Air Koryo, the state-owned airline run by the North Korean government, has regularly been called the “world’s worst airline.” The airline is the only one in the world to have a“one star” rating on airline rating website Skytrax, thanks to its ageing planes, perfunctory stewardesses, barely edible food, and propaganda handed out onboard.
But as the DPRK ramps up its tourism sector, are things still as bad as people say?
Photographer Aram Pan recently flew aboard one of Air Koryo’s Ilyushin Il-18s. Pan, who has flown in and out of Pyongyang many times, had never flown on one of Air Koryo’s older propeller planes.
“It was an experience I will remember for a long, long time,” he tells Business Insider.
The Il-18, first operated by the Soviet Union’s national airline Aeroflot in 1957, served as the workhorse airliner for the superpower for the much of the Cold War. These days, with Aeroflot’s fleet dominated by Boeings and Airbuses, only in North Korea can you still fly on the Soviet Unions Cold War relics.
While the fixtures on the airliner seemed rudimentary compared to today’s standards, Pan arrived at his destination in one piece, surviving to share these photos with us. For more photos of North Korea by Aram Pan, visit his Facebook page.
As you'll quickly learn, everything on Air Koryo is a little (or a lot) outdated. Pan's bags were weighed at Samjiyon Airport using an old school method.
On board, Pan could see the ageing plane in all its former glory. This aircraft is currently banned from flying in and out of the EU, due to safety concerns. Air Koryo's newer TU-204s have been deemed 'safe' to enter Europe, though.
Pan got to see inside the cockpit, as well. It seemed pretty old school, but Air Koryo hasn't had a fatality since 1983.
Luckily, there were life jackets behind every seat. As the plane flew off, Pan 'expected it to be a rocky ride but it was very smooth,' he tells Business Insider.
Pan tells Business Insider that, once the plane was in the air, 'there was something so satisfying about experiencing an old plane… just like holding an old analogue camera in your hands.'
Pan felt fairly safe, even if the communications officer sat outside the cockpit, listening to ground control on a pair of fossilized headphones.
Once landed in Pyongyang, Pan could see the new International Airport, part of North Korea's tourism push, which is scheduled to open in 2015.
Customs in Pyongyang, however, still seems pretty stuck in the days of old, a reminder that Air Koryo is still pretty decrepit.
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