Shandong-based airline Qingdao Airlines has recently been announced as the third airline company with permission to launch flights to north Korea. People flying from the cities of Qingdao, Zhengzhou and Quanzhou will be able to fly directly to Pyongyang as part of this airline starting from October of 2020. It’s perhaps worth noting that Qingdao Airlines operates at many more airports than just these three, so why exactly are they restricted in this way?
Qingdao Airlines entering the foray of charter flights to north Korea is quite an unprecedented step for the country. If you want to know why, you simply need to look at the two other airlines permitted to fly in and out of the country. There’s Air Koryo, the north Korean national airline and there’s Air China, the Chinese national airline. Meanwhile, Qingdao Airlines is a start-up company owned by a larger corporation. For north Korea, a nation that practices a form of socialism and typically abhors big capitalism, it’s a surprising change in policy to see them allow a private company to directly compete with their state airlines.
Whatever the reasoning, tourism will undoubtedly expand from this move, with many people in China no longer needing to go all the way to Beijing or Dandong just to cross over into north Korea. Should the trend continue, it could be seen as a sign of ‘opening up’ somewhat to economic reforms, though it’s hardly the first time there was such a speculation. In late 2015, rumors were abound that Spring Airlines, a Shanghai based airline, would begin running flights to Pyongyang the following year. Ultimately, such rumors turned out to be just that and it came to nothing.
Should this case turn out to be correct and go forward, we might be able to expect more airlines offering flights to north Korea, possibly operating from further away than the Air Koryo fleet can reach on its own. Such a thing would be a major boon for tourism, allowing people to book flights to north Korea from much further away without the annoying interval in China. There are reasons to be optimistic, a precedent has been set before! This is of course all speculation and it’s not exactly unprecedented for Korea to slam the brakes on such a strong shift towards markets, but sometimes they do surprise you!