Air Koryo Still Unwelcome in EU

Those wanting to fly into the European Union on North Korea’s state-owned Air Koryo will have to wait another year at least, after the EU renewed its ban on the airline, prohibiting it from entering EU airspace.

This is the fifth consecutive year that the EU has banned Air Koryo, although it has been banned from a number of EU territories including Britain and France for considerably longer than that. The list of reasons for the ban include not only evidence of serious safety deficiencies not subsequently addressed, but also a systemic lack of oversight and a lack of transparency on the part of the airline, and unsatisfactory efforts to redeem the situation.

In the past, Air Koryo operated routes into many East European cities, including Berlin. However, with the end of the Cold War and long before the EU ban, most of those were terminated. Now, North Korea’s main air connections to the outside world are by Air Koryo to Beijing, although Air China also operates into Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport on Mondays and Fridays.

Despite being unable to purchase aircraft from either Boeing or Airbus due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. and EU respectively, in recent years Air Koryo has made some efforts to update its fleet of Soviet-era Ilyushin and Tupolev aircraft with more modern, Russian equipment. It took delivery of the first of two Tupolev TU-204-300s in 2007, and these have allowed it to reach Bangkok and Singapore. The Tupoloev TU-204-100B is a longer range version of the same craft, and Air Koryo is apparently due to receive one during 2010.