South Korea's Asiana Airlines chairman Park Sam-koo, third from left, and board members bow in apology during a press conference in Seoul, South Korea. Picture: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Seoul, South Korea - The chairman of South Korea's Asiana Airlines on Wednesday apologised after many of its planes took off without any in-flight meals this week because the carrier was suddenly forced to switch caterers.

Since Sunday, many Asiana flights have been delayed waiting for meals and many others, mostly short-haul flights to Japan and China, have had to leave without any.

"I am sorry for causing public concern over Asiana's in-flight meal crisis," said Park Sam-koo, chairman of Kumho Asiana Group whose main subsidiaries include Asiana Airlines and Kumho Enginering & Construction.

The debacle at South Korea's second largest airline is seen to have stemmed from a decision by Asiana this year to switch its in-flight meal provider, in a bid to help improve finances of its struggling parent group.

Asiana in March ended a 15-year-old deal with Lufthansa's LSG Sky Chefs after LGS refused Kumho Asiana Group's demand that LGS invest 160 billion won in the group's holding firm, which was in dire need of cash.

The airline then chose a new catering firm that was a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which subsequently injected the needed funds.

But the new caterer suffered a fire at its plant, forcing Asiana to seek help from a smaller firm which was unable to meet the airline's daily needs.

The episode took a tragic twist on Monday when the owner of one of subcontractor suppliers committed suicide after complaining of pressure for him to take responsibility for the debacle.

Park also apologised for his death.

"I also feel very sorry about the tragedy involving the owner of one of our subcontractor suppliers and offer my deepest apology to his family," he said, bowing deeply in front of cameras in apology.

"My father and his colleagues worked more than 28 hours non-stop to prepare meals but the demand from contractors put too much pressure on them," the subcontractor's son told JTBC TV.

The suicide sparked nationwide fury as many accused the airline of trying to shift responsibility for its mismanagement to a powerless subcontractor.