- Air Koryo, North Korea's flag carrier, resumed commercial flights to Vladivostok after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions.
- The recent flight to Vladivostok did not have any passengers onboard, and the airline has not officially announced the flight schedules.
- The airline also reintroduced international operations with a flight to Beijing.
Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned flag carrier, returned to Vladivostok, a far eastern city in Russia, on Friday after a hiatus of more than three years due to COVID-19 restrictions. The flight reportedly represents the resumption of commercial flights between the two countries.
The service is the second route Air Koryo has launched in light of easing pandemic restrictions. Earlier this week, the airline reintroduced international operations, flying to Beijing.
A flight without passengers
According to The Korea Times, Russian news agency RIA Novosti confirmed that Air Koryo’s Vladivostok-bound flight departed from Pyongyang International Airport (FNJ) and arrived at 11:14. The plane, however, did not have any passengers onboard, and flight schedules were not officially announced.
Russian media outlets had indicated that flights were scheduled on Friday, but the flight schedules remained undisclosed. Despite any further information on the flight, passengers were reportedly seen preparing to board the aircraft to return to Pyongyang.
The Korea Times reported that screens at the airport appeared to display some information about the flight, showing Air Koryo flight 272 would depart Vladivostok International Airport at 13:15. The flight, however, was delayed until 13:45 and the airport reportedly did not have additional details about the delay.
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Reinstating the flights?
Around 15:10, the flight was assumed to have departed since the flight information was no longer displayed in the airport. According to The Korea Times, airport workers did not comment on the flight, but one person believed the flight was to bring back North Korean citizens who were staying in Russia due to the border closure. It is unclear whether passengers were onboard the return flight, but according to Arirang News, another Air Koryo flight is set to arrive in Vladivostok on Monday.
Despite the lack of information, the airline has posted the basic fare of both newly introduced flights on its website. Flights from Vladivostok to Pyongyang start at $230, while Beijing to Pyongyang flights start at $240.
Air Koryo operated semiweekly service to Vladivostok with the Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft but suspended the flights in February 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The flight was the only commercial air service between North Korea and Russia, according to The Korea Times.
Travel from the US
North Korea has had a slow reopening of air travel as the country started allowing limited international passenger travel recently. According to FOX Business, the nation’s travel infrastructure is primarily restricted to elites and does not provide flights outside its few allies. Last month, the US Department of State issued a travel advisory warning travelers not to travel to North Korea.
“Do not travel to North Korea due to the continuing serious risk of arrest and long-term detention of U.S. nationals,” the agency said. “Exercise increased caution to North Korea due to the critical threat of wrongful detention.”
The agency also said all US passports are invalid for travel to, in, or through the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea unless they are specially validated by the Secretary of State. The US Government can also not provide emergency services to US citizens stuck in the country since diplomatic or consular relations do not exist.