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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Air China has since last week deployed wide-body Airbus A330 jets on the Beijing-Pyongyang route, data on the NK Pro Aviation Tracker shows, a decision likely connected to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s forthcoming visit to North Korea.
In an unusual move, all three round-trip Air China flights since last Wednesday have utilized long-range A330 jets instead of the normally used short-haul Boeing 737-800, analysis of data at the NK Pro Aviation Tracker indicates.
Air China’s A330s rarely enter North Korean airspace, with the last such flight being in June 2018, when one such aircraft flew from Pyongyang directly to Singapore, likely to transport DPRK personnel to provide Kim Jong Un support at the first U.S.-DPRK summit.
Unlike the leaders of other major countries, Xi Jinping normally flies to overseas engagements on Air China aircraft, usually on a specially-modified Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet.
As a result, it’s possible that Air China’s recent usage of A330s on the route could be related to preparations for the deployment of one or more larger aircraft into Pyongyang’s Sunan International airport in order to support Xi’s summit activities later this week.
The two-aisle Air China Airbus A330 dwarfs the capacity of the Boeing 737-800 normally used on the route, with enough capacity for 335 passengers (instead of 167).
The government of Russia deployed two similarly-sized Ilyushin IL-96 long-range jets to North Korea in May last year, as part of foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s single-day visit there.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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