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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
DPRK delegates at inter-Korean aviation talks on Friday proposed connecting international air routes over the east and west coast of the peninsula, the ROK Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport (MOLIT) announced.
“The North Korean side proposed connecting international air routes over the east and west coast between the two Koreas,” the MOLIT said in a statement following the first-ever working-level talks on aviation cooperation between the two sides.
The talks took place at the joint liaison office located at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).
“In return, our side made a suggestion to continue discussions through talks between aviation authorities,” the ministry added, without providing further details.
The North in February requested the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which dictates territorial airspace, establish a new Air Traffic Service (ATS) route between Pyongyang and the Incheon Flight Information Region (FIR).
The ICAO told NK News at the time that it planned to hold a discussion over pending issues including the new route, air navigation, and safety matters with a DPRK representative in May.
The request was conveyed to the ROK Korea Office of Civil Aviation (KOCA) and was said to be under consideration.
The ROK MOLIT on Friday said the round of talks had “significance” as they saw North and South Korean aviation authorities meet for the first time.
Seoul and Pyongyang respectively dispatched a five-member delegation to Friday’s talks.
Son Myoung-soo, South Korean Deputy Minister for Civil Aviation at the MOLIT, participated in the meeting in the capacity of chief ROK delegate.
Deputy Director General of the General Administration of Civil Aviation (GACA) Ri Yong Son, in turn, led the DPRK delegation.
The South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Wednesday said North Korea had proposed the working-level aviation talks last week, though refused to confirm potential topics.
“It is not appropriate to make mention of North Korea’s intentions… based on our prejudgment,” ministry spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun told a press briefing.
Aviation cooperation was not an official agenda item during the third and fifth inter-Korean summits this year, though the two Koreas previously committed to establishing a direct air route between Seoul and Mount Paektu in the 2007 October 4 Declaration.
The plans never materialized.
South Korean airplanes were previously able to fly over North Korean airspace following the DPRK’s opening of the Pyongyang FIR to international traffic in 1998, though the flights were stopped when Seoul imposed unilateral sanctions in May 2010.
The May 24 Measures, announced in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette by the North, ban South Korean airplanes from flying over Pyongyang FIR.
South Korean national flag carrier Korean Air and the country’s Asiana Airlines respectively spent an average of around KRW2 billion (USD$1.7 million) and KRW700 (USD$619,414) annually avoiding the airspace, according to statistics provided by lawmaker Shim Jae-kwon in October last year.
Edited by Oliver Hotham