Here is a scene. Amid the various incantations of Airbus 300s and Boeing 700s throbbing at Beijing’s PEK airport, a weird looking that-can’t-possibly-fly aircraft lands from Pyongyang. The pilot, heady with triumph, tumbles out of his harness and kisses the ground, thanking the Motherland for declaring this his last flight.
The incoming is a pockmarked and perhaps coal-fired Soviet-era Ilyushin with more miles on it than all the Apollo flights combined. It parks next to a shiny fleet of Air China’s modern Western-built aircraft that come spiced with an artistic red Phoenix on their tails, which is the Chinese name of the airline written in calligraphy by former national leader Deng Xiaoping, according to Air China.
It’s the end of an era. China has finally said nyet to vintage Russian aircraft operated by North Korea’s anarchic Air Koryo. Deng Xiaoping must be rolling over in his mausoleum. The People’s Republic thinks they’re too good for comrades in North Korea.
Air Koryo, the world’s-only-one-star airline, doesn’t have enough pony for moneyed China. Maybe it reminds them of a Mao suit in their land of fashion-label knockoffs, baggy pants and gimme ball caps.
Air Koryo’s sulfurous equipment is so outdated Chinese entrepreneurs aren’t even making any knockoffs. FT members are unfazed.
What’s Kim Jong Un to do? Back in 2006, Europe banned Air Koryo from its airspace with an infrangible set of safety rules, even though the airline had no routes on the continent.
But Air Koryo always had China. Why didn’t North Korea copy Air China’s worldliness and enter the modern jet age as exemplified by this YouTube guiding Air China from the JFK control tower?
Yes, it’s the end of an era, and maybe something more. North Korea has two new aircraft on order for delivery this year.
MORE FROM THE TARMAC