This trip report can be seen in Youtube video format from below link. It is highly recommended and work as a substitute from reading this trip report.
Flying Air Koryo Tu-204 in Business Class
Japan’s colonial possessions, including Korea, were divided among the victors of World War 2, creating a US-sponsored South Korea and a Soviet-sponsored communist North Korea, formally the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK).
The Korean War broke out after five years of partition. After three years of battle with major participation by the USA and China and the loss of over two million lives, the only result was a ceasefire back at the 38th Parallel, where the border had been at the start of the war. A peace treaty has never been signed and a state of war continues to exist, over sixty years later.
The politics of this stalemate has made the DPRK one of the least visited and least understood countries in the world. However it is possible to travel there through a small number of tour operators who work in co-operation with the Korean International Travel Company (KITC), the state-owned organisation based in Pyongyang who make all local arrangements and provide guides.
One such tour operator is Juche Travel Services, with offices in London and Beijing; it’s leader, David Thompson-Rowlands, was sufficiently aviation-literate to know that Air Koryo operates hardware unique in the world, and would be of interest to enthusiasts. After months of planning with the KITC, the first aviation-themed tour of the DPRK was announced for May 2012.
The DPRK is now the only country in the world where you can reliably fly on all major Soviet era aircraft in one place. The week-long tour itineraries allow enthusiasts to fly on up to 8 different aircraft types on both scheduled international and internal charter flights. Once is not enough, so I decided to go again. I am curious to see any changes in the country and of course flying the Soviet Classic again. With that ambition I embarked on my 2nd DPRK Aviation Tour in this September.
North Korea’s national airline started life in 1945 as SOKAO (Soviet-North Korean Airline), flying to Vladivostok, Beijing and Chita with Li-2 and An-2. It was taken over by the DPRK’s Ministry Of Communications in 1954 and renamed UKAMPS, adding the Il-12, Il-14 and Il-18 in the 1960s. In 1975 the airline was renamed Chosonminhang, aka CAAK (Civil Aviation Authority of Korea, in the style of China’s CAAC) in time to receive it’s first jetliner, a Tu-154, opening service to Europe for the first time – to Moscow, Prague, and East Berlin with stops in Irkutsk and Novosibirsk.
The first Il-62 was delivered in 1979, opening non-stop service to Moscow and adding Sofia and Belgrade, and Tu-134s joined in the 80s for regional flights. In 1993 the airline was given it’s current name, Air Koryo, and in 2008 received a pair of Tupolev Tu-204s – one -100 and one short body -300 “SP”. Today the airline flies to Beijing and Shenyang in China, Vladivostok in Russia and operates long-haul routes to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and Kuwait.
All tour members collected their visa (tourist paper) to DPRK and we enjoyed a great show as usual at Haitunghwa restaurant. Teaming up with Skyshirts, we’ve made a special t-shirt of Air Koryo for the tour and was sold out instantly. (http://www.skyshirts.com/koryo-p-643.html)
My latest book features North Korea on the cover (http://SamChuiPhotos.com/Air3) was also sold out on the spot.
Flying Air Koryo Tu-204-100B in Business Class
Business Class Red Carpet Welcome
Long queue but orderly check-in
Air Koryo Business Class customer use Air China lounge in T2.
Station Manager Mr Kim received my latest book features North Korea from my last trip in 2012.
Our plane, reg P-633 await.
Seating at 3F, last row of Business Class. Total 12 seats.
Seat Pitch is 42”. Not bad for a 1.5 hours flight.
Economy Class. Total capacity on the Tu-204-100B is C12Y164 =176
Much anticipated in-flight service started after takeoff. Cabin crew spotted wearing new blue uniform (Old one was red) advised by new leader Marshall Kim. They took their jacket off to start the service.
Sandwich for the main course. Rather disappointing as in 2012 we had a 5 course meal. This sandwich came from Pyongyang, it seems Air Koryo did not load catering from Beijing anymore.
A sandwich is surely not enough, so I asked a Koryo Burger brought up from economy class. The burger maintained consistency in taste from 2 years ago.
An unidentified airfield in North Korea during descend. We have a mid air scare onboard the Tu-204. Throughout the flight, we can feel many manual turning and follow by correction like a fighter jet, perhaps it was a training flight? At one instance the plane start to fall to the right and we can feel it is falling out of horizon, the next second a steep left correction came in resulted in some dramatic cabin movements. It was very bad but luckily that was the last turn. To this day, I still felt the trauma of those large steep turns. That was the hot topic on the dinner table that night but nobody knew what the exact cause was and what happened inside the cockpit.
Arriving at Pyongyang Sunan Airport recovering from a bad bumpy landing (very un-Air Koryo, usually their landing is perfect)
The airport main apron is undergoing construction so active Air Koryo planes are parked on the taxiway.
I am glad to set foot in North Korea again, hoping things will be better and for good this time.
The service was polite and attentive on Air Koryo Business Class. Seat was fine for 1.5 hour flight. The only disappointment was there wasn’t much food for an international flight. Two years ago, a full multi course lunch was served on fine bone China. They have cut down the food now perhaps in line with US carriers
Our hotel: Koryo Hotel (4 star standard)