North Korea’s state airline Air Koryo now produces tinned pheasant meat and has opened a branded shop, photos recently provided to NK News show, continuing the expansion of the brand’s range of services and products well beyond the aviation sector.
Ring-pull cans of pheasant meat featuring the airline’s logo were visible in March for sale at a Pyongyang hotel shop for 360 Korean Won ($3.37 at June 5’s official exchange rate), photographic evidence that the company has now expanded into the food production sector.
And at North Korea’s first ever mall, built at the recently opened Ryomyong Street complex, an entire shop dedicated to the airline company was spotted in May, a photo provided by Curtis Melvin of the U.S. Korea Institute in Washington DC showed.
While it’s not yet clear what the shop sells, the association would suggest a strong likelihood that branded Air Koryo goods, as well as tickets, are among the products.
The two developments complement an expansion of the airline – documented by NK News in February – into the soft drink and tobacco markets, and subsequent reports that Air Koryo is even managing a number of gas stations throughout the North.
The airline’s move beyond the aviation sector first started in late 2015, when photos showed the airline had entered the Pyongyang taxi sector, now reported by local citizens to be one of the most popular taxi companies in the city.
A source in Pyongyang told NK News in 2015 that the airline was involved in the dairy, construction and processed foods sectors, but didn’t provide photos to back up the claim.
Together, the developments show the airline increasingly evolving to become similar to a conglomerate. The brand is well known in North Korea and as such, could be being leveraged to promote emerging domestic products.
“They are after all the national carrier of a country where people have a great deal of national pride,” Simon Cockerell, General Manager of Koryo Tours, said of the airline’s involvement in the soft drinks and tobacco sectors earlier this year.
“I think having a modern fleet of aircraft and a new airport is something people are proud of their country having managed,” he continued, referring to the airline’s acquisition of four modern Russian and Ukrainian jets since 2008. “I would say (Air Koryo) has a good reputation and also an increasingly strong brand identity too.”
“Ultimately, this is all about making money,” Curtis Melvin, the Washington DC-based researcher, said in February. “Air Koryo is controlled by the KPA Air Force, so this is an interesting look at the military’s involvement in the civilian economy – and a look at how the military raises domestic funds outside of government control.”
“The KPA Air Force has seen numerous facility upgrades in the Kim Jong Un era and it is possible some of these upgrades were partially funded through commercial enterprises such as this.”
“In this particular instance, the national airline has been utilized as a branding label for a suite of commercial products available to foreign and domestic consumers.”
North Korean state media is yet to report on the airline’s expansion into other sectors.
The emergence of the Air Koryo shop and canned products comes as international pressure on the airline has increased in recent months.
Earlier this year both the U.S. and South Korea unilaterally sanctioned the airline, while there have been increasing calls for the UN to follow suit due to its ties to the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Air Force.
North Korean state airline Air Koryo’s twice-weekly shuttle service between Pyongyang Sunan International Airport and China’s Dandong International Airport was also suspended in May after just a month’s service, a development some observers said was linked to displeasure in Beijing about recent North Korean actions.
Featured image: NK News
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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