Korean Air Business Jet is turning into an ace in the hole for the commercial airline side of the business, according to In Gyoung Kim, a long time Korea Air executive who was in the pricing and scheduling areas before joining the private jet division about two years ago.
As an example, the Formula One racing circuit has stops in Asia September 22 and with when it comes to Singapore, then October 6 two weeks later in Korea, the next week to Japan and two weeks later to India. The Korea version is in Yeongam, Japan is in Suzuka while India is in Noida, close to Delhi.
Racers often go back to their home countries, particularly when there are two-week gaps, says the Deputy General Manager. Korean Air can connect them via its scheduled flights from Europe and the Americas at Incheon onwards to the race venues, as well as between.
Connecting from a Korean Air scheduled flight to Korean Air’s business jets has been done in as little as 20 minutes for international connections and an a zippy 10 minutes for connections to domestic destinations. Of course this is when passengers have baggage sent separately, however, typical connecting time is in the 30 minute range, and generally Korean Air, the dominant player at Incheon can get quick clearance for its business jets to get airborne.
While Korean Air’s two plane fleet comprised of a Boeing Business Jet and Global Express XRS have ultra-long range capabilities, Kim says about a third of operations are within Korea. There is also a Sikorsky 76 helicopter that is popular as well.
Core clientele includes CEOs from Chinese, South Korea and Japan companies, and elections and government changes last year slowed business a bit through the first quarter of this year, but it is now picking back up. She said the Korean Air product has received a strong response from brokers, particularly in Hong Kong. While her prices are higher, customers who value the airline’s reputation for safety and service see the money as well spent.
A recent inspection of the BBJ at Gimpo showed the cabin in pristine condition. There are four separate sleep chambers – fully closed bedrooms that are windowless for total blackout – and when I visited the cabin was configured for 16 seats – six in the front in a VIP configuration and 10 more recliners that go 180 degrees flat in the rear. The BBJ can be changed to hold up to 28 in 48 hours notice. Kim also says the fact that Korean Air flies worldwide commercially enables it to get back-up flight crews and flight attendants in place on short notice.
Other customer segments include Japanese and Korean rock bands that hire the planes for their tours as well as Hollywood celebrities. She said that Korean Air’s global catering facilities and contacts also enable it to ensure any special requests can be accommodated. Gluten free bread is a popular celebrity request.
Moreover Korean Air’s business jets have enabled the airline to help its clients get to and around areas of developing business opportunities that are hard to access commercially. The planes are used for Indonesia, Myramar and India, but generally for business instead of leisure.
While there aren’t firm plans for more jets, Gimpo Airport in Seoul will open a full service FBO in 2015 putting a greater spotlight on private jet travel to, from and within South Korea.