International Ops 2018

Flight Service Bureau | OPSGROUP

Tag: ZKZZ

FSB removes North Korea airspace warnings

Flight Service Bureau is today removing all airspace warnings regarding North Korea from our guidance to aircraft operators. Specifically:

  • We are removing the Level 1 – Do Not Flywarning for the Pyongyang FIR – both mainland and waters areas.
  • We are no longer concerned about splashdown missile risk in the Sea of Japan and withdraw Note 30 to OpsGroup.

We have monitored the North Korea situation as regards overflight risk since 2014, when the first signs of risk appeared. In August 2016, we identified the missile risk as being increased, applying a Level 2 warning, and in August 2017, we elevated North Korea to Level 1, adding a warning for the Sea of Japan.

With the complete turnaround in political stance of North Korea in the last few months, it is our opinion that further test launches of missiles through the Pyongyang FIR are most unlikely. Coupled with the assurances given to ICAO last week, even if one were launched, we can expect a notification.

This position is better than we have been in during the period from 2005-2014, the years during which North Korea tested missiles but notified ICAO.

Too soon?

Airspace risk evolves rapidly. In the same way that we report risk to aircraft operators as soon as we know about it, through OpsGroup and safeairspace.net, we must also be prepared to stand down when the basis for those risks dissolves. We’re not assessing the likelihood of future political will of North Korea, or the chances of success for reunification. We’re simply saying, the basis for the warnings that exist – not just ours, but also the state warnings  from the US, UK, France and Germany – was unannounced missile launches, and that basis is now without merit.

As mentioned above, we are in at least as good a position as 2014, when nobody avoided North Korean airspace.

Guidance from FSB

We report on overflight and airspace risk to aircraft operators. Where we can, we give clear guidance. Our mission, in the wake of MH17, is to ensure that all operators have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about risky airspace.

It won’t always match guidance from States and Aviation Authorities: in this case, it won’t match any of the current state guidance.

The reason: we are an independent organisation, we form guidance based on the viewpoints of our analysts and more importantly, the 4000 airlines, operators, pilots, and dispatchers in OpsGroup. We are not bounded by political pressure, commercial pressure, or fear of getting it wrong. We’ll give you the best intended, most honest, clearest possible summary of opinion and guidance, so that you can make your own final decision about where to fly. Our first interest lies with the pilot, and the aircraft operator.

Current state warnings:

Further reading

  • OPSGROUP
  • safeairspace.net
  • Reuters: North Korea agrees to warn of activity hazardous to aviation: U.N. agency
  • FSB: Is North Korea safe to overfly again? – May 2018
  • FSB Archive: “Here’s why North Korean missiles are now a real threat to Civil Aviation” –
  • FSB Archive: “North Korea overflight getting riskier” – August 2016
  • FSB Archive: “North Korea missile threat” – August 2016

 

Is North Korea safe to overfly again?

Update: FSB removed North Korea warnings on May 14, 2018

A friend of mine is a grumpy flight dispatcher at a Large Canadian Airline. We have a standing agreement that when North Korea “opens up”, we are going to open the first Irish Pub in Pyongyang.

We made the agreement during an inspection tour of North Korean missile launch sites in 2016, though we didn’t know that’s what we were doing at the time. We were there to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the national airline, Air Koryo, and get a glimpse of aviation in North Korea.

Aviation is different here.

When we asked if we could have a look at airside operations at Pyongyang airport, the officials gladly drove us out onto the ramp, and then the runway, dropping us off at the edge for an hour or so of getting as close as we liked to the steady stream of Soviet era Tupolev and Ilyushin landing traffic. Not a yellow jacket in sight.

Yes, aviation is different here. When you first arrive in Pyongyang, the flight attendants dutifully come through the cabin before landing and lower the window shades, so that you land in darkness. They don’t want you to see their military aircraft; they don’t want you to see much of anything at all.

During our eight days there, we flew to 6 or 7 different North Korean airports, trekking out to Pyongyang International each morning to jump on whatever Tu-134 or Il-62 was designated for us that day. We got used to being filmed a lot of the time by the secret service, especially on board the aircraft.

But we had fun, too. For the evening that was the anniversary party, we were taken to a Bond-esque giant villa in the countryside, owned by the airline, for a 13-course dinner, topped off with a performance by the flight attendants that we saw each day on our domestic flights.

One of our destinations was Wonsan. The airport there is of the ‘giant international’ variety, a gleaming construct of huge terminals, pristine taxiways and runways, perfectly marked to ICAO standard, completed in 2015 at a cost of $130m. We were the first passenger flight to land at the new airport, as no international airlines were operating here yet. Unsurprisingly, there are still no international airlines operating here.

Just out of sight, to the right of the threshold that we landed on, is also the Wonsan missile launch facility. From here, a Hwasong-10 ICBM was launched in the direction of Japan, on June 22nd 2016.

The North Korean military holds drills here, so sometimes the beach beside the airport looks like this:

And so, to the question. What do all the recent developments mean? Is North Korea “opening up”? Is it going to be safe to operate through the Pyongyang FIR?

A quick history of developments in the last few years:

  • Until around 2014, North Korea notified ICAO of all missile launches, so that aircraft could avoid the launch and splashdown areas.
  • In 2015, they gradually stopped doing this, reaching a point where there could be no confidence in an alert being issued to airlines by North Korea.
  • In 2016, airlines and aircraft operators started avoiding the Pyongyang FIR entirely, by the end of 2016 almost nobody was entering the airspace.
  • In 2017, more and more of these missiles came down in the Sea of Japan, increasingly closer to the Japanese landmass. FSB researched the locations and produced a map of the risk area, together with the article: “Here’s why North Korean missiles are now a real threat to Civil Aviation

In the last few months, there has been incredible development away from the stalemate that has marked the relationship between North Korea and international aviation. Political change precedes aviation change, and that political change is very promising. Given that the primary risk to aircraft operators stems from missile launches, it already appears very unlikely that there will be any further launches, especially unannounced ones.

NHK world reports that ICAO is in North Korea this week, and that one of the main questions will be “to ask North Korea how it will ensure the safety of civilian aviation in international air space.”

The likely answer is rather simple. “We won’t be firing any more missiles, and if we do, we’ll notify”. That answer would be sufficient to remove the warnings about the Pyongyang FIR currently in force, together with the Fukuoka FIR warnings for the Sea of Japan.

So, it seems very likely that in the coming months, we will start to see international traffic start to use the Pyongyang FIR again, and may even see some new airways being established. In the interim, and before we issue specific guidance, we’ll wait to see the results of the talks between ICAO and North Korea this week.

 

Further reading:

 

 

 

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