UPDATE: Story updated July 30, 17.45 KT to add detail about purpose of flights
Five North Korean Air Koryo flights are, unusually, scheduled to fly to Vladivostok on Monday, data from the Russian airport’s arrival board currently shows.
Notably, three of the five arrivals will operate using Ilyushin-76 cargo aircraft – the type Kim Jong Un uses to transport his armored limousine overseas – while two are using Il-62 and Tupolev-154 passenger planes, the data shows.
“Today (Air Koryo) are flying extra flights apart from standard passenger ones,” a spokesperson from Vladivostok airport told NK News of the extra movements on Monday.
Two of the scheduled round-trips are for passenger flights, the spokesperson explained, but “all the rest are cargo ones.”
Cargo flights using the IL-76 type plane between Pyongyang and Vladivostok are extremely rare, with the NK Pro Aviation Tracker showing no flights using that aircraft type in data between 2010 to 2018.
It’s unclear what might, therefore, be being transported on Monday between the two cities.
One informed source suggested, however, that the unusual flight movements are to collect overseas North Korean workers and their belongings from the Russian far-east.
Russia’s labor ministry was recently unable to approve an annual quota of North Korean workers to stay longer to work on new contracts there, meaning that even though they have legal contracts to continue working, they have to go home due to migration status issues, the source said.
North Korea’s state airline typically only flies two scheduled round-trips a week between Pyongyang and Vladivostok, one on Monday and one on Friday, using code JS271 for flights to Russia and JS272 back to DPRK.
In recent weeks, however, the airline has been spotted flying additional passenger services on some Mondays and Fridays, using flight codes JS371/372, including last Friday according to one photo seen by NK News.
But those extra flight codes don’t appear in Air Koryo’s published summer timetable and have only been detected by NK News by chance in recent weeks, implying that they’re flown to relieve occasional extra passenger demand.
Some of the recent JS371/372 movements have in recent weeks been flown with Air Koryo IL-62M passenger jets – the same type that also serves as Kim Jong Un’s state aircraft.
This had led to South Korea’s Yonhap News, among others, falsely claiming that the DPRK leader’s plane had been spotted in Vladivostok in July, something the airport quickly denied.
North Korea has a total of three IL-62M jets, one in Air Koryo livery and two in state colors.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Sunan International Airport, Pyongyang, North Korea by yeowatzup on 2008-09-29 17:09:11