How Incheon Airport Maintains its Status as the “Hub in Northeast Asia”

“We are going to Cebu, Philippines via Incheon.”

There was a time when Japanese passengers visited Incheon Airport more than they did airports in Japan. In Japan, Tokyo has Narita International Airport for international routes and Haneda Airport mostly for domestic routes. It took 2 hours to go to Narita International Airport from Haneda Airport in order to transfer to an international route.

Due to this inconvenience, Japanese people living in other areas flocked to Incheon Airport, instead of Narita International Airport. As a result, the Japanese government felt threatened and responded by opening the New Haneda Airport. The Japanese government could not let its people use an airport in Korea to go overseas and used a strategy that encouraged them to go to Haneda with convenient transportation to go abroad. The reason why the Japanese government had no choice but to use this strategy while worrying about whether it may undermine the competitiveness of Narita International Airport was that it attempted to compete with Incheon Airport, which was rising as a hub airport in Northeast Asia.

Likewise, the competition has been going on between airports in neighboring countries to get ahead as a hub airport. This post will look at what efforts Incheon Airport is making in order to maintain its status as a hub airport in Northeast Asia and attract more passengers!


In the previous post, we pointed out the importance of flight networks on various routes as a qualification for hub airport. A flight network is an asset accumulated by airlines through various efforts over a long period of time, and it is not easy to widen the network in a short period of time. What could happen if airlines with different networks joined hands? That is another story.

▲Source: Korean Air

In 2018, close cooperation between two airlines caught a lot of attention. This was a joint venture (JV)* between Korean Air and Delta Air Lines. Under this JV, both airlines operate in terms of fare and schedule as if they were one airline and share profits and costs in Pacific routes connecting North America to Asia. In other words, Korean Air’s 77 routes in Asia and Delta Air Lines’ 271 routes in North America establish a system connected by Incheon Airport as a hub.

It refers to the highest level of cooperation in the airline industry where two different business entities operate certain routes together and share profits.


Code share, which many of you may have heard of, allows a partner airline to sell a portion of seats on another airline’s flight, but under a joint venture. In other words, an airline can use all the seats on a partner’s flight. In addition, while alliances such as SkyTeam and Star Alliance just share miles or lounges, joint ventures not only operate together, but they also share costs and profits. For instance, as the joint venture between Korean Air and Delta Air Lines was approved, consumers could book and use all routes of Delta Air Lines just like they did Korean Air. Furthermore, they can earn the same amount of Korean Air’s SkyPass miles from boarding Delta Air Lines’ flights.

(1) How does the JV benefit passengers?

  1. There are more flight schedules from which to choose.
  2. There are more direct flight options.
  3. You can earn the same amount of Korean Air’s miles from boarding Delta Air Lines’ flights.
  4.  It reduces transfer time and makes transferring easier.

As both airlines adjusted their flight schedules efficiently, passengers had more options from which to choose in terms of Incheon-North America flights, creating an absorption effect of Incheon Airport in terms of transfer demand from passengers who used other airports in Asia.

(2) How does the JV benefit airlines and Incheon Airport?

The JV has been beneficial for both airlines and Incheon Airport. For one year of the JV, Korean Air increased the number of North America routes by 2.9% (2,563,386 → 2,636,689 flights), Southeast Asia routes by 6.8% (4,126,488 → 4,408,655 flights), and Japan routes by 1% (2,58,0643 → 2,605,429 flights). During the same period, Delta Air Lines also operated 2,168 flights in North America routes, 11% more compared to before the JV (1,953).

As the number of connecting flights between Korean Air and Delta Air Lines increased, so did the number of transfer passengers in Incheon Airport. In the past year, the airport accommodated 2,870,517 passengers, 240,000 (9.1%) more from 2,630,669 a year earlier. In fact, after Delta Air Lines closed routes to Osaka, Bangkok, and Taipei via Narita International Airport in Japan to cooperate with Korean Air, the number of transfer passengers in these routes via Incheon Airport increased by 5 times.


Everyone wants to fly at a similar time. Many people want to get out fresh in the morning and enjoy the afternoon at their destination. For a long flight, they want to depart at night and sleep during the flight. It is not easy to wake up early in the morning and there are not many transportation options at late at night, not to mention that it is also physically demanding.

Though airlines want to operate only during golden times from 8:00-9 a.m. or 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. during which people often fly, there is a reason they cannot. This is because the total number of flights is determined for each airline during a particular time. These is called “slots. To prevent traffic congestion, an airport allocates slots to airlines in order to adjust their take-off and landing schedule. The more slots there are, the bigger the airport’s capacity.

To solidify Incheon Airport’s position as a hub airport in Northeast Asia, it is important to continuously secure slots. It is not easy to secure slots. It is important to secure slots both in arriving and departing airports in order to fly an airplane, and additional slots are allocated depending on physical infrastructure such as runways, air traffic control systems, and passenger terminals as well as human resources.

Incheon Airport increased its number of slots from 43 to 63 after finishing the Phase 2 Construction Project in 2008. After opening Terminal 2 in 2018, Incheon Airport’s number of slots has increased up to 70 per hour. Currently, Incheon Airport’s physical infrastructure is designed to accommodate up to 90 slots per hour, but it must not exceed 39 slots for departure and 40 slots for arrival. These numbers are calculated based on Incheon Airport’s transportation capacity in terms of runways, aprons, customs, immigration, and quarantine (CIQ), and air traffic control. Incheon Airport’s CIQ capacity per hour amounts to 7,285-7,785 arriving passengers and 9,600 departing passengers.

The official term set forth by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in its regulation is aircraft operating time. In practice, however, the term “slot” is often used. Slot refers to an opening in a computer or device into which you can insert a circuit board or memory card. This term is also used in the airport in the sense that you can insert it into a flight schedule.


The concept of slot originated from the United States. According to the Korea Transport Institute, as demand for flights skyrocketed in 1969, the US applied slots to restrict landings and take-offs at five airports: O’Hare International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport. This was because passengers experienced huge inconveniences as flights were delayed due to congestion. Since then, slots were introduced at major airports in Europe, and now most airports use slots in accordance with the requirements of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

From the joint venture between airlines to increase passenger demand to a strategy to expand slots for flights per hour by expanding the airport’s infrastructure, today we have looked at Incheon Airport’s noticeable efforts to increase connectivity as a hub airport while securing various routes and time slots so that passengers choose Incheon Airport.

Even though flight demand is stagnant around the world due to COVID-19, we hope you are looking forward to the future of Incheon Airport, which flies further as a hub airport in Northeast Asia, when flight demand recovers!

How to Enjoy Traditional Korean Culture at Incheon Airport

From BTS’s Suga, who achieved great popularity with his song inspired by “Dechwita,” marching music for the king during the Joseon period, to the well-made Joseon zombie series “Kingdom.” The K-pop craze, which has mesmerized female fans around the world, translates into K-culture, and there is mounting interest in traditional Korean culture in K-culture.

For those who visit Korea but do not have much time to travel around the country! For those who visit for a transfer but want to experience the country briefly! Would you believe us if we told you there is a place where you can enjoy traditional Korean culture for free? This is why we should focus on Incheon Airport!

Today, we would like to introduce how to experience and appreciate traditional Korean culture and performances for free at Incheon Airport.

*The operation schedule of some facilities and programs may be subject to change due to COVID-19. Be sure to check before visiting.


TIP 1: Visit the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Centers

At the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Center, run by the Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation, visitors can perform various activities such as watching performances, purchasing traditional cultural goods, and making traditional crafts.

You can make traditional crafts yourself and purchase cultural products made by intangible cultural property holders. Musical instruments are also on display one corner, and when it is time for a performance, instruments such as haegeum, janggu, piri, and sori are played for a traditional Korean music performance!

Each of the 5 Korean Traditional Culture Experience Centers has different exhibitions and programs that visitors can experience. The performance schedule also varies depending on the center. In Terminal 1, you can make traditional Korean crafts with hanji, dancheong, najeon, and minhwa. In Terminal 2, an experience program is provided where you can not only make crafts but also try on hanbok. There are many other things to enjoy such as making Korean words or seeing special Korean language exhibitions!

You can buy souvenirs to preserve the memories of your trip to Korea, watch traditional Korean music performances, and enjoy various experience programs at the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Centers! The experience programs are offered to foreigners for free, so don’t forget to check them out! J

TIP 2: Watch a Cultural Performance

A variety of cultural performances are held outside the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Centers as well. Here, we will introduce the Walk of the Royal Family and the Royal Guard Changing Ceremony to list a few.

(1) Walk of the Royal Family

Incheon Airport has been holding the Walk of the Royal Family in Terminal 1 since 2010. It is a recreation of the royal palace during the Joseon period, gaining positive reactions from many passengers.

Performers reenact the royal family’s daily life while walking between the West and East Halls of the Korean Traditional Culture Experience Center in the duty-free area on the 3rd floor. After the performance, there is also photo time when you can take photos with performers.

(2) The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony

As of last year, visitors can enjoy an year-round cultural performance even in Terminal 2! The performance is Incheon Airport’s Royal Guard Changing Ceremony as seen in the photo below.

Article 1 of May 18, Yejong, “Veritable Records of the Joseon Dynasty” states, “Appoint gate guards every day, give them gate tags, and make them defend the gate.” This gives an important order to brave gate guards to defend the gates of the royal palace.

The Royal Guard Changing Ceremony is a performance that reenacts the changing of the royal guard in the duty-free area of the Departure Hall on the 3rd floor of Terminal 2. With these performances, visitors can enjoy various performances that can only be seen in period dramas here in the terminal.

Today, we have introduced how to enjoy traditional Korean culture in Terminals 1 and 2 of Incheon Airport. We hope you can enjoy the various types of traditional Korean culture while walking or taking a break in the terminals!

* The operation schedule of some facilities and programs may be subject to change due to COVID-19. Be sure to check before visiting.


“Enjoy from the Comfort of Your Home!” Incheon Airport ON-TACT Performances

Flowers blossom and smiles bloom despite COVID-19. As people gather physically less, different types of interactions for communication are materializing these days.

The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 was a crisis that caused the fear of emptiness in Incheon Airport, which was loved for its year-round performances and variety of cultural and art programs. As performances came to a halt, musicians lost the stage to perform and passengers lost the experience of relaxation that can only be found in the airport.

How did Incheon Airport respond? We are turning crisis into “opportunity.”

Incheon Airport has planned standalone stages for musicians on which they can sing for their fans around the world, including the 75,000 subscribers of Incheon Airport’s YouTube Channel, and offer performances to console and cheer up people who are having a difficult time due to COVID-19.

They are Incheon International Airport ON-TACT Cultural and Art Performances! Combining the words, “Online” and “Untact,” Incheon Airport is hosting online non-face-to-face performance events. Let’s take a look at the appeal of these untact performances held online, Incheon Airport’s effort to connect musicians and people.

From Insooni to BewhY… Line-up Tailored to Different Tastes!

Incheon International Airport ON-TACT Cultural and Art Performances were held in two parts for 3 months, from June to August, on Incheon Airport’s official YouTube channel.

If you miss an off-line performance, you can’t see it again. But you can see an ON-TACT performance again whenever you want, right? Now, if you visit Incheon International Airport’s official YouTube channel, you can watch performances from 20 teams through this ON-TACT event!

Nothing is sweeter than this! ON-TACT Performance: Part 1

The fabulous line-up caught the attention of many people, featuring Korea’s diva Insooni, the emotion-packed indie band ChoMyo, deep-voiced traditional music defender Cho Myeong-seop, mixed-gender musical duo Mu-Love, famous OST singer Punch, classical chamber music group Korea Chamber Ensemble, jazz band Retro Twang, and singer-songwriter Jukjae.

A variety of genres! ON-TACT Performance: Part 2

With the popularity of the ON-TACT Performance: Part 1, Part 2 increased the number of performances to 12 in total. Part 2 featured more artists, including Younha, BewhY, Parc Jae-jung, Isaac Hong, Lee Ye-joon, StellaLuce, Mr. Brass, Scherzo, Mis.L, MiniNet, VITO, and Muses, providing colorful and exciting performances.

The good thing about Incheon International Airport ON-TACT Performances is that you can see musicians of various genres such as pop, classical, band vocal, and rap! Short interviews featuring how musicians are doing, their goals, and various thoughts about Incheon Airport were provided between performances, which makes you feel like you are enjoying their performances in person 😊. In Part 1, participating musicians passed “this” onto the next musician, which added more feelings of connection and excitement. Watch the video to find out what “this” is!

For those of you who haven’t seen the event yet, we will summarize the musicians’ performance videos here! Just click or tap which ever one you want to watch 😊!

Warm and Heartfelt Messages from the Musicians

Incheon International Airport Performances are meaningful as they provide not just live performances but also messages of hope and happiness through culture and art along with consolation for people having a hard time due to COVID-19. So, we would like to introduce some of the messages from musicians participating in the ON-TACT performances. If you want to experience deeper sounds, you have to go to Incheon Airport’s YouTube channel “ON-TACT.”

“I hope my voice can reach you all and offer you some relaxation. Let’s root for each other so that we can overcome these difficult times.”

– Singer Insooni

“I hope everyone has one good day after another. I hope COVID-19 will end soon thanks to the healthcare providers and volunteers who are working hard to eradicate the virus. For that day, I pray that we can travel from Incheon Airport while doing what we need to do together and keeping everybody safe.”

– Rapper BewhY

“Many people are having a difficult time due to COVID-19. I believe we can overcome it together when each of us does what we can. I will also follow rules in my daily life so that I can see you all in person soon.”

– Singer Younha

“I hope my songs come across as a break in a time every one is exhausted. I want to say thank you again to those of you who are working hard to overcome COVID-19.”

– Singer-songwriter Jukjae

“What would it be like to shake hands or say our greetings heart to heart, not just through words? I mean the greetings that can be felt without words and are invisible to people. I hope my songs help you forget your worries and have a good time.”

– Singer Parc Jae-jung

Today, we have introduced the Incheon International Airport’s ON-TACT Performances. In a time when there are many restrictions on out-of-the-house activities due to COVID-19, we hope these untact, online performances deliver messages of fun, consolation, and hope to you. 

We’ll Take Care of Aircraft Safety! 4 Aircraft Diagnostic Systems

Since any aircraft crash may lead to mass casualty incidents, safety is the most important. This is why it is essential to continue to inspect and repair aircrafts before take-off and after landing. Then, who is inspecting aircrafts during operation?

The simple answer is the aircraft diagnostic system, which we will be introducing today. Aircrafts have various self-diagnostic systems designed to help them fly safely by informing them whether they are following the route correctly or if there are any warning signs coming from the engine. Let’s take a look at the diagnostic systems that take care of aircraft safety!

Flight Management System (FMS), the Aircraft’s Brain

The first diagnostic system that helps aircrafts fly safely is the Flight Management System (FMS). It is no exaggeration to say that FMS is an aircraft’s brain! It contains all the data required for a flight, such as an aircraft’s flight plan, waypoints connecting flight routes, airport names, locations, frequencies, and base stations.

It also calculates and combines massive amounts of data and provides information on the optimal flight to the pilot. If you enter your starting point and destination, it tells you the shortest route like GPS for cars. Also, if you cannot fly along the original route due to bad weather, it quickly finds you a detour. If you enter the amount of fuel and flight plan before departing, it also tells you the most cost-effective flight route that consumes the least amount of fuel.

Not only does the FMS contain all of the available data about a flight, but it also analyzes the data and informs pilots of the most appropriate information in terms of time and cost! Don’t you think that’s enough to call the FMS an aircraft’s brain?

Inertial Reference System (IRS), a Compass in the Air

The second diagnostic system that helps aircrafts fly safely is the Inertial Reference System (IRS). This is a system in the aircraft that serves as a compass, calculating the aircraft’s location, route, and speed as well as wind speed and direction, and helping pilots not to get lost in the air. Data obtained from this system is transmitted automatically to an aircraft’s “brain,” or FMS, which helps pilots create a more precise flight plan!

The IRS, which helps aircrafts fly with its location information, is an upgraded version of the Inertial Navigation System (INS), which has been used since the 20th century. INS is an automatic navigation system that calculates and finds the destination on its own, analyzing an aircraft’s rotation, position, and movement.

While the INS boasts the advantages that it can calculate fast and keep the system stable, its disadvantage is that its margin of error increases as the flight time increases. Due to this error of INS, a Korean Air airplane entered the Soviet Union’s airspace and was shot down in 1983. Since then, the Global Positioning System (GPS) was made public!

Currently, aircrafts are flown by a combination of IRS, whose accuracy has been upgraded with better technology, and GPS. IRS guarantees a safe flight by positioning aircrafts more precisely.

Central Maintenance System (CMS), Playing the Role of an Aircraft Mechanic

If you look at the cockpit, you can see a control panel with various buttons along with the clear sky in front. Inside the control panel, various wires are connected to the aircraft’s body. Inside the panel lies the Central Maintenance System (CMS), which plays a role of the aircraft’s doctor. The CMS monitors many systems in an aircraft and diagnoses whether there are any problems in their operation.

The inclusion of CMS, which self-diagnoses problems, inside aircrafts reduces the maintenance workload for a mechanic! With the combination of CMS’s monitoring data and the pilot’s data, it is possible to find where an aircraft requires maintenance and how an aircraft is maintained. As CMS reduces the time and effort required for a mechanic and helps to deal with system failures quickly, wouldn’t you think it’s safe to call it the aircraft’s doctor?

Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), Helping to Communicate with the Ground

The last system that helps aircrafts fly safely is Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).

ACARS is a system that connects communications between an aircraft and the ground. It can communicate with short messages, show transmitted information on a screen, or print it so that the pilot can see it.

ACARS allows aircrafts to transmit its location, departure and arrival times, and technical information on the engine to the ground, and if necessary, allows the flight crew to receive information on the weather, flight plan, gate number, and more from the ground. More importantly, it can send and receive aircraft failures!

What if a problem is detected in aircraft’s body, engine, or another part during flight and you need to make an emergency landing? To allow the ground to prepare such a landing, ACARS sends failure information to the ground in advance. Since the ground receives such information in advance, it can repair the aircraft as soon as the aircraft lands.

Today, we have looked at the various diagnostic systems for safe flights: Flight Management System (FMS), Inertial Reference System (IRS), Central Maintenance System (CMS), Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) 😊.

It is amazing that aircrafts require help from so many systems from when they take off to when they land safely. We can board aircrafts without worries thanks to these smart systems.

Why Are Airplanes from Around the World Coming to Incheon Airport?

“Giant Global Hub Airport”

This is a vision set forth by Incheon Airport at its groundbreaking ceremony for the *Phase 4 Construction Project. What makes becoming a “hub airport” the airport’s goal?

Simply put, a hub airport is an airport that is “central” to a certain region. This post will look at what exactly a hub airport is and what an airport needs in order to become a hub airport 😊.

This project aims to expand Incheon Airport’s Terminal 2, build Runway 4, and extend a transport network with its apron by 2024. Once the project is completed, Incheon Airport is expected to reinvent itself as a giant hub airport that can annually accommodate 106 million international passengers.


Hub & spoke may summarize how aviation markets around the world are currently being operated. Does the term sound a bit unfamiliar to you? The “hub” refers to the center of a carriage wheel. The “spoke” refers to each of the bars connecting the center of a wheel to its outer edge.

As such, the hub & spoke system connects a large hub airport” that represents a major region in the world with many other smaller spoke airports. A hub airport in Northeast Asia may be an airport where passengers who come from the US and Europe in large airplanes transfer to Japan and China.

Since being a hub airport allows airlines to gather and transport passengers to their respective designations, reduces costs caused by an increase the volume of transportation, and increases the number of flights, many countries try to build a hub airport. Incheon Airport, which opened on March 29, 2001, is one of the airports which claim to be a hub airport!


The reason why many countries are trying to foster hub airports is because of a hub airport’s massive economic effect.

If an airport becomes a hub airport, it will bring in many people and goods, right? Many facilities such as restaurants and shopping malls will also sprout up in an airport where many people are gathered. Revenue is also huge in an airport with many passengers. The fact that many major global companies are headquartered near hub airports demonstrates the hub airport’s economic value.

However, having many passengers does not necessarily make an airport a hub airport! The four conditions for becoming a hub airport that were suggested by airport experts can be summarized in the following.

  1. Routes must be diversified and operated efficiently with a large number of flights per route.
  2. It must be easy to transfer and connect with other modes of transportation like railways or highways.
  3. Airport fees must be affordable.
  4. Key airlines must use the airport as their hub.

In other words, an airport can become a hub airport, which gathers and disperses passengers and cargo, after its traffic and connection demand reach a certain level. To increase connection demand, many routes must be developed around an airport, and it must ensure competitiveness in efficiency with a large number of flights per route. In addition, it is important to offer easy transfers depending on the geographical location, connection to other modes of transport, affordable airport fees, or key airlines in order to meet the conditions to become a hub airport.


Experts consider connectivity to be important for becoming a hub airport. In that case, how does Incheon Airport achieve connectivity as a hub airport?

Incheon Airport has a rich network connecting 194 cities in 57 countries as of January 2020, compared to 117 cities in 34 countries in 2001. From Incheon Airport, any airplane can fly to 120 cities in Northeast Asia within 3 hours and 36 cities just in China. In 2018, Incheon Airport transported 680 million passengers and 2.9 million tons of cargo, demonstrating its reputation as a hub airport in Northeast Asia.

Its internal connectivity is also extraordinary. Incheon Airport is connected to Seoul through the Airport Railroad Express and limousine buses with easy and connected railways in Seoul, which allow you to travel to major regions in Korea. Based on this accessibility, the airport is becoming a hub of international business and exchange.

In January 2018, Terminal 2 opened successfully, increasing its capacity and operating 24/7 to provide better services to transferring passengers. With its state-of-the-art facilities, the airport has reduced its immigration time to one third of what is recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Incheon Airport also differentiates itself from other airports with various convenience facilities like stores, transfer lounges, and programs for culture and art facilities!

Today, we briefly looked at the definition and conditions of a hub airport as well as Incheon Airport as a hub airport. Since hub airports have many benefits, wouldn’t you think airports in other countries are trying to get ahead? Airports in neighboring countries such as Singapore Changi Airport, Beijing Daxing International Airport, and Narita International Airport are competing fiercely to become hub airports! In the next post, we will look at the efforts Incheon Airport is making in order to solidify its position as a hub airport! We look forward to seeing you in the next post 😉.