SEAIR International's Korea Flights Fail to Take Off

South East Asian Airlines International (SEAIR) is having difficulty obtaining the rights to operate chartered flights to South Korea as its application continues to be rejected by South Korean authorities. Korean officials cite the European Union Safety Ban as cause for the denial but SEAIR believes that is irrelevant.

south east asian airlines
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
The Philippine carrier has been trying to launch charter flights between Kalibo and Seoul in an effort to respond to the strong demand for air travel between the two nations. South Korea is currently the Philippines' largest source of inbound tourists and Boracay Island is one of the top destinations. 

According to Patrick Tan, Chief Operating Officer of SEAIR, the demand for flights between Korea and the Philippines is presently underserved. Tan noted that the annual load factor of Philippine carriers serving the two nations is currently 83 percent. However, this figure can rise to as high as 95 percent during the peak season. 

"Any time load factors go over 75 percent, it becomes hard for a passenger to book a flight on his desired schedule," said Tan. "What this means to the passenger is that for most of the year, this is the case between the Philippines and Korea."

In an interview with ABS-CBN, Tan highlighted the need for more flights between the two countries, suggesting that there is currently an imbalance of flight entitlements that benefit South Korea. "Korea has five airlines flying between South Korea and the Philippines, while the Philippines only has three," said Tan. The five Korean airlines serving the Philippines are Jeju Air, Jin Air, Air Busan, Asiana Airlines, and Korean Air.

In terms of local carriers, only Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirAsia Philippines currently have rights to serve South Korea. Although South East Asian Airlines continues to pursue its application to the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transportation, the government agency continues to reject the application citing that there is currently a European Union ban on airlines in the Philippines. 

The most recent denial arrived on December 31, 2014. But Tan insists that the Philippines' status in the EU is not relevant to their application to fly to Korea. SEAIR already contacted the European Commission and was advised that clearances and exemptions from the ban are only offered to airlines that wish to fly to one of the member states of the European Union.

Tan further highlighted that the consistent denial from South Korea contravenes the Air Services Agreement between the two nations that was established in 2012, which states that airlines found compliant with the regulations and laws of Korea on safety should be allowed to operate services. 

"This is despite our submission of opinions from the European Commission saying that the ban does not apply in our case for flights between Korea and the Philippines, and specific provisions in the MOU arising from the 2012 Philippines-Korea Bilateral Air Talks that by quoting the EU Ban as basis for denial, practically constitutes a breach of agreement," said Tan. 

Tan added that SEAIR has requested the assistance of the Philippine Civil Aeronautics Board to support the carrier's application and help in the appeal by enforcing the Air Services Agreement established in 2012. 

Meanwhile, the European Commission released an updated list of airlines banned from operating in European air space in December. Both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines were removed from that list, which cited improving safety standards in the Philippines. The decision followed the "unanimous opinion" of the European Union's Air Safety Committee, which met in November. 

Philippine Airlines currently operates direct flights between Manila and London Heathrow Airport, while Cebu Pacific does not have any immediate plans to serve Europe. With the exception of Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, the Philippines remains on the EU Air Safety Ban list.

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