations have more than doubled since quarantine regulations were eased last month.
"International travel demand, which has been weak for three years, will increase significantly," said Lee Jin-hyup, a researcher at Yuanta Securities. "It's likely that supply may not follow demand."
The government is promising full support.
"We send our gratitude to the airline industry, which actively cooperated with government policies. Despite going through such a difficult period, including a lot of employees having to go on leave and restructuring in the past two years because of Covid-19," said Kim Yong-seog, Civil Aviation Deputy Minister. "The ultimate goal of policies related to Covid-19 is the sound recovery to normality."
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]