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UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), approves Asiana and Korean Air link up

In order to maintain the route’s popularity among travelers, Virgin Atlantic will introduce a new service between London Heathrow and Seoul-Incheon.

The merger of Korean Air and Asiana Airlines has received approval from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), leaving only the US, Japan, and the EU to still provide their consent.

Adding one additional yes

The British regulatory agency expressed concerns about reduced competition and asked for more time to review the prospective merger in January. Although the CMA acknowledged that it could accept under reasonable circumstances, only Asiana Airlines and Korean Air currently offer direct scheduled flights between London and Seoul.

After Virgin Atlantic’s promise to begin daily flights between London Heathrow (LHW) and Seoul Incheon (ICN), Virgin Atlantic’s framework was accepted by the CMA on March 1st. This will allow for ongoing competition in the market through at least the end of the winter season 2026.

After declaring it would stop offering direct flights to Pakistan, it was previously believed Virgin Atlantic was considering adding a new route with an Eastern destination.

The airline will likely deploy its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which is presently used on flights to Lahore (LHE) and Islamabad, to operate the future London-Seoul service, but a start date has not yet been confirmed (ISB). Flying passengers should have a choice.

According to a Virgin Atlantic representative, a fair and competitive market is necessary for the aviation sector to develop and prosper.

“We appreciate the CMA’s decision naming Virgin Atlantic as the remedy taker in the merger of Korean Air and Asiana, which will make it easier for us to expand into Seoul. We will announce our next actions regarding the launch of a route in due course. We are thrilled to have been chosen as the remedy taker to begin flying to Seoul.

Three to go…

Korean Air has encountered obstacles due to antitrust concerns from many international agencies since since it announced its intended acquisition of Asiana Airlines in November 2020. In 2019, CAPA discovered that Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, which together supply 37.8% of seats, hold a 22.4% and 15.4% share of the worldwide market in South Korea.

If subsidiaries are included, however, the percentage increases to over 50%. Between 2021 and 2022, the airlines have received clearance from “non-mandatory” organizations like Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore, and on December 26th, 2022, the transaction will be approved by crucial regulators China and South Korea.

The US, EU, and Japan must yet provide its final permission before Korean Air and Asiana Airlines can formally move forward.

Both carriers hold a sizable market share on passenger and freight flights to Barcelona (BCN), Frankfurt (FRA), Rome (FCO), and Paris; similarly to the UK, the EU has already expressed worry over the merger’s effects on ticket prices and competition (CDG). The acquisition must be approved or rejected by the European Commission by July 5, 2023.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has also looked into the possibility of a “monopoly” on flights that connect the US and Korea directly. 85% of the routes between Los Angeles (LAX) and Seoul are run by Korean Air and Asiana airlines. All routes connect New York (JFK) and Seoul. After starting in August 2022, the inquiry was put on hold in November to give more time for evaluation. A fresh timeline is still pending from the DOJ.

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