|T'way Air's Boeing B-737 Max 8. Courtesy of T'way Air|
By Kim Hyun-bin
Korea's budget airlines have upped the ante in the already competitive industry as they are set to bring in the latest jets from Boeing and Airbus. The new models will service long-haul routes and beef up seat capacity and fuel efficiency.
Jeju Air, Eastar Jet and T'way Air are scheduled to introduce U.S. Boeing's best-selling B-737 Max 8, while Air Busan and Air Seoul have selected the European Airbus A321 Neo.
Both models are short- to medium-range, narrow-body, commercial passenger twin-engine jets.
The new models will enhance flight length and be more fuel efficient than the current planes in operation, and the low-cost carriers (LCC) are planning to implement a new strategy to better utilize them.
Eastar Jet is expected to be the first local airline to bring in the Boeing Max 8 to Korea as early as Christmas this year.
Budget airliners have been operating B737-800s as their main aircraft, which has a maximum range of 5,425 kilometers and a 189 seat capacity. However, the Max 8 can fly 1,000 kilometers further and can hold 21 more passengers.
The LCCs are looking into possible flight routes for the Max 8 including Singapore, Jakarta and Bali in Indonesia, and Phuket in Thailand.
The Max 8 is also lighter than the Airbus A321 Neo by 13,000 kilograms inevitably topping its competitor in fuel efficiency.
Jeju Air, the country's leading budget carrier, has recently signed a contract to bring in 40 Max 8s in stages at a cost of five billion won ($4.5 billion) by 2022, which is the largest ever single purchase for a local airline.
Jeju Air has been leasing its B737-800s, but with the purchase of the Max 8, the company is expected to save money in the long run.
On its contract with Boeing, Jeju Air included the option that it could change its order to the B737 Max 10, which can accommodate a maximum of 230 passengers. The option allows the carrier to switch to the Max 10 from the Max 8 after trying out the market and evaluating profitability.
The Airbus Neo is five meters longer than the Max 8 with a maximum flight range of 6,850 kilometers with 240 seats, which is 30 seats more.
The A321 Neo has 20 percent better fuel efficiency than both the A321-200 and A320-200 currently in operation.
Air Busan is scheduled to bring in two Neo aircraft by 2020 and two upgraded Neo Long Range (LR) planes next year.
When an additional fuel tank is installed in the Neo LR it can fly 1,000 kilometers more than the current A321-200 and A320-200.
The implementation of the new models will allow LCCs to operate new medium-range routes instead of just short-distance destinations such as Japan and Southeast Asia.
"If the new planes have a low passenger rate there will be even greater risks and costs," an LCC official said. "We plan to launch new routes and enhance marketing, but we do have to consider the economy and other factors that can affect our booking rate."