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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A small Chinese airline has applied to local authorities to operate three new routes to the North Korean capital Pyongyang beginning in October this year, according to a popular Chinese aviation site.
Qingdao Airlines is seeking to run flights to Pyongyang from Qingdao, Quanzhou, and Zhengzhou three times per week, according to a January 13 report from the Weibo page “Air Travel Circle.”
The listings were part of a number of permit applications recently submitted to the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration (CAA), the post said.
NK News reached out to the company over the phone on Thursday, but an employee was not able to provide further information.
If the permits are approved, Qingdao Airlines would become only the third airline operating in North Korea and one of only two foreign companies along with Beijing’s flag carrier Air China.
Air China only operates a Beijing-Pyongyang route, while the DPRK’s Air Koryo operates most of the international routes.
These are from Pyongyang to Beijing and a handful of other Chinese cities, as well as one to the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok.
The frequency of flights to most of these destinations for both companies has been reduced for the winter season, as is common practice, but are expected to pick back up around April for a number of popular tourist events in Pyongyang.
These include celebrations for the birthday of the country’s founding leader as well as an international marathon.
Qingdao Airlines’ October start could see the company serve tourists just in time for what are expected to be big events for the 75th Party Foundation Day on the 10th of the month.
And while Air Koryo and Air China have been the only airlines operating regular flights to North Korea in recent decades, another budget Chinese airline was approved for a new route to Pyongyang in early 2016, before backing out.
It later claimed it would postpone operating the route, however, due to “market condition and our transportation capacity,” according to a China Aviation Daily report at the time — coming amid worldwide condemnation of North Korea’s January 2016 nuclear test.
But after five summits between Chinese President Xi Jinping and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un since then, Qingdao’s bid for the nine new weekly flights to North Korea may have come at a more favorable time — especially as Chinese tourism to North Korea has grown since 2018 after a previous downturn.
Qingdao Airlines began operating in spring 2014, using Airbus A320-200 and A320neo planes that carry under 200 passengers each way.
Its first international flight was in November 2018, to South Korea’s Incheon airport.
Edited by James Fretwell