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Japan-South Korea rift

Korean Air scrubs more Japan flights as tensions mount

Seoul-Tokyo trade spat has reduced traffic between the two nations

Korean Air Lines is grounding routes to Japan as bilateral frictions take a toll.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- Korean Air Lines will suspend six more routes to Japan under measures announced Tuesday as bilateral frictions slash passenger numbers.

The carrier said in late July that it would ground flights between Busan and Sapporo, starting Sept. 3. Demand for travel to Japan has dived in the weeks since Japan restricted exports of key semiconductor-manufacturing materials to South Korea.

Korean Air recently reported a net loss of 415 billion won ($342 million) for the first half. The red ink stemmed chiefly from higher expenses for paying down dollar-denominated debt under a depreciated won, as well as surging labor costs.

The airline decided to suspend the latest round of flights to Japan because of the drop-off in reservations in the second half. In contrast, routes to Southeast Asia and China will be expanded.

Trips to Japan have become a boycott target among South Koreans unhappy with Tokyo's actions on the semiconductor materials exports. Travel reservations to Japan fell 36% on the year in July, according to HanaTour, South Korea's largest travel agency. August's slump came to 80%.

The number of South Koreans visiting Japan rose a seventh straight year in 2018 to nearly 7.54 million, but dropped 3.8% on the year for the first half of 2019. The second half stands to be even tougher because of the suspended flights and the lack of reservations.

Korean Air will halt service between Busan and Osaka, starting Sept. 16. Connections from Jeju to Osaka and to Tokyo's Narita Airport will be suspended, beginning Nov. 1.

Three routes from Incheon International Airport, which serves Seoul, will be grounded temporarily -- flights to Komatsu and Kagoshima will be suspended from Sept. 29 to Nov. 16. There will be no service to Asahikawa from Sept. 29 to Oct. 26.

In addition, flights to Osaka and Fukuoka from Incheon will be reduced to 21 a week from 28.

Asiana Airlines, South Korea's second-largest airline, has suspended travel between Busan and Okinawa from Friday to late October. Budget airlines have followed suit with their own suspensions.

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