EU Upholds Flight Ban

North Korea's state-run fleet of Soviet-made aircraft is banned again from flying in Europe.

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koryo-305.jpg Illustration from the official Web site of Air Koryo
Photo: Air Koryo

SEOULThe European Union has upheld its flying ban on North Korea's state-run airline, Air Koryo, forbidding the carrier from operating anywhere in the 27-nation bloc, officials said.

"In 2010, Air Koryo has, once again, not been removed from the list of carriers whose operations are fully banned in the European Union," Fabio Pirotta, European Commission spokesman for transport, said in an interview translated into Korean.

Pirotta said Pyongyang had failed to implement measures or put effort into improving air transport safety.

"[The government] has also failed to submit requisite timely and accurate reports to the EU’s transport safety inspection and audit agencies," he added.

Air Koryo had one of the lowest scores of all airlines evaluated, Pirotta said.

Poor record

Air Koryo currently operates 20 airliners, mostly Soviet-made airplanes manufactured in the 1960s and 70s, many of which are in a poor state of repair, according to former passengers.

Passenger reviews of Air Koryo posted online also highlighted safety as a key concern.

"Interesting to say the least," wrote one reviewer who said he had flown from Beijing to Pyongyang's Sunan Airport.

"Outbound was oldest plane I have ever seen in my life (Il-62), and literally falling apart at the seams."

Reviewers also cited a lack of seating for cabin crew, and of covers for overhead baggage lockers.

"Amusing to see the crew hanging onto the galley for dear life on takeoff and landing!" commented another reviewer.

They said revolutionary music was played ahead of takeoff and landing, along with announcements about North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il, however.

"The experience was, to say the least, memorable," wrote another former passenger.

"I'll never forget the feeling of impending dread and doom as we descended down to Sunan Airport."

Great deficiences

According to documents from a safety assessment of Air Koryo by French and German authorities, “severe deficiencies” were identified in the "descent trajectory" used by North Korean pilots, while the probability of instrument failure was judged to be high.

According to the report, Air Koryo failed to follow operational guidelines conforming to requisite safety standards, and scored below average on "transparency and communication systems."

The airline's Web site does list items which are banned from hand luggage for safety reasons, including explosives, flammable liquids, radioactive materials, and poison.

The airline also warns passengers: "Baggage might be subject to search upon arrival in Pyongyang."

It warns that any passenger carrying forbidden items including radio sets, GPS or navigational equipment, or any written material about North Korea published outside the country could be subject to deportation.

Small fleet

The size of the airline's fleet began to decline following the economic crisis of the early 1990s triggered by an end to subsidies from China and Russia.

Pyongyang International Airport is the only North Korean airport supporting overseas scheduled passenger flights, housing Russian-made cargo freighters, two Il-62 long-range passenger jets, two Il-18 turboprops and some Tupolev Tu-134 and Tu-154 medium-range jets, according to an article in the online edition of Flight Global magazine.

The airline has suffered only one known serious crash, in 1983 in Guinea, in which 23 people died, as well as a runway overrun in wet weather with no casualties, reported in 2006 in Pyongyang.

The European Commission compiles a list of airlines that have failed to comply with requisite safety standards and are therefore banned from flying through EU airspace.

Pirotta told reporters in Brussels that the EU works closely with governments and airlines on safety issues before deciding to ban an airline, and that such bans are made only as a last resort.

Original reporting in Korean by Ahreum Jeong. Korean service director: Bong Park. Translated from the Korean by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Jan 20, 2010 10:11 AM

I think that Air Koryo has a strong safe record, if you compare it to other major airlines. Having only one major incident back in 83 is one lost, but look at other carriers that contantly have problems all the time. It's time the EU should smarten up. Sure they are old planes. It should bother anyone. North Korea is a country that has ther most safest airplanes in the world.