North Korea takes off again

He has been with a Russian-built Tupolev.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
05 September 2023 Tuesday 11:15
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North Korea takes off again

He has been with a Russian-built Tupolev. The airport of Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, has recovered its international flights after 46 months. This time without commercial aviation has been unprecedented, even for one of the most politically and economically isolated countries in the world. The pandemic sealed the borders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in January 2020, and it was then that the unique Air Koryo, North Korea's only airline, operated its last link between the Chinese and North capitals. korean

Flight JS151 was the one that broke the air isolation of Kim Jong-un's country when it took off on August 22 bound for Beijing. It was a flight of just over 90 minutes that was received with anticipation by various media from China, the main ally of the North Korean regime. The plane in charge of the flight was one of the airline's Tupolev 204s, a Russian-made aircraft very similar to the American Boeing 757, although this model, still designed in Soviet times, is not known they have manufactured only 90 units, while more than a thousand of the American version have been built.

This Túpolev, capable of transporting up to 222 passengers, twelve in business class and the rest in tourist, represents 25% of Air Koryo's current operational fleet, composed of another twin engine and two Antonov AN-148s. The second was the device in which Korean Central Television recorded the supreme leader at his command after his handover. In the video, with classic KCTV music drowning out the background sound, Kim appears in the commander's seat to the left of the cockpit. Recorded in a very short shot, the leader makes a series of turns and other maneuvers, wanting to demonstrate what is common in the country's propaganda: there is no machine that Kim does not know how to run with skill.

Until January 2020, these four units were responsible for covering the small network of international flights that had a total of three destinations: Shenyang and Beijing, both in China, in addition to Vladivostok, Russia.

In an appearance before local media, Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, celebrated the reopening of the line with Beijing and announced that Air Koryo would fly to Vladivostok again, news that, in its philosophy habitually providing little information and with a dropper, it has not been given from North Korea. The Russian city, a regular destination for North Korean commercial aviation due to its proximity, gained a reputation for mystery in the last century, between the late 1950s and 1991. Then, the Kremlin had turned it into a closed to foreign visitors due to being home to the Pacific Fleet of the Soviet Navy.

The history of Air Koryo goes back precisely to the good times of the USSR. In its origins it was a joint Soviet-Korean company to fly between Pyongyang and Moscow with intermediate stops. For four decades, the corporation carried the name of Korean Airways and its planes arrived in Eastern Bloc capitals such as Sofia, Prague, Belgrade and East Berlin. The collapse of the Soviet Union also strained all these links, and the airline, renamed in 1992 as Air Koryo, significantly reduced its international presence. In the western sphere, its longest-range planes, the Iliuxin IL-62, were only seen in Switzerland, and landed with some frequency at Kloten airport (Zurich), at the end of the last century. In 2018 and thanks to the testimonies of classmates, it transpired that those nineties were the time when the current leader of North Korea was studying in Switzerland, although under another identity: Pak Un, the son of a worker of the North Korean embassy in Bern, which is why the flights of those Iliuxin from Pyongyang to Zurich could be related to the presence of Kim Jong-il's son in the country.

It is very complicated to have completely reliable information about the airline because of the hermeticism of the Asian country, especially when dealing with a matter considered sensitive like aviation, which, even being commercial, is completely militarized. In 2006, the Department of Mobility and Transport of the European Commission included Air Koryo in the list of airlines that are prohibited from flying over all the states of the European Union with one exception: the two Tupolev 204s could land at any European airport, although it is a very distant hypothesis.