Air Koryo: North Korea’s National Airline
What is Air Koryo?
Air Koryo (고려항공) is the flag carrier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and currently the only airline to operate in the nation’s airports outside the capital Pyongyang which is also served by Air China, the national carrier of the People’s Republic of China. Air Koryo, like all businesses in the country is a state owned corporation and operates domestic and international flights, some scheduled, others chartered. Major cities aside from Pyongyang in the country will be served exclusively by Air Koryo who provide passenger and cargo flights between airports.
Air Koryo Illyushin Il-18
History of the airline
The airline was founded as a joint venture with the USSR, named the Soviet-North-Korean airline. The airline provided Pyongyang-Moscow flights and was placed under the control of the Civil Aircraft Administration of Korea in 1955. Over the next decade, the fleet grew to contain numerous turboprop aircraft including:
- Lisunov Li-2
- Antonov An-2
- Illyushin Il-12
- Illyushin Il-14
- Illyushin Il-18
The 1970s saw the first jet aircraft delivered to Pyongyang to begin routes to Moscow and Eastern Europe. Tu-154s, Tu-134s and An-24s were delivered to the airline with the 154 aircraft flying the long haul routes with fuelling stop offs in the Soviet Union. The other aircraft allowed for more efficient domestic flights.
The 1980s saw an increase in the number of Tupolev 154s in the CAAK fleet, and the first Illyushin 62 was also delivered in 1982 flying the first non-stop flights to Moscow and Eastern Europe direct from Pyongyang. This expansion would reverse in the years following the fall of the USSR when international routes decreased in number due to the lack of communist countries that still existed and were in range.
1992, a year after the fall of the USSR saw the CAAK rebranded as ‘Air Koryo’ and a year later, the newly rebranded airline took delivered of 3 Il-76s to carry cargo on a regional scale (primarily to Russia and China). The first decade of the 20th century saw a closer relationship with China as the fleet began to modernise. The airline bought a pair of Tu-204s and flights to Dalian and Shanghai began in 2009. China is still the main destination of most international Air Koryo flights.
Short-lived routes to Kuala Lumpur and Kuwait City were flown in the early 2010s however sanctions and souring relations resulted in their closure. Meanwhile more destinations in China opened up as scheduled or charter destinations, making China the only foreign country currently to receive Air Koryo flights with the exception of Vladivostok, Russia.
Tupolev Tu-154 in Air Koryo livery
- Beijing. Air Koryo offers multiple flights a week between Beijing International Airport and Pyongyang, Sunan International Airport. This route is the primary method of entry for tourists coming to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and so is somewhat of a lifeline for foreign investment and foreign currency.
- Shanghai. One of China’s largest cities, a regular flight is scheduled to and from the city to Sunan International Airport.
- Shenyang. Aside from Beijing, Shenyang is probably the most used airport for flights into the DPRK. The Air Koryo timetable currently shows flights between the two cities are scheduled for Wednesdays and Fridays under the callsigns JS-155 (to Shenyang) and JS-156 (to Pyongyang).
- Yanji, Harbin, Dalian, Changchun. These cities in northern China serve Air Koryo, however the flights are not regularly scheduled and instead are chartered flights run by the airline for specific purposes. Nonetheless they are still international destinations flown to by Air Koryo
- Vladivostok. The Russian port city a few kilometres from the small border between the Russian Federation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is served on Mondays and Fridays by JS-271 and JS-272.
- Pyongyang [Sunan Int’l]
- Nampo [Onchon]
- Chongjin [Orang]
- Hamhung [Toksan]
Modern Tu-204 in Air Koryo livery at Sunan International Airport