Air Koryo (Korean: 고려항공; Hanja: 高麗航空; MR: Koryŏ Hanggong) is the state-owned flag carrier of North Korea, headquartered in Sunan-guyŏk, Pyongyang. Based at Pyongyang International Airport (IATA: FNJ), it operates international scheduled and charter services to destinations within Asia as well as flights on behalf of the Government of North Korea.
Air Koryo is banned in South Korea under the basis of the country’s National Security Act and is subject to restrictions under Annex B of the Air Safety List of the European Union due to safety concerns
The company flew to neighboring China to collect COVID-19-related supplies. Scheduled flights did not operate between 2020 and 2023. Scheduled flights to Beijing resumed on 22 August 2023 and flights to Vladivostok resumed on 25 August 2023.
In early 1950, SOKAO (Soviet–Korean Airline), 소련-조선항공; 蘇聯-朝鮮航空) was established as a joint North Korean-Soviet venture to connect Pyongyang with Moscow. Regular flights began that same year. Services were suspended during the Korean War, resuming in 1953 as Bureau of Civil Aviation Ministry of Transport of DPRK. The state airline was then placed under the control of the Civil Aviation Administration of Korea (CAAK) and re-branded Korean Airways (조선민항; 朝鮮民航), starting operations on 21 September 1955 with Lisunov Li-2, Antonov An-2 and Ilyushin Il-12 aircraft. Ilyushin Il-14s and Ilyushin Il-18s were added to the fleet in the 1960s.
Jet operations commenced in 1975 when the first Tupolev Tu-154 was delivered for service from Pyongyang to Prague, East Berlin and Moscow. As the Tu-154 had insufficient range, the aircraft refueled at Irkutsk and Novosibirsk. Tu-134s and An-24s were also delivered to start domestic services. The Tu-154 fleet was increased at the start of the 1980s, and the first Ilyushin Il-62 was delivered in 1982 (two of these aircraft are used in VIP configuration), allowing Korean Airways to offer a direct non-stop service to Moscow for the first time, as well as serving Sofia and Belgrade
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe saw a vast reduction in the number of international services offered. Korean Airways re-branded as Air Koryo in March 1992 and in 1993, ordered three Ilyushin Il-76 freight aircraft to carry cargo to and from its destinations in China and Russia.
Due to safety and maintenance concerns, Air Koryo was added to the list of air carriers banned in the European Union in March 2006. The European Commission found evidence of serious safety deficiencies on the part of Air Koryo during ramp inspections in France and Germany. Air Koryo persistently failed to address these issues during other subsequent ramp inspections performed by the EU under the SAFA programme, pointing to blatant systemic safety deficiencies at Air Koryo operations. The airline failed to reply to an inquiry by the French Civil Aviation Authority regarding its safety operations, pointing to a lack of transparency or communication on the part of Air Koryo. The plan by Air Koryo for corrective action, presented in response to France’s request, was found to be inadequate and insufficient. The EC also held that North Korean authorities did not adequately oversee the flag carrier, which it was obliged to do under the Chicago Convention. Therefore, on the basis of the common criteria, the Commission assessed that Air Koryo did not meet the relevant safety standards.
In September 2009, Air Koryo ordered an additional example of the Tupolev Tu-204-300 aircraft and a single Tupolev Tu-204-100. Air Koryo was to receive its first of two Tupolev Tu-204-100B aircraft fitted with 210 seats. Flights to Dalian in China were added to the Air Koryo schedule. Also, twice weekly Tu-134 flights from Pyongyang and direct services from Pyongyang to Shanghai Pudong were inaugurated with a two weekly service on JS522 and returning on JS523 in 2010.
In March 2010, Air Koryo was allowed to resume operations into the EU with their Tu-204 aircraft, which were fitted with the necessary equipment to comply with mandatory international standards. Currently, the Tu-204 is the only aircraft Air Koryo operates that is allowed into EU airspace. In April 2011, Air Koryo launched its first services to Malaysia with the inauguration of flights from Pyongyang to Kuala Lumpur. The flights operated twice a week utilizing the Tu-204, but were cancelled in mid-2017 due to sanctions imposed resulting from the poisoning murder of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by suspected North Korean agents.
In 2011, Air Koryo also inaugurated services to Kuwait City, being operated weekly by Tu-204 aircraft. The services operate during peak travel season – April to October.
In 2012, Air Koryo resumed flights to Kuala Lumpur but ceased the service in 2014 along with its expansion into Harbin, China. In 2012, Juche Travel Services, a company operating tours to North Korea, launched “aviation enthusiast” tours using chartered Air Koryo aircraft, which offered visitors the chance to fly on every type of Air Koryo aircraft within North Korea, the Mil-17, An-24, Tu-134, Tu-154, and Il-62. The international services were operated by An-148, Tu-154, or Tu-204.
In 2017, during the rule of North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un, there were signs that Air Koryo was branching out into commercial sectors beyond aviation, providing goods and services as diverse as petrol stations, taxis, tobacco, soft drinks, and tinned pheasant meat.
Scheduled services are only operated from Pyongyang to Beijing, Chongjin, Macau, Samjiyon, Shenyang, and Vladivostok; additional destinations not listed on their website but showing up elsewhere as charters or seasonal charter services are also included.
The first regular charter flights between North Korea and South Korea began in 2003. The first Air Koryo flight operated by a Tu-154 touched down at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. Air Koryo operated 40 return services to Seoul, along with flights into Yangyang and Busan in South Korea. Inter-Korean charters from Hamhung’s Sondok Airport to Yangyang International in South Korea began in 2002. Currently, there are no inter-Korean flights, due to laws in both countries. In 2014, Air Koryo operated a series of services to Seoul Incheon International Airport with Tu-204 and An-148 aircraft for the Asian Games.
Air Koryo operated an airline interline partnership with Aeroflot (SkyTeam) on services radiating from Vladivostok and Pyongyang until 2017 when it was forced to close the agreement due to newly imposed sanctions.