Behind the curtain of North Korea’s official domestic airline: Soviet-era planes and censored in-flight entertainment on the world’s only ‘one-star’ carrier (but maybe eat before boarding)
- Aram Pan, from Singapore, visited North Korea with a group of aviation enthusiasts in September
- He flew from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, into the communist nation’s capital, Pyongyang
- He gained access to take photographs inside civil carrier Air Koryo’s planes, some of which were built in the fifties
- He flew on the Ilyushin Il-18, the Russian made Tupolev Tu-204 and an Mi-17 helicopter
- On board entertainment was limited to only one channel playing DPRK dramas and documentaries
- He was ‘nervous’ about flying on the ancient planes to begin with but then found it exciting
A deserted airport customs lounge, luggage weighed by hand on an old fashioned scale and a cockpit with no digital assistance, are just some of the sites a photographer from Singapore has captured on camera after flying with the world’s only one-star airline.
Aram Pan gained unprecedented access to the Soviet-era planes still used in North Korea by the nation’s civil carrier, Air Koryo, plus cargo transporters and helicopters, after joining a tour for aviation enthusiasts inside the communist enclave.
From the photos, the airline, which was founded in 1950 as a joint North Korean-Soviet partnership to connect the capital Pyongyang with Moscow, appears to be stuck in a time warp.
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Photographer Aram Pan was greeted by smiling Air Koryo flight attendants dressed in smart navy blue outfits before he boarded an Ilyushin Il-18 plane, a large turboprop airliner. The Soviet aircraft was first flown in 1957
Inside the cockpit of the Ilyushin Il-18 things looks very different to modern planes, there is not a digital screen in sight
The cockpit in the Ilyushin Il-18 plane, a large turboprop airliner that first flew in 1957, is a long way from digital. Astonishingly, the flight’s communication officer appears to sit in the passenger seating area and listens in to air traffic control on an ancient pair of headphones.
While the Ilyushin Il-18 is known for its durability, with many planes achieving over 45,000 flight hours, there is a bold contrast in its appearance to modern aircrafts.
And in March 2006, due to safety and maintenance concerns, Air Koryo was banned from flying into the European Union. In March 2010, the airline was allowed to resume operations but only with their TU-204s aircraft.
‘At first I was a little nervous about flying,’ Mr Pan, who was on his third trip to North Korea, told Daily Mail Australia.
However, he said after his first flight in a historic plane ‘it wasn’t scary at all’.
An Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, the main airport serving North Korea, shows its ready for boarding. Mr Pan flew from Kuala Lumpur into Pyongyang with Air Koryo on the 25 August
The new modernised Pyongyang International Airport is nearing completion and looks set to open in 2015
‘I was constantly looking forward to the next joyride. Besides… there were 48 other members of the tour group and everyone was like a kid in the candy store. I couldn’t possibly be nervous with everyone so psyched up about every ride,’ he added.
Mr Pan flew out to North Korea with UK based company Juche Travel, who have been running DPRK aviation tours for the past three years.
‘The DPRK is now the only country in the world where you can reliably fly on all major Soviet era aircraft in one place,’ their website informs.
From the 11-20 September, the flyers experienced eight different aircraft types on both scheduled international and internal charter flights.
Inside the Ilyushin Il-18 there are blue chairs and blue carpet. Curtains draw across the windows and overhead luggage is stored less securely than in modern planes
Not enough leg room? Seats on the Ilyushin Il-18 all fold down. But entertainment is limited to only one channel playing their DPRK dramas and documentaries, Mr Pan revealed
The in-flight meal featured rice and chicken and fruit cocktail for desert. ‘The food is better than I expected,’ Mr Pan commented
In Mr Pan’s revealing photos, he shows the empty airport customs area at Pyongyang, the main airport serving North Korea, as well as a glimpse at the revamped International Airport which looks set to open in 2015.
A new airport isn’t the only update North Korea is making to its airline. In 2013, Air Koryo appeared to be making efforts to update its image to the outside world, changing the uniforms worn by flight attendants from red and white to navy blue with a white studded trim.
Flight attendants smile in the smart outfits in Mr Pan’s photos, their black hair swept back into chic buns.
‘The air stewardess are polite and soft spoken. From what I understand, they never leave the plane to change shifts at Kuala Lumpur,’ Mr Pan said after his international flight.
Inside the plane, entertainment is limited to only one channel playing their DPRK dramas and documentaries but the seats do fold down for extra leg room.
In the services area of the Ilyushin Il-18, a steward prepared the meals metal containers. Unlabelled bottled water was stored in a tub
The female flight attendants served drinks from plastic cups. In 2013 some of the attendants’ uniforms changed from red and white to navy blue with studded white trim
Life vests are stored under the seats of the Ilyushin Il-18 in case of emergencies. The toilet area features an old fifties interior
Mr Pan has previously visited North Korea twice, and in 2013 he witnessed bustling markets, men and women enjoying themselves at a Western looking water park and miles and miles of crops ready for harvest, shattering all of his illusions about what a holiday to North Korea would entail.
This time he said his trip was ‘a very different experience’ because he wasn’t on his own with just official guides to keep him company.
‘I ended up being the odd one out… it was like I attended a Star Trek convention and everybody was speaking Klingon. These guys absolutely love and know their planes,’ Mr Pan said of joining the aviation fans.
‘The tour group were all over the runway, happily snapping away at the planes. And the North Korean government didn’t even mind one bit,’ he said.
In one of Mr Pan’s videos the tour group is seen running across the runway in a dash to get the best seats on the plane.
And despite North Korea being known as highly-secretive, the photographer believes his latest tour shows things are becoming more open.
‘It’s a huge leap forward in terms of relaxing the rules. Everyone was even allowed into the cockpits to take photos,’ he said.
The communications officer on the flight sat outside the cockpit in the passenger area and listened in with an ancient looking pair of headphones
The old green seats in the Ilyushin Il-18 cockpit are covered with beige material. The empty weight of the plane is 35,000 kg
Mr Pan also took a flight on the Russian made Tupolev Tu-204. ‘I’m told this particular plane is only 4 years old,’ he said
The safety instructions on board the flights were in both Korean and English
Mr Pan said: ‘The air stewardess are polite and soft spoken. From what I understand, they never leave the plane to change shifts at Kuala Lumpur’
Toilets in the Tupolev Tu-204 were ‘clean’ and had ‘no foul smell’. Mr Pan flew into Pyongyang again with Air China on 13 September
North Korea has recently been plagued by speculation after its leader Kim Jong-Un, who is usually widely-photographed, had not been seen since September 3.
On Tuesday, the Communist regime’s ambassador to the United Kingdom became one of the first to offer a direct answer to increasing questions over his whereabouts.
The lack of public appearances of the 32-year-old has led to speculation that he is either ill or even that he has been deposed.
But he is healthy – and ‘there is no doubt about it’, one of the country’s most senior officials has insisted.
In the five weeks since Mr Kim was last seen in the state media at a concert, he has missed several high-profile events that he normally attends.
An official documentary released late last month then made a single reference to Mr Kim’s ‘discomfort’ and showed video footage from August of him overweight and limping.
However, speaking to the BBC, the North Korean ambassador devoted more time to questions about human rights abuses than to the whereabouts of the country’s leader.
A red, white and blue Air Koryo shuttle boss transports passengers from the terminal to the planes
The airport customs area looks remarkably quiet in North Korea and only one man appears to be working at the desks
Mr Pan boarded a night flight at Pyongyang Airport with 49 other passengers from 13 different countries
He took a flight on Air Koryo’s Mi-17, a Soviet-designed medium twin-turbine transport helicopter
While flying Mr Pan believes he spotted a Korean Air plane sharing the same skies. ‘Look what I saw outside the window of Koryo Air,’ he said
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2791675/inside-north-korea-s-soviet-era-planes-s-like-fly-world-s-one-star-airline.html#ixzz3G845B6D1
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