A proposed startup carrier in South Korea has taken a major step forward with the delivery of its first two ATR 72-500 turboprops.

The airline, to be called Hi Air, intends to start service later in 2019 after it receives its air operator’s certificate (AOC), ATR said.  Skyworld Aviation, the company that helped arrange the sale, said the two ATR 72s were previously operated by Air Tahiti.

Hi Air will be based in Ulsan, South Korea, a city in the southeast of the country. The carrier will initially focus on domestic routes before starting short-haul international flights, according to an ATR statement. The airline “will steadily add more ATR aircraft to its fleet in line with its route expansion.”

ATR has been making a sales push in the Korean market, which currently has a very low turboprop presence. The manufacturer believes there is significant potential to use turboprops to link second- and third-tier cities directly, rather than going through major hubs, ATR head of sales Fabrice Vautier said.

There are also opportunities for turboprops to serve small islands, Vautier said. He cited plans to build airports on Ulleungdo and Baengnyeong islands, which will likely have runway lengths best suited to turboprop operations.

Turboprops could even be used to launch short-haul international flights from South Korea to Northeast China, ATR said. The manufacturer noted that Chinese cities such as Qingdao, Weihai and Yantai are within “a short flight” from South Korea.

Adrian Schofield, adrian.schofield@informa.com