SEOUL, May 31 (Yonhap) — Korean Air Lines Co., South Korea’s biggest carrier, said Monday it has obtained its second overseas approval from Thailand for its planned acquisition of smaller local rival Asiana Airlines Inc.

Korean Air said it recently received approval from the Thai regulator, following the first from Turkey in February.

It still needs nods from seven other countries and the European Union to proceed with the 1.8 trillion won (US$1.6 billion) deal to acquire the debt-ridden Asiana.

The seven countries include South Korea, the United States, China, Japan, Turkey, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Korean Air said in March it aims to launch a merged entity with Asiana in 2024 after completing a takeover process by next year.

The nation’s two full-service carriers account for a combined 40 percent of passenger and cargo slots at Incheon International Airport, South Korea’s main gateway, below the level that constitutes a monopoly.

The two airlines have suspended most of their flights on international routes since March 2020 as countries have strengthened their entry restrictions to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They have focused on winning more cargo delivery deals to offset the pandemic-caused slump in travel demand.