On Monday, Air China flew its last scheduled flight to Pyongyang, North Korea after operating the route for nine years. The Beijing-based carrier was the only airline in the world which offered flights to the isolated nation, other than North Korea’s own state-sponsored airline, Air Koryo. Despite their shared border, Air China’s suspension is a symbol of the country severing its links to the hermit nation.
A spokesman for the airline’s press office, who goes by Zhang, stated that flights were “temporarily suspended due to unsatisfactory business operations.” Currently, it is unknown when Air China will resume flights to the North Korean capital or if the cancellation of flights is permanent.
Lu Kang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said that he was unaware of Air China’s decision to suspend flights to North Korea. However, he said that the decision to stop the flights would have been based on the “state of operation and the market.”
Earlier this year in April, Air China suspended flights to the nation citing the same reasons. Less than two weeks later, the flights were bookable again with flights resuming to the North Korean capital on May 5. Prior to the suspension of flights in April, Air China was flying three times a week between the two capital cities. After the brief suspension of service, flights resumed with just two round-trip flights a week.
In the past, China Southern Airlines had also flown scheduled charter flights from Pyongyang to Beijing during peak seasons. The airline, however, permanently ended service to North Korea in October 2006.
Other airlines, including Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, have also flown to the country in the past, connecting Seoul and Yangyang with Pyongyang. These flights were all charters which mainly served to help Korean families visit relatives who were divided by the border of the two nations, one of the strictest in the world. However, after South Korea stopped using the Sunshine Policy in 2008, flights between the two nations halted.
While Air China has ended its flights, for now, passengers can still fly between Beijing and Pyongyang on Air Koryo, North Korea’s state-owned airline. Air Koryo, rated a 1-star-airline by Skytrax, also flies to the Chinese cities of Shenyang and Shanghai from its Pyongyang hub. The frequencies of these flights vary during different times of the year.
It is unclear whether Air China had been directed to end flights due to the current geopolitical situation. During a normally scheduled press briefing, Lu stated: “Given the highly complex and sensitive situation on the peninsula, we hope all relevant parties can do something conducive to alleviating the tension and pulling all sides concerned back to the track of negotiation and dialogue to settle the peninsular nuclear issue.”
Air China’s suspension of flights is no doubt a result of the increased tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula in the past few months.