Air Koryo plane that made emergency landing was one of its newer aircraft

An Air Koryo flight has had to make an emergency landing in Shenyang after the cabin filled with smoke.

The plane, belonging to the North’s national carrier, was flying to Beijing from Pyongyang when it made a forced landing because of the smoke, the airport said in a short statement on its microblog.

The aircraft made a safe emergency landing, and “nothing abnormal” was found in its condition, although an investigation was underway, it added.

Xinhua, which had initially reported a fire, cited a passenger as saying the smoke appeared about 30 minutes after takeoff, and flight crew told passengers not to panic as the plane landed.

“Later, oxygen masks dropped and several passengers began to have breathing difficulty because of the oxygen shortage in the cabin,” Xinhua said, adding that the plane landed 10 minutes later and no one on board was injured.

Fire trucks were dispatched and the aircraft was “smoking” when ground staff examined it, but no obvious fire was spotted, the passenger told the agency, which added that rain in Shenyang at the time of the landing may have averted a fire. [Reuters]

Thankfully, no one was hurt, although I’m sure the experience wasn’t pleasant. If there’s one thing worse than flying on a plane that’s had to make an emergency landing, it must be watching the mechanics scratch their heads for two hours and shrug their shoulders, and then boarding said plane again. But on the bright side, landing in Pyongyang might not seem quite so bad in those circumstances.

Although Air Koryo is often called the “world’s worst airline,” this label was obviously applied by people who (1) haven’t flown United or American lately, and (2) who suffer from severe astigmatism.


Even a staunch critic of the North Korean government has to commend Air Koryo’s heroic mechanics for keeping their ancient Tu-154s and Il-62s flying. Deutsche Welle breezily tosses out that “[i]nternational sanctions mean North Korea’s airliner fleet consists entirely of aging Soviet and Russian jets,” but then notes that this particular plane was a Tu-204-300. The Tu-204 first flew in 1989, but according to this site, Air Koryo acquired its aircraft from Russia in 2010. Even some of its older aircraft, such as its Il-62s, were purchased from Cuba in 2012. As recently as 2013, Air Koryo was able to purchase short-haul Antonovs from the Ukraine. In other words, sanctions haven’t prevented North Korea from purchasing newer planes, at least until very recently; Air Koryo’s budget has.

In 2015, the U.N. Panel of Experts cast its jaded eye on Air Koryo, and wrote this:

B. Air fleet

117. All civilian aircraft registered in the country continue to be owned and operated by the State-controlled airline, Air Koryo. The overall number in Air Koryo’s operational fleet has decreased since 2012. While there has been acquisition of some modern aircraft, the number of new acquisitions has been less significant than originally expected. Air Koryo has also acquired old aircraft, such as an Ilyushin Il-62 from Cuba in 2012, that have subsequently been cannibalized for spare parts.

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118. In its 2014 final report, the Panel highlighted the military role of Air Koryo aircraft painted in military camouflage that undertook a fly-over in the “Victory Day” military parade on 27 July 2013. The absence of boundaries between Air Koryo and the Korean People’s Army air force was further highlighted in 2014 when an Ilyushin 76TD aircraft was filmed dropping Korean People’s Army paratroopers as part of a military exercise (see figure XXIII).

119. Analysis of the fleet shows that the Ilyushin featured in the video is not a new addition to the air force, but rather an existing asset of the State-controlled fleet bearing the livery of an Air Koryo-registered Ilyushin 76TD aircraft. The Panel considers the military use of this aircraft through participation in the military exercise further evidence that Air Koryo shares part of its assets with the Korean People’s Army.

120. Given the evidence of military use, the Panel considers that providing financial transactions, technical training, advice, services or assistance relating to the provision, maintenance or use of Air Koryo’s cargo aircraft could constitute a violation of the embargo on all arms and related materiel as defined by paragraph 10 of resolution 1874 (2009).

NK News has caught Air Koryo repainting its aircraft in civilian and military colors on multiple occasions. Despite these concerns, and despite reports that passengers regularly carry banned luxury goods and bulk cash into North Korea on Air Koryo flights, the airline has not been designated by the U.N. Security Council or the U.S. Treasury.

Still, U.N. sanctions may have affected Air Koryo in other ways. New U.N. sanctions ban the sale of dual-use equipment and aviation fuel to North Korea, except to fuel specific civilian passenger flights. Since the U.N. passed its latest sanctions, various reports hold that Air Koryo has suspended regular service to Bangkok and (temporarily) to Kuwait City. News reports say that Air Koryo’s regular flights are mostly limited to nearby cities in China and Russia, but it runs charter flights to Malaysia and other destinations. The Air Koryo website, perhaps aspirationally, lists a larger number of destinations with blank spaces where the itineraries should be. The European Union banned most its aircraft several years ago over safety concerns, except for the Tu-204s.

Despite the safety concerns, Air Koryo’s career has been relatively free of incidents, and passenger comments on the Air Koryo experience, while not uniformly negative, make for interesting (and sometimes amusing) reading. This site has some excellent photographs of Air Koryo’s aircraft.

1 Comment

  1. Nice job by the pilots averting disaster, besides dumping the O2 masks…that actually makes for more of a fire hazard if there really is a fire onboard the aircraft [the O2 masks are only supposed to be used in decompression situations where breating is impossible at altitude and are actually combustible tanks–remember the Valujet crash in the Everglades].