Airbus and South Korea have been strategic partners for more than 40 years, going back to 1974 when Korean Air ordered the original A300B4 widebody aircraft. Since then, the country has become a key customer base for the European manufacturer across the company’s commercial aircraft, defence, space and helicopter product lines.
Thriving industrial partnerships between Airbus and several Korean aerospace companies, as well as highly successful joint-development programmes, also have set the standard for cross-border collaboration efforts. These have brought multiple direct benefits for the Korean economy and support the development of the country’s growing aerospace industry.
The relationship between Airbus and the country began with Korean Air’s order in 1974 for the A300B4, a landmark decision that made the carrier the company’s first non-European customer. Since then, airlines in Korea have ordered almost 200 passenger aircraft across the company’s product line (as of September 2020). This includes the A220 small single-aisle aircraft, the A320 Family, the versatile A330 widebody, the new A350 XWB and the A380.
Korean Air has ordered 112 Airbus aircraft in total comprising 10 A220s, 30 from the A320 Family, 32 A300s, 30 A330s and 10 A380s.
The carrier became an A380 customer in 2003 and took delivery of its first aircraft in 2011. Korean Air’s popular A330s have been operated on its medium-range network within Asia and selected long haul routes to Europe.
The airline’s first A220-300 entered into commercial service in January 2018, making it the first Asian operator of the new-generation aircraft. As of September 2020, the carrier had 10 A220-300s in its fleet. In a 2015 deal, Korean Air ordered 30 A321neo aircraft for its domestic services and regional routes.
Asiana Airlines became an Airbus customer in 1996, and its fleet comprises more than 50 of the company’s aircraft across the single-aisle and widebody product lines.
The carrier ordered six A380s in January 2011 and received its first aircraft in May 2014. Asiana also has 15 A330s in its fleet.
In July 2008, the airline inked a major deal for 30 A350 XWB aircraft to form the backbone of its future mid-size widebody fleet. Asiana received its first A350-900 in April 2017, and has received 11 of the type as of September 2020.
The airline also had a fleet of 24 A320 Family aircraft. Another 28 A320 Family aircraft are at Air Busan and seven at Air Seoul, both Asiana’s low-cost carrier subsidiaries. In November 2015, Asiana placed a firm order for 25 new-generation A321neo aircraft. The airline received its first A321neo in August 2019.
In addition, a total of three A320ceo aircraft had been delivered to Aero K as of September 2020.
There are over 50 Airbus helicopters in service in the Korean military, civil and parapublic segments. Popular civil models such as the light intermediate single-engine H125, light twin-engine H135, and the versatile H225 are used on missions including search and rescue, fire-fighting, utility and corporate transportation. The ROKAF also operates Super Puma helicopters in a utility role.
In the military aircraft segment, South Korea ordered the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) in August 2015 in a landmark deal that was the country’s first major non-U.S. military contract. Four A330 MRTT on order were delivered to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in 2019 and have been designated as the KC-330A by ROKAF. ROKAF also operates CN235 for various tactical missions. Korean Coast Guard operates the C212.
This new-generation platform extends the endurance and range of the ROKAF’s fighter aircraft, provides the service with strategic transport capability, and can be configured in a variety of layouts to carry passengers and freight or for medical evacuation purposes.
Airbus and Korea also are long-time partners on space programmes since 1995. In 2005, the company worked with the Korean Aerospace and Research Institute (KARI) to design and produce the country’s first multi-function geostationary satellite (GEO-Kompsat). Further, the company developed the first geo-stationary ocean imager, and co-developed three Earth observation satellites It also is a partner in the upcoming Kompsat-6 Earth observation satellite and Satellite Based Augmentation System. Airbus also provides high resolution satellite imagery services to various Korean operators.
Korea also is an important industrial base for Airbus, which has strong partnerships with KAI and Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD) - both Tier 1 suppliers for Airbus civil aircraft programmes - as well as numerous small and medium enterprises (SME) in the country.
KAL-ASD, an Airbus supplier since 1989, supplies the Airbus-designed fuel-saving ‘Sharklet’ wingtip devices for the A320neo and A330neo programmes. It also produces fuselage skin panels and floor assemblies of the A330, as well as the A350 XWB’s composite cargo doors.
From its facilities in Sacheon, KAI produces fuselage shells and wing top panel assemblies for A320 Family, wing bottom panels for the A380, wing machined ribs and stringers for the A330, and the A350 XWB’s aluminium-lithium wing machined ribs and nose landing gear bay and doors.
Korean SMEs benefit from work packages under sub-contracts from Airbus suppliers. Soosung Airframe Company, for example, does the A321 fuselage shell work and SAMCO manufactures the leading-edge skin for the Sharklet and the A350 XWB bulk cargo door. Other Tier 2 suppliers include Forex, Hizeaero, and Yulkok Engineering Company. In October 2016, AeroSpace Technology of Korea (ASTK) won a contract to produce A320neo fan cowl door machined parts – its first direct agreement with Airbus.
In 2006, Airbus began working with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) on the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) programme. Based on the H225 helicopter, the first 8.7-tonne Surion was delivered on cost, on time and on specification to the Korean army in December 2012.
To date, more than 100 Surion helicopters have been delivered to the Korean army and the country’s parapublic operators.
Building on this success, Airbus and KAI began working on the in-development Light Civil Helicopter/Light Armed Helicopter (LCH/LAH) programme in 2015. The LAH prototype completed its maiden flight in July 2019 and targets to enter service for the Korean army by 2023.