The UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has signalled it will approve the proposed merger between Korean Air and Asiana Airlines after raising significant concerns about it earlier this month. In a November 28 statement, the CMA said it now had reasonable grounds for believing undertakings put forward by Korean Air since then, or potential modifications of those undertakings, would address its earlier anti-trust concerns.

In a November 21 submission, Korean Air reportedly tackled the issues raised by the CMA in a November 14 announcement in which the competition authority said it believed the merger "may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within a market or markets in the United Kingdom." The CMA also said it would escalate its inquiry to a tougher phase 2 investigation unless Korean Air responded to the concerns raised.

If approved by all jurisdictions, the Korean Air/Asiana merger would create the world's seventh-biggest airline and dominate passenger and air cargo traffic between the UK and South Korea. With British Airways (BA, London Heathrow) withdrawing from Seoul Incheon at the start of the pandemic and still off the route, no UK airlines presently operate scheduled flights between the two countries. Consequently, the ch-aviation schedules module shows that Korean Air now offers 60.92% of the total weekly seats available on the country pair with its daily B777-300ER roundtrip flight while Asiana Airlines mops up the remaining 39.08% with its four times weekly A350-900 roundtrip flights.

"We will continue to cooperate closely with the CMA to ensure the review process is completed as soon as possible," a Korean Air spokesperson told ch-aviation. The CMA's latest announcement means a more rigorous phase 2 assessment of the proposed merger is avoided. In the wake of this week's news, it is now widely anticipated that the UK will soon approve the proposed merger, leaving China, the EU, Japan, and the US as the only major jurisdictions that Korean Air is yet to secure the green light from.