South Korea’s new startup Hi Air is looking to get 10 ATR 72 turboprops as it awaits approval of an air operator’s certificate (AOC) from Korean regulators.

In the meantime, Hi Air has taken delivery of two former Air Tahiti ATR 72-500s since late July and aims to add two of the type annually.

Once approved, Hi Air will be Korea’s first dedicated regional carrier.

Speaking to ATW at the Seoul ADEX exhibition, ATR sales director Jean-Daniel Kosowski said that because of certain Korean regulations, the Hi Air ATRs are limited to 50 seats, making it one of the most spacious ATRs in service.

Air Tahiti’s ATR 72s were configured for 68 seats. He added that the regional market in Korea is still untapped and is one of the last few developed countries without a regional carrier.

Since no major MRO service providers have turboprop capability, ATR is providing assistance to Hi Air for technical training and is working on a spare parts agreement to have some based in Ulsan.

The startup is also tapping ATR’s spares pool in Singapore. Other ATR operators, such as Malaysia Airlines, have provided advice and insight on ATR operations.

Kosowski estimates a demand for 30 ATRs in Korea, taking into consideration future demand on Korean peninsular East-West routes; services to Korea’s three new island airports in Jeju, Ulleung and Heuksan; and international destinations.

However, Kosowski does not expect major airlines like Korean Air and Asiana to join the bandwagon, as they are focused on established domestic and international routes.

“The new regional carriers will need to find the right city pairing, and once they do so, there will be little competition on these routes for them,” he added.

In mature markets like Japan, ATR is looking at both fleet replacement and expansion as carriers plan to open up new routes and replace older aircraft from other manufacturers.

According to Aviation Week Fleet Data services, Japan has three ATR operators: Japan Air Commuter with two ATR 72-600s and six ATR 42-600s; Amakusa Airlines with a single ATR 42-600; and Hokkaido Air system with two ATR 42-600 on order.

Chen Chuanren, chuanren@purplelightvisuals.com