Air Mystery

Air Koryo flights to Macau were suspended even before Covid-19. Because of the cold weather, they say. They end as they started, shrouded in mystery. Did you know that no Macau resident has travelled on Air Koryo in these four months? 

Air Koryo flights to Macau were suspended in January, Macau Business learns from a source at Macau Airport (CAM). 

The suspension occurred even before the effects of Covid-19 led to the cancellation of flights by several companies and has a very different explanation: according to our source, the North Korean company argued with climatic factors to end the three weekly connections. “Cold weather,” was the expression used. 

Based on the assumption that it is not normal for an airline, which operates scheduled and not charter commercial flights, to suspend the operation for seasonal reasons, this is just one of the other mysteries surrounding Air Koryo’s connection to Macau. 

This is the first time that the CAM publicly assumes the discontinuity of the connection between Macau and Pyongyang, since until now there has been talk only about certain cancelled flights. 

Macau Business asked CAM directly how many Air Koryo flights to Macau were cancelled in these four months but did not get a direct response. 

CAM talks about “occasional flight cancellations”, but Macau Business contacted several sites that track world air connections and there was one that told us that it really lost interest in the operation, so many cancellations. 

AACM, for its part, added that “occasional flight cancellations are managed by airlines themselves and do not require the approval of the Civil Aviation Authority.” 

Who were the passengers? 

“According to the results of Monthly survey on travel agencies of Statistics and Census Bureau (DSEC), there was no record on Macau residents using services of travel agencies to travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2019,” answered DSEC. 

Since purchasing a ticket through a local travel agency would be the only way to travel to Pyongyang, it appears that no resident of Macau used the three weekly connections between the two airports. And that the travellers concerned were after all citizens of North Korea. 

According to the administrative information provided from the Public Security Police Force, there were 3,766 visitor arrivals holding travel document issued by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2019, but it was not possible to obtain the information divided by months, with the Public Security Police. 

“There was no record on Macau residents using services of travel agencies to travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2019” – DSEC 

(One exception: since SDTM operates a casino in the North Korean capital and, according to various sources, the employees who maintain the operation are Macau residents, it is likely that some of them used the flight, with tickets purchased in Pyongyang). 

The truth is that it was not possible to buy tickets for this flight at any of the major global operators that operate online and it is unknown that any local travel agency was promoting the connection. 

More: Air Koryo maintains an updated website, with the ‘timetable’ of its international calls, but Macau was never listed. Only the two connections to China (Beijing and Shenyang) and Vladivostok. 

The storyline becomes even more surprising if we add that, having started at the end of September, with two weekly connections, Air Koryo moved to three flights from October last year. 

According to CAM information, each flight (via the Antonov An-148 airplane) “can accommodate about 70 pax each time and the seat factor during that period is about 60-70 per cent.” 

This is a value considerably higher than that revealed for the first month of operation, in which 648 people traveled, divided by the 22 flights that then took place, which means less than 30 passengers per connection. 

“To resume later” 

Air Koryo connected Pyongyang and Macau between 1996 and 2004. 

He returned to the territory in 2019, but only for (less than) five months. 

According to CAM, “they have intention to resume later in 2020.” 

All attempts made by Macau Business in recent months to obtain information and explanations from Air Koryo have resulted in a negative outcome. 

AACM clarified that “for all foreign airlines operating in Macau, the Civil Aviation Authority will assess the technical conditions of the airlines before granting them the flight authorizations. When the operations have commenced, our Authority will conduct periodical inspections on the foreign airlines through the SAFA (Safety Audit on Foreign Airlines) Programme. We have done the SAFA on Air Koryo in last November and we will continue to inspect their operations through the SAFA Programme.”   

Zokwang, do you remember? 

Last September, Macau Business discovered a website ( allegedly owned by the North Korean company Zokwang that was intended to sell heavy arms from the company’s delegation in Zhuhai. 

Among the heavy-duty weapons listed on the Internet is the famous Pongae-5 Strategic Surface to Air Missile System (also known as KN-06), costing a cool $51,000,000 (MOP412,000,00). 

North Korea established a business in Macau in 1973 or 1974 called Zokwang Trading Company, a subsidiary of Daesong Economic Group, under the Foreign Trade Ministry and frequently associated with the Korean Worker’s Party.  

After the intervention, in 2005, of the US Treasury Department accusing a bank of Macau of being a ‘willing pawn for the North Korean government to engage in corrupt financial activities’, Zokwang decided to transfer its activities to Zhuhai. 

A few days after the publication of Macau Business, the company that hosted the website (Weebly) closed it. 

Weebly declined to provide information, but the various sources outside North Korea, consulted in the following weeks by Macau Business, argued that being an anonymous website it would be difficult to make a direct imputation to Pyongyang.