Low-Cost Korean Airlines Launches Saipan, Seoul Flights

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Jeju Air expands to CNMI after successful Guam route

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 2, 2014) – When Jeju Air’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft touched down on the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport runway, it made history as the first South Korean airline to offer direct flights to both Saipan and Guam.

Yesterday, Jeju Air made its maiden flight to Saipan from Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea bringing 179 passengers including Jeju Air’s chief executive officer Kyu Nam Choi.

"This is our second route. It was very successful in Guam. And I am sure that we will have the same experience here and this will open the market for Jeju Air and all the people involved," he said.

Jeju Air — a budget carrier from South Korea —began serving Guam on Sept. 28, 2012.

It became the third South Korean airline to fly to Guam after Korean Air and Jin Air.

Yonhap News earlier reported that Jeju Air — with its daily flights to Saipan — will become the only South Korean airline to fly to both Saipan and Guam as Asiana flies only to Saipan while Korean Air goes only to Guam.

Asked by Variety what prompted Jeju to consider this route, Choi said, "We always try to open a new opportunity and [tap] market potential especially where the market is controlled by a single carrier."

He spoke of the limited options for customers.

"We see the opportunity and this will provide more choices not only for Korean customers but also for expatriates living in Saipan coming back to Korea," added Choi.

Choi said they need to become engaged with the community and develop partnerships with various stakeholders.

Low-cost carrier

Jeju Air is recognized as the largest budget carrier in South Korea.

Based on reports, it served a record 1 million passengers during the peak season from July to August this year.

It is targeting to breach the 500 billion won mark in sales this year to become the first South Korean low-cost carrier to reach this milestone.

Choi said yesterday that they currently operate 16 Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

"It is a single, narrow-bodied fleet," he said, adding that they appeal to younger, energetic travelers and young families "who see a value they would like to explore."

Even as Jeju Air continues to expand its domestic, international and long-haul flights, it says it will continue to offer competitive, low-cost airfare.

In general, Choi said they would like to keep their fares at bay, 20 percent to 30 percent lower than their competitors.

Before their 10th anniversary in 2015, Jeju Air is targeting to ply 21 international routes in 16 cities in seven countries on top of their 25 domestic routes, according to recent reports.

Choi confirmed this yesterday.

"This is our ninth year and we will be marking our 10th year. We will probably run a total of 21 routes next year. We need to build our presence in the Northern Marianas," Choi said.

What led them to consider opening the Saipan route was its insularity.

"This is a U.S. territory. It is rather expensive and difficult to access. We see the market is booming. Our local travelers can afford to go to Southeast Asian markets. They have experience in those markets. Saipan and other islands will be a wonderful alternative for them," said Choi.

Travelers flying Jeju Air, Choi said, are typically prudent spenders, "very logical and value oriented travelers. They compare the fares. They value the convenience and schedules."

He said their customers spend about $1,000 per head per visit.

For its Saipan route, Jeju Air is offering daily flights, every day, Monday through Sunday, but he hinted at the possibility of increasing flights.

"We are planning to increase the frequency not only from Seoul, but also from other parts of Korea like Busan, Cheongju, and Daegu," he said.

This would support the company’s goal of positioning itself as the leading budget carrier of South Korea.

"We are going to expand our frequency very aggressively," he said.

He confirmed that in the near future, travelers coming from Saipan may be able to fly to Jeju Island directly as well.

MVA, CPA welcome Jeju

With the tradition of greeting aircraft on maiden voyages, Jeju Air was feted yesterday at the Saipan airport.

The Commonwealth Ports Authority, the Marianas Visitors Authority, TSA officials, among others, welcomed the arrival of Jeju Air’s inaugural flight from Incheon that left South Korea at 9:30 a.m.

Along with Choi onboard the inaugural Jeju Air flight was MVA Managing Director Perry Tenorio.

"It was a wonderful flight," said Tenorio as he was disembarking the Jeju Air aircraft near Gate 2 at the airport.

In an interview, MVA marketing manager Bruce Bateman acknowledged the huge potential for growth in Saipan’s tourism industry signalled by Jeju Air’s flights.

"It is exciting news to have 60,000 additional seats coming in from a favored destination like Korea," said Bateman adding that the arrival of Jeju in the CNMI bodes well for the economy as well.

Bateman was upbeat over Jeju Air’s coming to Saipan, noting that the carrier had expressed an interest in expanding flights to more cities.

Jeju is diversifying its routes this last quarter of 2014, offering regular flights from Incheon to Saipan, Hanoi and Okinawa until the end of year

It also plans to offer new flights from Busan to Guam by January 2015.

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