Houston's air cargo industry is continuing to expand its ties to Asia, with the latest growth coming courtesy of Korean Air.
The South Korean carrier plans to begin twice weekly all-cargo service to Houston on Jan. 25, marking the first time a Korean airline has regularly served Houston.
Houston has growing business relationships with South Korea and with Asia, said Derek Han, vice president for cargo in the Americas for Korean Air.
"I am confident the flight will be very successful for importers and exporters," Han said Wednesday. "If the flight is successful, in the near future we will increase the frequency."
The Korean Air service is kicking off only a few months after Taiwan-based China Airlines started an all-cargo service to Houston.
Asia is a prime focus of the Houston Airport System because service has been limited in the past, system chief Richard Vacar said Wednesday.
"That is the area of the world that is going to have the most potential for growth," Vacar said. "That is why we are focusing so much on it."
A new cargo handling facility at Bush Intercontinental Airport opened about four years ago, which helped trigger construction nearby adding about 3 million square feet of warehouse space, he said.
Houston airport officials said this city is the most quickly growing gateway for U.S. air exports in the region that covers Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Air cargo exports from the region total more than 5,000 tons a year, they said. Texas is the top exporting state in the United States, shipping $128.7 billion worth of goods in 2005, according to the Greater Houston Partnership.
In November, while there was a small decline in exports to Texas' largest trading partners, Mexico and Canada, the amount of exports to Asia - not even including China - jumped by 11.4 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Exports to China, a separate category, rose by 7.7 percent, the statistics showed.
South Korea is moving up the list of Houston's trading partners, jumping three spots recently, from number 15 to 12, the airport system said.
The new China Airlines service began as a twice-weekly service, but another flight already has been added, according to the carrier.
Airports compete for such flights to gain access to new international markets.
Houston has been trying to attract Asian carriers that previously have been flying to Dallas. Airport officials work to convince them that it makes more sense to fly to Houston instead, since it many times is the final destination anyway, Vacar said.
The petrochemical industry is one big user of China Airlines' new service. Other industries ranging from medical to information technology to aerospace also are being targeted.
Some of the top exports to South Korea are industrial equipment and computers, according to airport system officials. Among the imports coming to Houston from there are electrical machinery, equipment and parts.
The new flight will start with a leased 747-400F aircraft, although a Korean Air plane may be used later depending on availability.
Starting west of Seoul at Incheon International Airport, the flight will go to Anchorage, Alaska, then to Atlanta and Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Top partners based on value of exports from Texas in 2005 in billions:
1. Mexico: $50.1
2. Canada: $14.7
3. China: $4.9
4. South Korea: $4.6
5. Taiwan: $3.5
Source: Census Bureau
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