Civil Aviation in North Korea

In 1950, in cooperation with the Soviet Union, a civil airline, named SOKAO, was established. SOKAO was the Korean acronym for Soviet-North Korean Airline. Initially, SOKAO established regular routes to the Russian city of Vladivostok, and later to the Chinese capitol Peking (Beijing) and the Russian city of Chita, the latter being a hub for both rail and air transport in Siberia. Chita was reached through intermediary stops in Mukden, Harbin, Tsitsiar and Hailar. Only a few domestic routes were flown, including Chongjin, which, incidentally, was an intermediary stop en route to Vladivostok. The initial equipment of SOKAO was the venerable Lisunov Li-2 Cab.

Operations soon ended due to the start of hostilities between North and South Korea in July 1950. In 1953, operations resumed, concentrating on the Chita-Moscow route. The Soviet airline Aeroflot provided technical training and assistance to SOKAO. By 1954, however, SOKAO was renamed UKAMPS. This meant the end of the joint venture, with the Korean Ministry of Communications becoming the sole owner of the airline. Some twenty years later, during the 1970s UKAMPS was yet again renamed as Civil Aviation Administration of Korea (CAAK). In Korean, CAAK was called Choson Minhang. In 1993, Choson Minhang became Air Koryo (i.e. Air Korea). It would appear that most, if not all of the aircraft operated by Air Koryo is shared with the air force. Government and VIP flights abroad are performed using Air Koryo aircraft.

Initially, all civilian aircraft received a three-digit registration, for instance, two of the Lisunov Li-2s were registered as 501 and 504 respectively. In 1978, the letter P was added as a registration prefix. The most modern aircraft to enter service with Air Koryo are two Tupolev Tu-204-300. No civilian flying clubs or privately owned aircraft exist in North Korea, all flying operations being controlled by the State.

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One thought on “Civil Aviation in North Korea

  1. Thank you for this interesting information about the formation of North Korea’s airline.

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