An ongoing review of Korean Air's proposed merger with Asiana Airlines by competition authorities in South Korea and eight other key jurisdictions has forced Korean Air's parent Hanjin Group to defer the planned closing date from October 30 to December 31, 2021.

"We expect the approval process to complete by the end of the year. After the approval, it will take at least another two years to get everything integrated," Korean Air's Chief Executive and Chairman, Walter Cho, told Aviation Week.

While the holding said that it was hoping to complete the deal as soon as possible, there is still uncertainty concerning its finalisation timeline. Sources told the Tax Finance Newspaper that the market widely expects the transaction to be delayed into 2022.

So far, the proposed acquisition of a 63.9% stake in Asiana Airlines by Hanjin Group has been approved by competition regulators in Turkey, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Malaysia. However, nine other investigations are still ongoing, key of which is that of the Korea Fair Trade Commission, as well as proceedings in key markets such as the European Union, China, and the United States. Recently, the state-owned Korea Development Bank (KDB) urged the national regulator to accelerate its review to avoid further delaying the merger. Under the current plan, the complete merger is not expected to happen before late 2024, even though the financial consolidation of the firms could occur as early as next year.

Cho said that one of the most complex decisions that will have to be made is that of fleet simplification. He did not go into any further details.

According to sources, some overseas regulators are particularly concerned about rights for routes currently operated by both South Korean carriers and are likely to mandate the relinquishing of some of those rights and/or slots to other carriers.

Meanwhile, Korean Air said on September 29 that the KDB, the main creditor of both airlines and which is overseeing the merger, has now approved their Post Merger Integration (PMI) plan. While details have yet to be announced, Air Transport World reported that the plan confirms that Asiana Airlines will leave Star Alliance and focus on strengthening transpacific ties with Delta Air Lines under the umbrella of Skyteam, of which Korean Air is a member. Korean Air also has a joint venture with Delta which goes beyond their alliance partnership.