Air Premia (YP, Seoul Incheon) will close a deal with Korean Air to lease four B787-9s to allow it to expand its North American operations, South Korea's News Tomato outlet exclusively reported this week.

Sources told the economic news site that the two carriers "are finalising details" on the deal. The lease agreement is a response to concerns from antitrust authorities in the United States about the proposed merger between Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. Recently, ch-aviation reported that Air Premia was keen to take on some of Korean's flights on the South Korea - United States country pair but was hampered by a lack of capacity.

According to ch-aviation schedules data, Air Premia currently operates 4x weekly roundtrips to Honolulu, New York Newark, and 6x weekly roundtrips to Los Angeles International. In May, it will start flights to San Francisco. Its existing fleet comprises five B787-9s.

Korean Air operates scheduled passenger flights to the US to Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas Harry Reid, Los Angeles, New York JFK, San Francisco, Seattle Tacoma International, and Washington Dulles. It remains unclear whether Premia would take over entire routes or certain frequencies.

Seven passenger airlines fly the country pair, but Korean Air has a 48.38% market share measured by weekly seat capacity. The second-place getter is Asiana with 21.77%. Combined, the two carriers have a 70.15% market share, which caused US antitrust authorities to suggest they could reject the merger proposal, prompting Korean and Asiana to make a series of concessions.

The impending Air Premia deal mimics an agreement sealed last year with t'way Air (TW, Daegu), which will operate widebody services to certain European airports to mitigate competition concerns at the European Commission. The t'way agreement will see the LCC take five A330-200s on loan from Korean Air, along with around 100 Korean Air-supplied flight crew personnel, and MRO support services, to operate the flights.