Under garb of diplomatic flights South Korean Jin Air runs commercial activity

Roksinda Farhana, a Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, was accused of lobbying for JinAir within the Civil Aviation Authority


Jin Air (진에어), a South Korean airline, has come under fire for allegedly engaging in unauthorized commercial activities under the guise of diplomatic flights between Dhaka and Seoul. Reports from the Bangladeshi vernacular daily Kalbela suggest that Jin Air managed to evade BDT 550 million in taxes by exploiting its status as a diplomatic flight operator. While enjoying exemptions from various charges and fees on the Dhaka-Seoul-Dhaka route, Jin Air’s wrongdoings surfaced when another company was granted permission to conduct commercial flights on the same route.

Expressing his discontent, Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen ordered the suspension of Jin Air’s flights. Despite this, the airline has obtained approval for commercial charter flights, and it has been allegedly selling scheduled tickets despite the prohibition on such operations. It’s believed that JinAir is receiving support from the Protocol Wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a circle associated with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism.

It’s crucial to note that there are no direct flights between South Korea and Bangladesh, and there exists no aviation agreement between the two nations. JinAir initially secured permission to operate repatriation and diplomatic flights to facilitate the transportation of citizens stranded during the Covid-19 outbreak. Under diplomatic facilities, these flights were granted exemptions from various taxes and fees, including airport taxes. However, Jin Air was required to pay a royalty fee to Biman Bangladesh Airlines, which it allegedly failed to do. This fee, ranging from US$10 to US$45 per ticket, was contingent upon the condition that the flights would not be used for commercial purposes.

However, JinAir disregarded these conditions, engaging in full-fledged commercial flights under the pretext of diplomatic flights without fulfilling its obligations to Biman Bangladesh Airlines. Industry experts estimate that Bangladesh has suffered a revenue loss of at least BDT 550 million due to JinAir’s activities over the past three years. Despite being marketed as a budget airline, JinAir reportedly sells tickets to passengers at inflated prices, with fares starting at BDT 77,000, significantly higher than the average price of BDT 57,000 for a direct flight from Dhaka to Seoul.

An expert in the aviation sector explained to Dhaka’s vernacular daily Kalbela that diplomatic flights are typically operated during emergencies to transport diplomatic passengers between countries. However, the need for such flights ceased as the Covid-19 situation returned to normal over a year ago. Kalbela’s investigation unveiled that a particular interest group exploited loopholes in existing laws to grant unethical advantages to JinAir. The Protocol Wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and certain officials from the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism were implicated in these activities.

Roksinda Farhana, a Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism, was accused of lobbying for Jin Air within the Civil Aviation Authority. While denying the allegations, Farhana emphasized the limitations of her role as a desk officer, reiterating the necessity of adhering to the law. When contacted, Ashraf Ali Farooq, an Additional Secretary at the Ministry, hung up upon realizing the caller was a Kalbela reporter and did not respond to subsequent calls. Similarly, Naeem Uddin Ahmed, the Chief Protocol Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed to be unaware of the matter when questioned.

Responding to the situation, Foreign Minister Abdul Momen asserted that he had instructed an immediate halt to these practices after learning about them. As of October 16, 2022, Jin Air was prohibited from operating such flights, leaving questions about how they managed to continue their illegal activities for so long. Despite the ambiguity, JinAir has been granted permission to conduct commercial charter flights. The airline applied to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism for this purpose on October 19, and the request was reportedly granted on October 23. However, Jin Air has been found to be promoting itself as a commercial flight operator, selling tickets online until March 2024, despite only receiving permission for a single flight. When approached, a Jin Air official acknowledged that they lacked permission for commercial flights but justified their actions by claiming to offer refunds if flights were canceled.

More about Jin Air

Jin Air Co., Ltd. (진에어) is a South Korean low-cost airline. As of April 2018 it operates flights to six domestic cities and 26 international destinations. It launched its first long haul route, between Incheon and Honolulu, in December 2015. It has operated cargo services since November 2013. Jin Air is the first widebody LCC operator in Korea.

In 2018, Jin Air is South Korea’s second-largest low-cost carrier, carried 3.5 million domestic passengers, and 5.4 million international passengers, and accounted for an 11% share of the domestic market and a 6 percent share of the international market. Jin’s domestic traffic has also been lower over the past three years because it has focused on the international market.

Jin Air is headquartered in Deungchon-dong, Gangseo-gu, Seoul/ The name “Jin Air” was officially announced on June 15, 2008, at an opening ceremony in Seoul.

Jin Air began operations in July 2008 with routes to regional destinations in South Korea. The inaugural flight was between Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport and Jeju International Airport on July 17, 2008, using a Boeing 737-800. In December 2009, Jin Air began its first scheduled international flights to Bangkok.

On October 30, the KRX announced that Jin Air passed the IPO preliminary approval.

Jin Air had its IPO on December 8, 2017.

On 20 February 2021, United Airlines Flight 328, operated by a Boeing 777 powered by PW4077-112 engines performing suffered a fan blade failure shortly after takeoff. This was the third such incident with the Boeing 777 in three years and the fifth PW4000 series engine turbine blade failure in service. CAA, FAA, and JCAB grounded all Boeing 777 aircraft following advice from Boeing.

All carriers had complied with the mandatory groundings or done so voluntarily with the exception of Jin Air’s four 777-200ER aircraft until the FAA issued a further airworthiness directive 4 days later.

On 12 June 2022, Jin Air returned its first 777 to scheduled service.

According to The Korea Times, in April 2018, South Korean authorities started an investigation into Jin Air for illegally appointing the second daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho a board member of the firm. The government was also looking into whether she has involved in the budget carrier’s decision-making process while she was serving as an executive of Korean Air.

According to Reuters, South Korea’s No.2 budget carrier’s license was put under review after it was found that family member Emily Cho – in the spotlight after reports of an angry tantrum earlier that year – held US citizenship while serving as board director in violation of South Korean law.

Although Jin Air kept its license, it was restricted from registering new aircraft and routes for a “certain period of time”, the transport ministry said in a decision that pared initial sky-high gains for its stock.

Emily Cho, a member of the family which controls Jin Air and parent Korean Air Lines Co Ltd, provoked a storm of anger after she allegedly threw water at an advertising agency manager. The incident came four years after an infamous “nut rage” scandal in which her sister Heather Cho delayed a flight because she objected to the way nuts were served. Emily Cho later issued an apology but did not specify her actions.

CNN also published a detailed report on the incident of Jin Air.

According to Yonhap News Agency, South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in a statement said, “We have decided not to cancel the license as negative ramifications, such as job insecurity and inconvenience of customers … far outweighed social benefits of revoking the license”.

Updated with additional information at 05:40 AM

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Tajul Islam
Tajul Islam
Tajul Islam is a Special Correspondent of Blitz.

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