Korean Air made history in Calgary on Tuesday, launching the first non-stop flights to Asia and the city by a foreign carrier in the history of the international airport.The Seoul-based airline will run three scheduled flights a week between Calgary and Seoul until Aug. 26, with hopes of extending the 15 flights to a daily service next summer.Korean Air is the largest airline in terms of number of cities served non-stop to Asia from North America, and sees Calgary as a new market both on the leisure and the business side, said John Jackson, North American director of marketing and sales.
“You’re going to see a lot of Korean visitors here over the next few weeks and you’ll also see a lot of Chinese, Japanese and southeast Asian people because we’ve got a huge network beyond Seoul,” Jackson said.”Now what we have to do is get people to come back in the winter time and come back all year, and hopefully we can do that soon.”
The airline announced the seasonal flight plan late last year after Canada and Korea signed a deal allowing the carrier to sell tickets in both countries for regular scheduled flights.
Alberta has lobbied for increased access for Asian competitors of domestic airlines, calling limited federal agreements restrictive and potentially damaging to tourism and business.
The biggest hurdle Calgary Airport Authority had to overcome was the Asian carrier being limited to charter services with points of sale in Korea, said Stephan Poirier, chief commercial officer of the airport authority.
“We want to get daily flights in the summer, and now that Korean Air has no more restrictions, they can do it,” Poirier said. “The winter typically would be three to five flights maximum, but summer could go five to seven.”
Korean Air ran cargo services to Calgary years ago, then tested charter flights during the summer of 2007, catering to Korean travellers seeking a Rocky Mountain experience, as well as for students coming to the city to learn English.
While successful, the recession and limited access to Canadian airspace put the brakes on the test flights. Finding enough jets to make a new direct service during tight times also played a role, executives said.
“Right now all of our Asian traffic comes through the Vancouver gateway and to get them over the mountains is sometimes a challenge,” said Wade Harper, with Travel Alberta. “So any time we get direct access, it gives us the ability to convince them to stay an extra day.”
The next destination in the airport authority’s eye is China, and specifically direct daily flights from Beijing, Poirier said.”We’re working on daily flights in the summer,” he said, “and about 500 passengers a day flying to and from Beijing.”