If business aircraft is a primary means for achieving corporate goals, then by having the third largest economy in Asia and the twelfth largest economy worldwide, it’s no wonder why so many business and corporate flights operate into South Korea every year.
South Korea is a world leader in technology and manufacturing, ranked 11 out of 82 countries in innovation, and is one of the top ten countries in spending on research and development. These positions automatically lead to huge economic exchange with the other leading economies of the world, reflected in the increasing business aviation movement into the country.
Nevertheless, despite its massive economic development, business aviation infrastructure and regulation in the country still lack certain elements to make it a perfect destination for business aviation operation.
There are 16 airports in South Korea, but 4 of them are the best to operate business flights to: Incheon (RKSI/ICN) and Gimpo (RKSS/GMP) in the north of the country, and Busan (RKPK/PUS) and Jeju (RKPC/CJU) in the south.
When flying to the capital Seoul, two options are available. Incheon (RKSI) is open 24 hours but is further from the city, almost 2 hours’ drive to downtown Seoul in times of heavy traffic, while the old international airport Gimpo (RKSS) is less busy and closer to downtown (only 15 kilometers), but operates from 06:00 till 23:00 local time.
Seoul airport (RKSM/SSN) is also an airport very near to the capital Seoul. However, operating to this airport requires a diplomatic landing permit, and it is usually more expensive, as all the ground services equipment and manpower need to be moved to the airport from Incheon (RKSI).
Most of the airports of Korea have curfew times, with Incheon (RKSI) being the only exception, as it operates 24 hours. Some of the Korean airports are domestic, and any foreign aircraft operating to them must clear customs at another Airport of Entry before landing in them.
Airports’ operating hours do not exactly match customs’ operating hours, as customs usually start working 30 to 60 minutes after the airport is actually open, and finishes almost 30 minutes before airport closure. So, if you are planning on arriving at closing time or departing at opening time, prior coordination is required.
English proficiency is good in the airports and the country, although many pilots have reported the necessity to pay full attention when communicating with controllers in South Korea, due to the difficulty in understanding their English accent.
South Korea still lacks a distinguished executive and general aviation terminal and business aircraft hangar, as all business aviation aircraft, VIPs and executive travellers still have to use the main public terminal like all other commercial passengers. This reflects on the time needed to transit from aircraft to terminal and back, as it takes plenty of time due to the remote parking location.
Korean Air and Swissport Korea are both providing ground handling services there, but there are no Fixed Based Operations (FBOs) in the country at present. Despite this, many local flight support companies are providing supervision and coordination services to compensate for the lack of infrastructure business aviation operators and passengers expect and are used to in other developed countries around the world.
When delivering the ground services, the Asian hospitality culture is clearly noticed in South Korea, as many business operators experienced handling staff lining up and waving goodbye to the aircraft upon departure.
Ground handling charges can be considered expensive, but are cheaper than Japan and China.
Landing permits are required for all types of general aviation flights landing in South Korean airports, whether for a business, private, leisure, air ambulance or technical stop.
Airports in South Korea are divided into civilian operated and military operated. The landing permit lead time is 3 working days for civilian operated airports, and 7 days for military operated ones. Civil aircraft are normally allowed to operate into military operated airports, but because military flights have priority in operating to those airports, the landing permit lead time is longer than the civilian airports, since military approval is required before the civilian landing permit can be issued.
Permits are usually issued by the Korean Civil Aviation Bureau (KCAB). Before the landing permit can be issued, a slot approval must be obtained from the Ministry of Transport, and for the military airports a Prior Permission Required (PPR) is needed as well.
Slot procedures vary from airport to another in South Korea. While RKSI has strict system and deviation is only allowed plus/minus 15 minutes, in RKSS slot deviation time allowed is less strict and is plus/minus one hour.
KCAB can issue the landing permit in less than the official lead time, at their own discretion, especially when an experienced and credible flight support agent is arranging the permit.
Standard aircraft documents, a local business sponsoring the flight, in addition to crew licenses and passenger information are all required to be submitted with the landing permit application. Any changes in aircraft type or registration, besides change in schedule time, origin or destination require revising the permit with KCAB.
Jet A1 fuel is available through the year in South Korea. Fuel shortage has not been an issue for the country in recent years.
No tax is levied on fuel supplied to a flight operating internationally. However, if a flight lands at a Korean airport, and is then operated domestically, the customs officer will then levy taxes on the fuel. The tax amount will reach 14% of the total fuel amount.
If your aircraft operates on AVGAS, instead of Jet A1, then AVGAS is only available in Gimpo airport (RKSS).
Crew visas are not required for stays of up to 15 days. Except for the passengers whose countries have signed visa exemption agreements with the government of South Korea, or the passengers who are nationals of the countries allowed for visa-free entry into South Korea. Passengers who are nationals of other countries require a visa to be obtained before departing their trip to South Korea.
Clearing customs is easy and fast in Korean airports, although business travellers share the same terminal with commercial flyers. This is only due to the assistance of the experienced local ground handlers.
Security is not an issue in South Korea, as all the airports are under heavy airport police security surveillance around the clock.
The country has very good local hotels and international chains. Room prices vary from 200 to 400 USD per night.
If you are willing to stay in downtown Seoul, then JW Marriott (with a shopping mall attached to it) and Grand Hyatt Seoul are the best options. Hyatt Regency and Best Western Premier are ideal for staying in nearby Incheon, while Mayfield and Lotte City hotels are appropriate for landings in Gimpo. Sheraton hotel is 25 minutes from Incheon airport.
South Korea lags behind other developed world countries with regards to business aviation attractiveness. More work is yet to be done, especially in terms of additional infrastructure needed (FBOs and business aviation terminals) besides more flexibility in issuing the landing permits and revising them. However, the delay is completely understandable due to the North Korean threat at its northern border, and the fact that democracy and civil ruling is still new to a country that was ruled by the military until just 26 years ago.