Kuala Lumpur is new route for North Korea’s Air Koryo

Air Koryo is to operate two flights weekly between the capitals of North Korea and Malaysia. Its other routes are Beijing, Shanghai, Vladivostok, Moscow and Bangkok.

Formed in 1955 (and then known as Chosonminhang) the airline is one of the world’s oldest. It operates mainly Russian-built aircraft (being blocked from the purchase and maintenance of e.g. Boeing due to sanctions) and the KL route will be served with a Tupelov TU-204.

The 142-seat capacity Tupelov is a mid-size twin engine regional jet and available in several configurations including a high-capacity 210 seat variant.

The aircraft almost went out of production earlier this year when the largest customer of its manufacturer, Air Company Moskva, cancelled all of its outstanding orders, alleging inconsistent component and build quality. The production was already under threat as profitability was seriously undermined by production ineficiencies which led to a final production cost that exceeded its selling price.

The business was refinanced in January this year after Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Ivanov, said that aircraft production was a strategic industry and important to the economy.

Even though suppliers reportedly agreed to an average reduction of more than 17% in their prices, the aircraft remained uneconomic to produce but its continued production – with a planned end-of-life of 2014 – will enable Tupelov to develop its new range.

The immediate future of the TU-204 was secured when airline Red Wings placed an order for 44 of the aircraft – but demanded concessionary prices and aid with associated technology such as a simulator and stocks of spares.

But the TU-204 ran into trouble again in March this year. An Aviastar-Tu aircraft crashed on approach to Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in poor visibility. However, there were no signs of problems prior to the crash, investigators say, and nor did the crew say they were planning an emergency landing. It was the second incident for the same aircraft which had previously had to turn back to Moscow earlier in the day, when the crew reported smoke in the cabin. When turned back, the aircraft had more than 200 passengers on board but it continued its charter flight to Hurghada , Egypt after maintenance crews found a fault in an electrical circuit for the cabin heating. When it crashed, it was flying back to Moscow empty save for eight crew.

As a result of that crash, Rosaviatsia, the Russian aviation regulator, banned Aviastar-Tu from carrying passengers.

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