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Air Koryo

Formally known as Chosonminhang and established in 1955, Air Koryo is the only commercial airline of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. Chosonminhang was renamed as Air Koryo on March 28, 1992 and has experienced episodes of simmering successes and failures. Air Koryo has its headquarters in Sunan-guyok and bases its operations at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport.

Air Koryo is regarded as a company disguised as an airline with a mission to facilitate North Koreas intelligence activities abroad. In 2016, the US Treasury Department added 16 aircrafts of Air Koryo to the list of sanctions for their links to weapons of mass destruction and labor exports. When North Korean leader Kim Jong-uns half brother Kim Jong-nam was killed with nerve poison in 2017, the Malay police pointed to an employee of Air Koryo as one of the suspects.

UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which came on the heels of North Koreas fourth nuclear weapons test in January 2016, calls for all member states to deny permission to any [North Korean flagged] aircraft to take off from, land in or overfly, unless under the condition of landing for inspection.

The European Union renewed its ban on North Korea's only airline flying within the bloc for the seventh straight year. The 22 May 2017 decision came as all aircraft from Air Koryo, excluding two Russian-made planes, did not meet the EU's strict safety standards. The European Commission said the designations help keep EU nationals safe.

In April 2016, Air Koryo suspended its operation of flights to Bangkok, shortly after the Thai government hinted at possible actions against the carrier while endorsing Resolution 2270. In June 2016 Pakistan, a refueling stop between Pyongyang and Kuwait, decided to deny North Korean flights access to Benazir Bhutto Islamabad International Airport. In October 2016, the Kuwaiti government prohibited Air Koryo from landing in the countrys airport. The North Korean airline, which opened an air route from Pyongyang to Kuala Lumpur in 2011 and offered regular service once a week, took the last flight to the Malaysian capital June 8, 2014.

An-148 100B P-672
An-148 100V P-671
IL-62 M P-885
IL-76 MD P-914
Tu-134 B-3 P-813
Tu-154 B-2 P-561
Tu-204 100V P-633
Tu-204 300 P-632
Air Koryo continues to flagrantly violate the ban on luxury goods and has been implicated in the proliferation of SCUD missile parts. In May 2011 a United Nations report revealed that North Korea and Iran have been routinely sharing prohibited ballistic missile technology with the help of Iran Air in breach of U.N. sanctions against North Korea. The report said that the transfers were believed to be taking place on regular scheduled flights of Air Koryo, North Koreas state-owned airline, and Iran Air, using air cargo hubs with lax security in a neighboring third country widely assumed to be China.

North Korean Air Force Chief Yi Pyong Chol was frequently sighted boarding North Korean Air Koryo aircraft for visits to foreign countries, such as Russia, that are the principal manufacturers or suppliers of spare parts for military aircraft found in Pyongyangs inventory.

Air Koryo is the national flag carrier for North Korea and reportedly continues to own and operate all civilian aircraft registered in North Korea. It operates international services and charter flights. It is based at Sunan International Airport in Sunan, a suburb in north Pyongyang.

Air Koryos fleet included two Antonov An-148-100B (4 and 1.7 years old) and two Tupolev Tu-204 (one Tu-204-300 and one TU-204-100B). The An-148s are configured in two classes with 8 seats in Business Class and 62 in Economy.

Air Koryos active Ilyushin Il-62M, P-881, had a change of tail livery and a repaint of its fuselage. The new flag tail icon brought the tally to 3 different tail logos ordained on the North Korean Il-62s.

In July 2013, an Air Koryo aircraft undertook a fly-over in the Victory Day military parade. Air Koryo also reportedly transported from Pyongyang spare parts or items used in Scud-B missile systems, which the UN prohibits exporting to North Korea as arms and related materiel. North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, previously designated by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) pursuant to E.O. 13722 for having engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights, is also known to have access to a private jet decorated with the logo of Air Koryo.

Tehran-PyongyangNumerous international routes opened up for Air Koryo between 1955 and 2008, among these are Pyongyang-Chita, Pyongyang-Beijing, Pyongyang-Khabarovsk, Pyongyang-Moscow, Pyongyang-Moscow-Berlin, Pyongyang-Moscow-Sofia, Pyongyang-Bangkok, Pyongyang-Macau, Pyongyang-Vladivostok, Pyongyang-Shenyang, Pyongyang-Seoul, Pyongyang-Kualarumpur, Pyongyang-Singapore and Pyongyang-Kuwait.

Being a North Korean owned airline carried along side its own downsides and apparently brought untold vilifying notes to Air Koryo. The once flourishing airline was humorously dubbed the worlds worst airline. This is basically due to the political pressures and the sanctioning of the parent country by the United Nations.

Although it still flourished in domestic travels, Air Koryo had a tough time in international travels with its international routes slashed down to its two northern neighbors, China and Russia. As a matter of fact, China restricted the airline after an emergency landing. According to its website, Air Koryo operated services from Pyongyang to Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai, Vladivostok and Orang.

Ordinary citizens just cant afford to use airplanes because air travel requires such a complicated procedure and tickets are ridiculously expensive. People who hope to use a plane should first get a travel certificate and apply for an approval number at local offices. Bribes are necessary in the process. High officials can easily receive an approval number without having to give bribes, but thats not the case with general citizens. They also need to report their flight purposes to security officials in their regions. On the surface, North Korea says it operates domestic flights for the convenience of the public. But in practice, it is almost impossible for citizens to travel by plane.


The history of the Norths civil aviation dates to 10 December 1946, when an aircraft construction central committee was established. In December of 1953, North Korea signed an agreement with the Soviet Union on a joint venture air company to start the first regular international flight service between Pyongyang and Chita in eastern Siberia via the Chinese city of Shenyang. In May of 1954, North Korea opened the first regular domestic air routes linking Pyongyang with two major cities in the northern part of the country, Hamheung and Chongjin. In September of 1955, the nation brought in planes from the Soviet Union to establish the Korea Aviation Service Company and began to operate the Civil Aviation Administration of Korea under the Cabinet. Jet Operations in Air Koryo began in 1975. This started with the Tupolev Tu-154 providing its services from Pyongyang to Prague, East Berlin and Mosow. The first Tupolev Tu-154 was delivered in 1975 for services to Prague, East Berlin and Moscow. Domestic services also commenced but these were operated with Tu-134s and An-24s. Air Koryo operated four Ilyushin Il-62s, including two in VIP configuration.

At the onset, Tu-154 had insufficient range and had to stop along the route to refuel, however, efficiency was boosted to enable Tu-154 to have a non-stop service to Moscow for the first time in 1982. The airline also served Sofia and Belgrade.

Air Koryo joined the International Air Transport Association in 1996 and was given a two-character airline code, JS. Air Koryo operates services to Beijing, Shanghai and Macau in China and Vladivostok in Russia.

Expansion became needful which resulted to the purchase of Tu-204-300 aircraft and more in order to replace the ageing infrastructure. Air Koryos routes covered a greater portion of Europe and in 2011 it began providing services to Kuwait and Kuala Lumpur.

Air Koryo has been ranked as the worlds worst airline for five consecutive times. Air Koryo has been awarded just one star by Skytrax, a U.K.-based air transport rating agency, for five consecutive years from 2012 to 2016. That means it has received an extremely poor mark in safety. As a matter of fact, Skytrax, a UK-based airline and airport consultancy, ranked Air Koryo as the 681th airline in the world with respect to the quality of its services and products. It is the only airline that has received a one-star rating. The services conspicuously prove that it is indeed the worst in the world.

Besides, to must fly with the airline, passengers must abide by its strict rules including the no-photography rule and if you dare to take a picture, a flight attendant might help delete it. Travelers are said to be sternly warned simply because they crumpled up a newspaper bearing the image of Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader.

However, the popularly known worlds worst airline is currently undergoing a revolution. The marked revolutions include the entertainment options, smart new uniforms for the cabin attendants, the planes, improvement in food served and so forth.

North Korea began operating domestic flights in 2014 when the airfare between Pyongyang and Samjiyon was 92 dollars, while it cost 83 dollars for a flight between Pyongyang and Orangson. It was an extremely high price to pay for North Koreans, as it was 250 times more than the ordinary workers monthly salary of 0.3 dollars. Moreover, traveling is strictly restricted in the North, and air travel in particular, is possible only for the privileged. Even if people manage to get aboard, they are not very satisfied with outdated Air Koryo planes.

There had been growing unrest over North Korea nuclear tests. The Pyongyangs fourth nuclear test and rocket launch which leveraged the proscribed ballistic missile technology has attracted stern sanction by the U.N. Security Council. Various countries endorsed the U.N. sanction on North Korea and of course this endorsement meant a termination in some of Air Koryos air routes.

Various flights have been terminated following the effect of this sanction such as the once-a-week flights on a route that connects Pyongyang to Bangkok through Shenyang in the Northeastern part of China because the Thai government subscribed to the U.N. sanction.

Beyond the commonly held poor services of Air Koryo, the U.N. sanction has had its toll on the airline with the number of countries which the airline flies dwindling from five to two and its flights limited to only China and Russia.

The US deployed several bureaucratic means to pressurize North Korea prior to UN ruling, however China would not oblige. This brought about a loggerhead between the two giants. The US knew too well that even though its allies has consented to curtail Air Koryos activities and restricted its abilities, China and Russia in particular may not grant Americas request on the issue. However, the US vowed to continue pushing countries to ban the airline from their airport.

As of September, 2016 Kuwait still allowed Air Koryo to use their airports, however, just recently the airline is no longer permitted to operate the Pyongyang-Kuwait route and Kuwait cited the U.N sanction as the reason for their action.

There appears to be a smooth relationship between North Korea and Russia as well as China. However, China has refused to increase its flights to North Korea. According to the Chinese civil aviation authorities, the refusal to allow additional flights is not a ban; however the action reason for the action is not disclosed. Moreover, China had earlier limited the operations of Air Koryo after a Beijing bound flight made an emergency landing in July, 2016.

Due to safety and maintenance concerns, Air Koryo was added to the list of air carriers banned in the European Union in March 2006. The European Commission found evidence of serious safety deficiencies on the part of Air Koryo during ramp inspections in France and Germany. Air Koryo persistently failed to address these issues during other subsequent ramp inspections performed by the EU under the SAFA programme, pointing to blatant systemic safety deficiencies at Air Koryo operations.

The airline failed to reply to an inquiry by the French Civil Aviation Authority regarding its safety operations, pointing to a lack of transparency or communication on the part of Air Koryo. The plan by Air Koryo for corrective action, presented in response to Frances request, was found to be inadequate and insufficient. The European Commission also held that North Korean authorities did not adequately oversee the flag carrier, which it was obliged to do under the Chicago Convention.

Tupolev Tu-204 airliners remain in demand with foreign customers as the most relevant Russian civil aircraft abroad today. In 2007, the Aviastar-SP plant in Ulyanovsk made and exported four aircraft of the type, with two Tu-204-100E airliners and a Tu-204CE freighter leased by Cubana de Aviacion from Ilyushin Finance Co. in 2007 and the first Tu-204-300 shipped to North Korea before year-end 2007.

Now owned by North Korean airline Air Koryo, the Tu-204-300 became the first aircraft of this version exported and the first Russian aircraft exported to North Korea after a long interruption. The contract on a Tu-204-300 for North Korea was signed in April 2006. On 27 December 2007, the aircraft built by Aviastar-SP took off from the factory airfield, heading for North Korea. The manufacturer also counted on the North Korean air company to order another Tu-204-300, which in fact happened.

The North Korean Tu-204-300 with registration number P-632 is based on the airframe of medium-haul Tu-204 No. 64012 made in Ulyanovsk as far back as 1993. From the late 1990s, it had been stored at the manufacturing plant following a brief stint with Vnukovo Airlines. During its overhaul and upgrade, two sections measuring a total of 6 m were cut out of the fuselage, with the airliner turning into the Tu-204-300 shrink. The Tu-204-300 has a nominal range of 5,600 km with maximum payload of 18,000 kg, while the Tu-214 with extra fuel tanks has a range of 9,000 km with a payload of just over 5,000 kg. The distance between Pyongyang and Tehran is about 6,400 km, and most Tu-204 variants would have a pyaload of about 15,000 kg at that range.

Air Koryos continual decline was obviously predictable. The North Korea owned airline is highly disadvantaged and it would take a determined effort to mitigate the brouhaha. It is obviously not a question of becoming a five-star airline but improving its services.

The U.N ban is one of the most austere challenges and drawback facing Air Koryo and this is evidently difficult to overcome because it is political. It would require North Korea to submit to the United Nations which would include submitting its nuclear tests and experiments and also playing by the rules. This is not easy to come by and North Korea is not likely to oblige being still backed by Russia. Thus, mitigating the effect of the sanction might be a whole lot difficult for Air Koryo.

However, Air Koryo still faced teeming issues because of its poor infrastructure, products and services. The recent restrictions in China resulted due to the poor and ageing infrastructure.

Obviously, improvement in services is critical to the success of Air Koryo and the good news is that North Korean supreme leader, Kim Jong Un, has seen the need to improve the countrys aviation sector in order to boost tourism. In general, the future of Air Koryo is not very bright especially because of the U.N ban and the U.S is relentless in ensuring that the North Korean nuclear power is subdued and also neighboring countries are warned not to supply jet fuel to the country to hinder its nuclear project. Nevertheless, advancement in the nations aviation sector is critical.

On 02 December 2016 in response to North Koreas September 2016 nuclear test, ongoing prohibited development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and continued violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs), the U.S. Department of the Treasurys Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated 16 entities and seven individuals for their ties to the Government of North Korea or its nuclear and weapons proliferation efforts and identified 16 aircraft blocked as property of a designated entity. OFAC designated Air Koryo for operating in the transportation industry in the North Korean economy and identified 16 aircraft in which it has an interest.

To support its activities, Air Koryo has representative offices all around the world. The consequences of this designation include a prohibition against U.S. persons engaging in transactions or dealings with Air Koryo and the freezing of all of Air Koryos property and interest in property in the United States or which come within the United States or the possession or control of U.S. persons.

As U.N. sanctions required North Korean workers abroad to be repatriated by 22 December 2019, promoting tourism would be the only option to earn foreign currency for the North. So, North Korea and China have expanded bilateral air routes. It comes as little surprise that most of Air Koryos international flights are to China, although it temporarily suspended flights to and from China and Russia due to the COVID-19 virus.


Air Koryo is North Koreas only commercial airline. Its fleet of 64 planes consists of 29 main and 35 secondary models, mostly from Russia.

Fleet included:

  • 5 Mil Mi-17D Helicopters
  • 5 Antonov An-24R and An-24RV aircraft
  • 1 Antonov An-148-100B
  • 2 Ilyushin Il-18D and Il-18V aircraft
  • 4 Ilyushin Il-62M aircraft
  • 3 Ilyushin Il-76MD aircraft
  • 2 Tupolev Tu-134B-2 aircraft
  • 2 Tupolev Tu-154B and Tu-154B-2 aircraft
  • 1 Tupolev Tu-204-300
  • 1 Tupolev Tu-204-100

On December 2, 2016, OFAC identified the following 16 Air Koryo aircraft as blocked pursuant to E.O. 13722, Blocking Property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers' Party of Korea, and Prohibiting Certain Transactions With Respect to North Korea:

  1. P-532; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1974; Aircraft Model AN24-RV
  2. P-533; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1974; Aircraft Model AN24-RV
  3. P-537; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1966; Aircraft Model AN24-B
  4. P-552; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1976; Aircraft Model T154-B
  5. P-561; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1983; Aircraft Model T154-B
  6. P-632; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1994; Aircraft Model T204-300
  7. P-633; Aircraft Manufacture Date 2009; Aircraft Model T204-100
  8. P-671; Aircraft Manufacture Date 2012; Aircraft Model A148-100
  9. P-672; Aircraft Manufacture Date 2015; Aircraft Model A148-100
  10. P-813; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1983; Aircraft Model T134-B
  11. P-835; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1969; Aircraft Model IL18-D
  12. P-881; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1986; Aircraft Model IL62-M
  13. P-885; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1979; Aircraft Model IL62-M
  14. P-912; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1990; Aircraft Model IL76-TD
  15. P-913; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1990; Aircraft Model IL76-TD
  16. P-914; Aircraft Manufacture Date 1990; Aircraft Model IL76-TD

Air Koryos obsolete fleet is at the very bottom of world airline rankings, in terms of safety, technical failures, in-flight meals and customer service.

Former leader Kim Jong-il never used an airplane and traveled only by rail. In contrast, his son and current leader Kim Jong-un is known to be pretty much attached to airplanes. Foreign media called Kim Jong-uns private jet Air Force Un, compared to Air Force One, the U.S. presidential aircraft. Kim used his jet Chammae-1 [Northern Goshawk] when he inspected the Dongchang-ri missile launch site right before the long-range missile test-firing in February of 2017 and also when he observed the construction site of the Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang in February of 2015. At the time, North Korean media unveiled the photo of the inside of the jet.

Kim Jong-uns private jet, codenamed Chammae-1, is a modified version of Ilyushin-62M airliner, which is the Soviet-era jet. It can fly at a top speed of 900 kilometers per hour and accommodate up to 200 people. Before the first North Korea-U.S. summit in Singapore in 2018 and the second one in Vietnam in 2019, it was a point of speculation if he would fly to the summit venue on his private jet. It turned out that he used different transportation means due to safety concerns. But in November, he boarded his jet and flew to the Wonsan-Kalma coastal area, where a large-scale tourist zone was under construction, to watch air training of the Air Force.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:42:45 ZULU