Incheon International Airport Expands Cargo Capabilities

Just a decade after opening, ICN is already the world’s fourth largest cargo airport and has a billion dollar plan to become even larger.

Indeed, the first day the agreement became official, ICN received cargo shipments of U.S.-made machines, electronics, clothing and medicine.

The United States International Trade Commission estimates the reduction of South Korean tariffs and tariff-rate quotas on goods alone will create $10 billion in annual merchandise exports to South Korea.

Sixty-four cargo planes already fly between South Korea and the United States each week. But with the agreement’s implementation and the resulting surge in trade, experts say more aircraft will be deployed between the two countries.


On that note, another reason for Lee’s bullishness is the acquisition of new aircraft by its biggest customer. Korean Air represents just more than half of all cargo activity at ICN. And the company recently became the world’s first airline to operate both the B747-8 and the B777 freighters.

Korean Air plans to operate the B747-8 freighter on its trans-Pacific route, with stops in Osaka and Narita, and Los Angeles and San Francisco. The B777 freighter, however, will also allow the airline to expand into new European markets, particularly Vienna, Frankfurt and London.

This, ICN executives say, will vastly enhance their airport’s connectivity to the major trading points of the world.

ICN’s significance as a cargo airport will be further heightened when it plays host to the International Air Cargo Association’s International Air Cargo Forum & Exposition in 2014.

“We want to promote and communicate our infrastructure and high service levels to as many people as possible and hosting the Exposition means Incheon Airport and Korea’s air cargo industry will welcome industry leaders from across the globe,” Lee says.

Finally, while much of Lee’s discussion with us focused on international cargo, airport management’s long-range plan for ICN from opening day is be the leading airport hub in Northeast Asia for all traffic.

“Both China and Japan are two very big and attractive markets for us, and we would like to further intensify our cooperation with them,” Lee said, pointing to the “obvious advantages” that the airport offered to foreign airlines.

“Besides having no night curfew on flights, new airlines operating to Incheon enjoy exemptions from landing fees for the first three years, which offers easy connections to the world’s most attractive markets in the region,” Lee adds.

“Within three flight hours, we have 61 cities with populations over 1 million people,” Lee said, adding that he anticipates annual flights to grow to 530,000 by 2020 from today’s 410,000.

While airport management expects to spend $2.7 billion on cargo improvement, an overall budget of $3.1 billion includes a new 1.4 million square foot passenger terminal currently under construction that should add an additional capacity of 18 million passengers, Lee said. The plan also includes improvements to aprons and transportation centers.

After the terminal opens, the next expansion phase on the drawing board will include constructing a fourth and fifth runway. That last runway will be exclusively for cargo, although it will mean an end to ICN’s golf course.

By the time this phase is completed, ICN will be able to handle 62 million passengers annually.

Passenger traffic will also undoubtedly have an impact on cargo. Belly-hold freight carried on passenger flights currently accounts for a third of all cargo handling at ICN.

Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist with extensive experience covering aviation, including ground support, airports, airlines, infrastructure and passenger/cargo traffic. Mehta travels frequently to Europe and Asia.

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