Kim Jong-un planes to be grounded after North Korea sided with Russia in war

The pride of Kim Jong-un’s airline could be grounded after the dictator sparked a diplomatic row with Ukraine by siding with fellow dictator Vladimir Putin over his invasion.

Kyiv cut ties with North Korea after it became one of the few countries in the world to recognise two Russian-backed breakaway states in occupied Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk.

With North Korea dependent on Ukrainian parts and technical support for a number of its planes, the move it set to blow up in tubby tyrant Kim Jong-un's face.

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Among the planes set to be affected are the two newest passenger jets in the country, one of which Kim personally piloted in 2014. Footage of the flight shows the dictator at the controls for take off and landing, and cruising over the countryside.

Both An-148 planes are operated by North Korea’s only airline, the state-run Air Koryo, and were bought brand new in 2013 from Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov.

Another Antonov craft, an An-24, is listed online as the only heavy transport in the North Korean air force. Now experts think North Korea, like its Russian ally, will see flights grounded.

Thomas Jaeger, founder of ch-aviation, a Swiss information service focused on aviation, said it could happen imminently.

He said: “If support is withdrawn, for whatever reason, then essentially the aircraft becomes un-airworthy relatively soon.

“Because you won’t have access to the manual updates, to air worthiness directives, to any technical changes that the manufacturer mandates on all operators.

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“So, technically speaking, if you are sanctioned by the manufacturer, in every normal situation that means that your aircraft will immediately become not airworthy and you can’t fly it any more.”

In 2015, the two nations did around £18.4million worth of trade in the aviation sector, according to NK News, a specialist website monitoring North Korea.

UN sanctions which prevent the hermit state from buying certain goods overseas don’t apply to spare parts for aircraft.

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Mr Jaeger warned that the North Koreans could resort to smuggling, citing the example of international pariah Iran.

He said: “There are agents that buy the parts and these agents are not sanctioned. Then miraculously the parts somehow get into Iran.

“So there are a lot of shell companies that are being set up for that purpose, and they are getting smarter and smarter.”

But smuggling alone might not be enough, said Mr Jaeger, highlighting the case of a sanctioned Iranian airline.

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He said: “They are operating dozens of aircraft and they often have issues sourcing spare parts.

“And that leads to aircraft being grounded for a considerable amount of time until they can source spare parts again.

“And as a result of that they have a relatively big percentage of their fleet constantly parked.”

However, Mr Jaeger added that there were still a number of Antonov planes in Russia, and so stocks of spare parts there might be shared with Pyongyang.

Luckily for Air Koryo, they don’t have a reputation to protect.

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“People are joking that they are the only one-star airline that is out there,” said Mr Jaeger.

“They are in a very, very tiny niche which for the most part – as far as being a real airline is concerned – is Beijing to Pyongyang and that’s it.

“They don’t really work with any other airlines, they don't have a reservation system that would allow you to book tickets internationally.

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“It’s just them running this single route in isolation, sometimes flying a couple of charter flights elsewhere and that’s it.”

Antonov has been contacted for comment.


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