Unusual Activities Detected at North Korea's Main Airport Hangar
The recent satellite surveillance has revealed unusual activities at North Korea's main airport hangar. According to the monitoring group 38North, this is likely a sign of Pyongyang's intention to resume international flights. North Korea closed its borders since early 2020 as a measure to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the cancellation of all flights.
However, the country, led by Kim Jong Un, has recently resumed some cross-border trade with China via railway. The North recently allowed entry to the newly appointed Chinese Ambassador but has yet to resume regular international travel. Several passenger jets operated by North Korea's Air Koryo have been observed moving through the maintenance hangar at Sunan International Airport since early May, as reported by the 38North website, citing satellite images. Such aircraft have been rarely undergoing maintenance over the past three years, making the recent surge in activity highly noticeable. 38North further noted that there have been no confirmed cross-border air travels throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic period. "It is unusual to service a significant number of aircraft within a short period," added 38North, cautioning that the airport's busyness does not guarantee the imminent resumption of air travel. Speculations about the potential reopening of North Korea escalated after the arrival of the new Chinese Ambassador in Pyongyang to begin his official duties last month, more than two years after his appointment.
One Chinese travel agency is also reportedly preparing to reintroduce tours to North Korea in mid-June 2023, according to Seoul-based North Korea specialist website NK News. NK News added, "False rumors of the reopening have circulated near the border for months." Another diplomat from countries present in North Korea told NK News that they have no information regarding the possibility of staff rotation within or outside Pyongyang.
"Global tourism is one of the sectors that Pyongyang has always been interested in, as it allows for the easy conversion of foreign currencies," said Hong Min, a researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, to AFP. According to him, it is not impossible for some North Korean tours to resume this year.