DALLAS — This week, Virgin Atlantic (VS) was granted permission to operate between London (LHR) and Seoul (ICN); however, there are two conditions attached to this new route.
The ICN route is conditional on the opening of Russian airspace. VS also has to wait until the merger between Korean Air (KE) and Asiana (OZ) is concluded, which is expected to take some time.
Asiana currently connects LHR and Frankfurt (FRA) with ICN. Both of these routes are scheduled to continue through the summer. According to the agreement, VS needs to start within 12 months of the merger between the carriers or by summer 2024, whichever is later.
Route Access Details
Virgin Atlantic is being granted access to the route with support from KE. This is part of the framework agreement to receive competition clearance in the United Kingdom for the KE-OZ merger.
Korean Air will provide VS slots in Seoul and London, which are the ones used by OZ. Before the pandemic, British Airways (BA) operated this route but stopped service in 2020 during the pandemic. Although, the shortest flight path between London and Seoul is through Russian airspace, which is off-limits for carriers such as VS.
The London-based carrier made several pledges in a framework agreement. These include the airline’s commitment to open service between Seoul and London and to operate the route for at least six seasons. These are tied to the condition that United Kingdom carriers will be able to use Russian airspace during the IATA 2024 summer season.
The Russian airspace opening needs to be confirmed by the entry notification date. This is scheduled to be before the target date for Virgin to start its service. The agreement has an option for a potential extension of the target date to the summer of 2025 if Russian airspace is not open.
Lastly, if VS cannot start service on the route, the framework agreement will allow other airlines to enter the London-Seoul market.
Featured image: Virgin Atlantic G-VJAZ A330-900. Photo: Ervin Eslami/Airways