Air Koryo, North Korea’s national airline, has operated its first flight from Pyongyang to Kuwait since February, according to data from FlightRadar24.
The flight, JS 161 landed at Kuwait International Airport (KWI) on May 17, with the JS162 return flight arriving in Pyongyang on May 18. The flight also made its scheduled transit stop in Islamabad, Pakistan on both occasions.
This represents only the third time the JS161 and JS162 flights have operated in 2016 and the first since February 23 and 24, when the route was seemingly stalled.
The route, which started operating in 2011, flew intermittently with historical data showing a total of nine round-trip flights in the last 12 months.
Flights between North Korea and Kuwait were conducted in May, June, September, October, November and December 2015, with November featuring two round trip flights along the route.
The route is conducted by Air Koryo’s P-632 and P-633 Tupolev jets. While seven of the 2015 JS161/JS162 flights were conducted by Air Koryo’s P-632 plane, the May 17 and 18 flights were operated by its P-633 plane.
FlightRadar24 tracking data of the May 17 flight shows that the P-633 passed through the air spaces of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and eventually its destination, Kuwait.
The flight also represents the first time the route has been flown since the passing of United Nations Resolution 2270, which expanded sanctions on North Korea, including in the aviation sector.
This potentially could impact North Korea’s long haul scheduled flights, including the seemingly halted JS253 and JS254 return flight to Bangkok, last operated in late April.
Resolution 2270 prevents UN member states from selling or supplying North Korea with “aviation fuel, aviation gasoline, naptha-type jet fuel, kerosene-type jet fuel and kerosene-type rocket fuel”.
Notably, this provision does not apply “with respect to the sale or supply of aviation fuel to civilian passenger aircraft outside the DPRK exclusively for consumption during its flight to the DPRK and its return flight.”
While the sanctions covering jet fuel have been adopted, the wording of the resolution leaves some room for interpretation.
“It is unclear from the wording of Resolution 2270 whether the exemption for ‘civilian passenger aircraft’ includes North Korean charter flights which are not scheduled to return to the country in question,” Andrea Berger, deputy director of the Proliferation and Nuclear Policy team at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told NK News on May 10.
“In the absence of such clarification, it can reasonably be argued that an Air Koryo charter plane which lands in a foreign country should be allowed to refuel there if it is carrying non-military passengers and is subsequently returning directly to Pyongyang.”
However, Berger also said that the this argument is made more difficult if a long-haul charter flight stops in a third country along the way.
“Clarification on the precise definition of ‘civilian passenger aircraft’ would help eliminate opportunities for variable interpretation of this provision,” Berger added.
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Featured Image: North Korea - Air Koryo Tupolev by Roman Harak on 2010-09-08 06:42:50