▲ Jeju International Airport from the air on a hazy morning. Photo by Jean K. Min
In the jargon of the airline world, an average occupancy rate of 85 percent means that an aircraft is considered fully booked. So the news that Jeju-bound aircrafts are flying on average at mid-70 percent to near 80 percent occupancy rate all year round will certainly make airport officials in Jeju sweat profusely.
So crowded is the Jeju airspace during the peak hours, that drivers can easily spot airplane after airplane taking off in an almost nose-to-tail fashion from the motorways that overlook the flight-path.
The chronic shortage of air seats on the Gimpo, Seoul, to Jeju route is notorious among domestic travelers. The route was in fact ranked the world’s busiest city pair in a recent survey by OAG Travel Service, with a daily average of 159 flights.
To ease the worsening situation, Korean Air, Jeju Air and other local airlines announced last Tuesday that they would provide a combined total of more than 55,550 seats a day this summer. Jeju Air even revealed in March that they would trade in their Q400 turbo-prop airplanes for B737’s to provide more seats. For all these moves, it’s a mere 8 percent increase from last year and far too small a number to meet the projected explosion of visitors to Jeju.
Visitors to Jeju this January jumped by 20 percent already as compared to last year, followed by a 24 percent increase in February year on year. Jeju tourism officials said this was thanks to the popularity of the island’s Olle trails and other green tour programs, continuing the upward trend of last year, which saw the number of annual visitors to the island pass the 6.5 million mark.
Making matter worse, Jeju tourism officials estimated that up to 690,000 students from 1,600 schools postponed their school excursions to Jeju last year due to the global swine-flu pandemic. Most are planning to reschedule their trips to the island sometime this spring.
The Jeju Special Self-Governing Province is paying 3,000 won per student if schools choose to fly from Incheon to Jeju to ease gridlock on the Gimpo-Jeju route. However, one of the simplest ways to relieve the congestion in the Jeju airspace would be to schedule bigger airplanes.
The biggest aircraft currently flying between Gimpo and Jeju is the A330-300, which seats 296 passengers. However, airlines usually fly much smaller B737’s for most of the day. In contrast, Japan Airlines flies B747 Jumbos on the Haneda, Tokyo, to Sapporo route.
The local airlines’ reluctance to dispatch more aircraft from their fleets to the Gimpo-Jeju route is simple - they can earn much more money from lucrative inter-national routes with increasing numbers of Koreans resuming their holiday travels to South-East Asia.
Since the basic economy of the airline industry in dispatching aircrafts is not expected to change anytime soon, travelers to Jeju and islanders will have to fight for scarce air seats again this holiday season. So buckle up and brace yourself if you are planning air travel this summer.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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