SEOUL, March 14 (Korea Bizwire) – South Korean airlines said Tuesday they will reduce China-bound flights temporarily to cope with falling tourist demand after Beijing ordered its travel agencies to stop selling group tours in protest of Seoul’s installation of a U.S. anti-missile system.
Local air carriers, including budget carriers, are facing difficulties after Beijing has taken a hardline stance on the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) issue.
China has accused Seoul of undermining regional security by agreeing to station the THAAD system on its soil. The country’s policymakers claimed that the powerful radar system can spy on its military.
Korean Air Lines Co., the country’s top carrier, plans to cut down its scheduled flights to key cities in China by 79 on a round trip basis, representing about 6.5 percent of all routes flown to the neighboring country. The rescheduling will run from March 16 to April 23, the company said.
The affected routes include those that fly from Incheon to Hefei, Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Nanning and Hangzhou, and two other cities, it said.
“Given that Chinese demand will inevitably shrink due to the THAAD dispute, we’ve decided on a temporary cutback,” a Korean Air official said. “We’ll be working to expand more flights bound for Southeast Asia instead.”
Korean Air currently runs 38 routes to 28 different cities in China.
Asiana Airlines Inc., Korean Air’s main rival, said it too will reduce China-bound flights that cover some 12 destinations by 90, with the measure taking effect from Wednesday till the end of next month, according to the company.
Along with tourism and the retail sectors, the aviation industry is among those that could take the brunt of diplomatic tension between the two countries.