SEOUL, S. KOREA — Resurgent Jeju Air, the South Korean low-cost airline, may face obstacles due to production delays at Boeing. The airline, which is vying to surpass Asiana Airlines and become the country's second-largest carrier, plans to soon start introducing forty B737 MAX aircraft that it ordered in 2018. However, Boeing's delivery capacity will dictate the timeline.

Last week, Jeju Air reported a first-quarter operating profit of KRW70.7 billion won (USD52.8 million) against revenues of KRW422.3 billion (USD315.4 million). It is now on the path to becoming the country's second-largest carrier, potentially pushing Asiana Airlines to third place. However, the integration of the B737-8s could be slower than initially planned. When the order was first placed, deliveries were supposed to start in 2022. 

At present, Jeju Air expects to receive its first unit of the aircraft in the latter half of 2023, with deliveries scheduled to continue until 2028. Initially, Jeju Air plans to use the MAX on routes to Japan, where it holds a significant market share.

Despite the delays in aircraft delivery, Korean business media suggest that the outlook for the low-cost carrier for the remainder of the year remains positive. They attribute this to the high number of travelers in the Asian region and generally decreased aircraft capacity, which together are creating "the best business conditions."

Jeju Air currently operates a fleet of thirty-seven B737-800s and one B737-800(BCF). According to the ch-aviation PRO airlines module, it offers flights to 43 destinations in 14 countries. As per Airportal data cited by Seoul's Chosun Media, Jeju Air served 833,721 passengers on its international network in the first three months of 2023, only 25,000 fewer than Asiana.

However, when both international and domestic passenger numbers are considered, Jeju Air served 2.12 million passengers in the quarter, surpassing Asiana's 2.08 million passengers. While Jeju Air operates much smaller aircraft than Asiana, which has a diverse fleet of 78 aircraft, including 56 widebodies, it maintains much higher frequencies. In the first quarter of the year, even without the MAX aircraft, Jeju Air operated 400 more international flights than Asiana.

Korean Air, South Korea's largest carrier, is proposing to merge with Asiana, a move that would end the Asiana brand but create one of the world's largest carriers. This merger is still subject to approval from the European Union, Japanese, and US antitrust authorities.