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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A new chartered route operated by North Korean state carrier Air Koryo between Pyongyang and the Chinese city of Dalian has begun operations, according to Chinese media outlets and flight tracker data.
A Liaoning Province government website originally reported on the opening of the route earlier in the month, reporting that its first flight occurred on September 13, carrying 67 passengers to North Korea in the late afternoon.
That report said the “Dalian Airport Border Inspection Department will organize special business training in the early stage of flight opening to systematically study the visa policies, daily Korean language, and precautions for handling procedures in China and North Korea.”
Additional details were then released by state-owned China News Service (CNS), which provided different times and stated the new chartered route would consist of a total of 12 flights: twice-weekly every Thursday and Sunday between September 13 and October 21.
Chinese tourists must utilize a travel agency to book flights, it added, saying “it is convenient for Chinese tourists to apply for visas to North Korea – usually within 5 to 7 working days.”
Departing from Pyongyang Sunan International Airport (FNJ) Thursday and Sunday mornings at 0830 local time, the new flight – number JS821 – arrives at Dalian Zhoushuizi International Airport (DLC) around an hour and 20 minutes later.
The return flight – number JS822 – is then scheduled to depart for Pyongyang at 0950 local time and arrive an hour and ten minutes later.
Data from tracking service Flightradar24 shows the initial flight out of DLC leaving at 1653, and flights on September 16, 20, and 23 departing Dalian around an hour after the scheduled time.
Flight times were unavailable for the Pyongyang-Dalian leg of the journey for all but one of the four days the route has run so far, with the most recent on Sunday showing an 0834 departure time from Pyongyang.
All flights so far have used an Antonov An-148 aircraft (P-671), though China News Service coverage stated the Tupolev Tu-204 aircraft was also an option for the route.
NK Pro’s Aviation Tracker data shows the P-671 also operating on routes to Shenyang, Beijing, and Vladivostok in recent months.
The Pyongyang-Vladivostok route, however – which had alternated between the Antonov and Tupolev planes – ceased using the P-671 in mid-August, and has exclusively used an Ilyushin Il-62M since September 17.
At present, Air Koryo operates official international routes from Pyongyang to Shenyang, Beijing, and Vladivostok, with additional charter operations (not shown on their website) to Shanghai and now Dalian.
The Shanghai route also runs every Thursday and Sunday, departing from China just after midnight.
But NK Pro Aviation Tracker, supported by inconsistencies in Flightradar24 data, suggests that it did not operate between August 13 and September 12, coinciding with a ban on Chinese tour operators for roughly the same period.
Flight tracker data suggests the Shenyang route suffered some effects of the tourism ban as well, with at least two Monday flights of the Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday schedule cancelled in August.
Other new Air Koryo routes to Xian and Chengdu, announced in May and tentatively set to begin in July, are yet to start.
It is also unclear how long the Dalian charter will last beyond the scheduled October end date, as Air Koryo has operated charters to various cities in the past for only limited runs, including to Taiyuan, Jinan, and even Dalian before.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Dalian Zhoushuizi Airport