Korean Air bids to buy Asiana – 70% of Asiana’s route network overlaps

Korean Air bids to buy Asiana – 70% of Asiana's route network overlaps

Korean Air has bid to acquire Asiana. The two carriers have very similar route networks.

Korean Air has made a US$1.62 billion bid to acquire rival Asiana as a means of restructuring and consolidating the South Korean market. 

This, Korean Air says, is to “stabilise the Korean aviation industry” by “enhancing its competitiveness”. 

After all, having two major full-service airlines gives the country “a competitive disadvantage compared to countries like Germany, France and Singapore with a single major airline”.

Is this a sensible and rational decision? Vote at the end of the article.

Korean Air ended 2019 with almost 34.4 million seats, OAG schedules data reveals, down by 1.1 million – or 3% – over 2010.

Asiana, meanwhile, had 23.8 million, up by 27% since 2010 with five million added – a CAGR of 2.4%.  Since 2015, however, it added just 807,000 seats. 

The reason for both carriers’ sluggish growth: big expansion of their low-cost subsidiaries, Jin Air for Korean Air and both Air Busan and Air Seoul for Asiana. 

Between 2010 and 2020, these three added 17.6 million seats – a CAGR of 17%.

Korean Air bids to buy Asiana – the two overlapped on 70% of routes

Both Korean Air and Asiana have barely grown, the latter especially so since 2015. Instead, the growth in both groups has come from their low-cost subsidiaries.

Korean Air had 148 routes, Asiana 97

Korean Air had 148 routes in 2019 and Asiana 97, of which 130 and 86 were international respectively.

74% of Korean Air’s seat capacity was deployed internationally against 70% for Asiana.

Korean Air served 106 international airports, with Osaka, Bangkok, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda, Shanghai Pudong, Fukuoka, Hanoi, and Los Angeles its top-10.  Asiana’s was very similar, but Pudong was first and Manila was present (but Bangkok was not).

Korean Air’s domestic network, meanwhile, featured 18 routes and 13 airports, against 11 routes and 10 airports for Asiana.

Of course, the domestic networks of both carriers were very strongly influenced by Seoul Gimpo – Jeju, the world’s top route by seats.

This single route had almost 3.2 million Korean Air seats – and over 4.6 million by Asiana.  Combined, the two operated it up to 351 times weekly each way, i.e. up to 50 daily.

Korean Air’s top-10 routes (domestic and international) in 2019 Seats (two ways) Asiana’s top-10 routes in 2019 Seats (two ways)
Seoul Gimpo – Jeju 3,192,295 Seoul Gimpo – Jeju 4,627,392
Busan – Seoul Gimpo 1,507,972 Seoul Incheon – Shanghai Pudong 800,891
Hong Kong – Seoul Incheon 921,126 Seoul Gimpo – Tokyo Haneda 650,956
Busan – Jeju 852,595 Gwangju – Jeju 645,260
Bangkok – Seoul Incheon 838,747 Seoul Incheon – Tokyo Narita 629,417
Seoul Gimpo – Tokyo Haneda 651,573 Osaka Kansai – Seoul Incheon 626,795
Seoul Incheon – Tokyo Narita 603,390 Los Angeles – Seoul Incheon 606,299
Hanoi – Seoul Incheon 602,210 Hong Kong – Seoul Incheon 539,673
Los Angeles – Seoul Incheon 592,898 Hanoi – Seoul Incheon 507,147
Seoul Incheon – Shanghai Pudong 591,318 Manila – Seoul Incheon 487,392
Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Asiana overlaps on 70% of routes

The pair overlapped on 68 routes last year, i.e. 70% of Asiana’s routes and 46% of Korean Air’s.  59 of these 68 were international.

They overlapped on 53 routes from Incheon, so 49% of Korean Air’s network from the airport and 73% of Asiana’s.

These include thinner destinations such as Phu Quo, with the least capacity when combined, followed by Koror, Clark, Nha Trang, Nanjing, Tashkent, Hangzhou, and Delhi, Ulan Bataar, and Barcelona.

Routes with the greatest volume of combined seats, however, were Hong Kong, Pudong, Bangkok, Narita, Los Angeles, Osaka, Hanoi, Fukuoka, Ho Chi Minh City, and Manila.

It seems that Asiana may offer Korean Air a reasonably ‘straightforward’ means of consolidation around very similar networks. 

However, it would offer relatively little by way of new destinations for Korean Air, and those that it would be new would primarily be within Northeast Asia.  But this is not really the purpose of this acquisition. 

Korean Air bids to buy Asiana – 70% of Asiana's route network overlaps (2)

Korean Air and Asiana both served these destinations from Seoul Incheon in 2019. Little has changed network-wise since coronavirus. Source: OAG Mapper.


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