Korean Air Proposes East Asia Bloc to Counter EU Inroads

SEOUL (XFN-ASIA) - Korea Air proposed an East Asian airline bloc involving South Korea, Japan and China to counter an agreement forged by European Union member countries to protect their airlines.

Korean Air president Lee Jong-Hee urged the government to reject any demand that it recognise an EU Community clause at aviation talks with France here next week.

Under the clause, an EU member country can designate an airline of any other EU member as its national flag carrier. France wants South Korea to accept the clause.

"The clause must not be accepted as it will force the complete opening of our airline market to all EU member countries," Lee told reporters.

"I suggest South Korea should push ahead with an airline bloc with China and Japan to counter the European bloc," he said.

Korea Air's rival Asiana supports the EU clause, saying it will boost the competitiveness of local carriers.

If South Korea accepts the clause, Asiana would also be able to fly the Seoul-Paris route.

Asiana says the boarding rate of planes between South Korea and France is more than 80 pct and travelers suffer from a shortage of seats during high seasons.

South Korea and France signed an aviation pact in 1973, allowing only Korean Air and Air France to fly between Seoul and Paris.

Now South Korea wants France to permit multiple airlines on the route but France is reluctant to accept the demand, insisting it has only one national flag carrier, Air France, according to the Yonhap news agency.

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