North Korea’s Air Koryo Launching Macau Flights

Filed Under: Other Airlines

While I’d call this new route a “gamble,” in reality I’m sure it was well thought out and will be the world’s most profitable route thanks to the incredible wisdom of the Supreme Leader.

For those of you not familiar, Air Koryo is North Korea’s state-owned airline. They’re known for their fleet of Russian-built planes, their inflight cuisine (aka the Air Koryo Hamburger), and for supposedly shuttling North Korean citizens back and forth to make their flights appear to be full.

Currently Air Koryo’s only regularly scheduled flights are to Beijing, Shenyang, and Vladivostok. The airline has operated flights to some other Chinese cities, typically as part of a charter program.

Well, it looks like Air Koryo will be adding another destination to their network, and it’s a surprising one.

It has been announced that Air Koryo will launch twice weekly flights between Pyongyang and Macau as of August 2019. This has been confirmed by officials from the Civil Aviation Authority of Macao.

I’d note that in the past Air Koryo has announced new routes, including to Chengdu and Xian, though hasn’t followed through on them. So it remains to be seen if Air Koryo will actually launch this route to Macau.

The new flight between Pyongyang and Macau will cover a distance of 1,376 miles in each direction.

One sure has to wonder what exactly the motivation is for this route. Macau is Asia’s equivalent of Las Vegas. While Macau Airport has a fair bit of service, many people visit by ferry from Hong Kong.

It seems like most people flying Air Koryo are those coming to tour the country, and it sure seems like a major international gateway would be the ideal place from which to operate these flights. So I’m not sure if the motivation of this route is intended for some people at the top of North Korea to go gambling in Macau, or if there are a bunch of Macau residents who they think want to visit North Korea.

This is also interesting between Macau is an SAR, so it’s not part of mainland China, meaning this will be their only route not to mainland China or Russia.

Air Koryo flew to Macau in the 1990s, though the route hasn’t operated in more than 20 years. NK News notes the following:

Local magnate Stanley Ho is also known to own the Casino Pyongyang, based in the basement of the DPRK capital city’s Yanggakdo Hotel and staffed almost-exclusively by Macau citizens.

I guess we’ll see if this route actually materializes…

(Featured image courtesy of Kristoferb)

  1. Macau is an international financial center for North Korea. A great deal of its foreign currency flows through this area, especially money laundered through gambling. The purpose of the flight could very well be to smuggle money into the county.

  2. I really wish Americans can visit DPRK again. The Yanggakdo hotel is where most international tourists stay while visiting Pyongyang (Otto stayed there.)

  3. Makes some kind of sense to me:

    The elite flies out to gamble and maybe take some laundered cash, chinese people have another option in. Most tourists are from China.

  4. Macau is a very important financial gateway for the DPRK, with most of their financial ties to the outside world going through there. Frankly I’m surprised they weren’t already flying to Macau.

  5. For international travelers to North Korea, Macau is perhaps an easier starting point than Beijing, to begin with you don’t need a multi-entry Chinese visa and if you can’t fly direct to Macau then there is a very easy way in from HKG.

    I agree though, the service is most likely about money and gambling.

  6. @Phil Duncan

    Think foreigners can get a 7-day transit visa on arrival in Beijing, provided that you’re traveling to a third country, in this case, North Korea. i might be wrong tho

  7. Macau is where a substantial portion of the DPRK regime’s money is laundered due to their notoriously close relationships with local gangsters (ahem like Stanley Ho). In fact the financial transactions via Macau are so bad that several banks in Macau have been sanctioned by the US, so in terms of being a “financial gateway” for the DPRK regime and elite, bizarrely this route makes sense.

  8. “supposedly shuttling North Korean citizens back and forth to make their flights appear to be full”

    What is your source for this? I follow and read about North Korea news/issues quite regularly, and have flown on Air Koryo a couple of times before. It sounds very unlikely!

  9. @Uri Goren
    you really want Ben imprisoned? After writing this post he would have to be the stupidest person on the planet to go to North Korea

  10. With all the sanctions – where else than fly to the gambling capitol of Asia – to raise some much needed cash for the Dear Leader to buy more Mercedes Benzs??

  11. If Ben went to DPRK, I am sure he would do something inadvertently to get imprisoned, whether it be taking a photo of something he shouldn’t or complaining about some service and therefore disparaging the country and the Supreme Leader. 😉

  12. “supposedly shuttling North Korean citizens back and forth to make their flights appear to be full.”


    None, okay. It’s often genuinely difficult to secure reservations on Air Koryo routes, especially when Air China drops service to FNJ (which happens seasonally, or depending on politics.)

    Also, the whole one-star thing is getting old. Anybody who’s flown Air Koryo knows that they’re completely fine. The burger isn’t exactly anything to look forward to, but at least there’s hot food on a 1hr flight. And the old vintage planes are long gone on international routes. 99% of passengers on Tu-204 would have no clue they’re not on a western aircraft.

  13. @Pat+
    “At least there’s hot food on a 1hr flight“.

    I have no idea why this is needed or wanted. It’s one hour. Enjoy the flight and eat later.

  14. North Korea and South Korea will unite, making it a huge opportunity in Asia. No routes in air coy ro make money, so why not fly this route.

    I’m just looking forward to a one Korea peninsula. Very exciting times ahead.

  15. Looking at the video, I fail to see what’s wrong with the airline or why it warrants a 1-star rating (apart from the obvious bias against anything North Korean). Lucky showed a video earlier of two patrons on an AA flight cursing and bashing the hell out of each other. Does anything think that is better as a flight experience?

  16. The great and glorious supreme leader in his infinite wisdom has decided to go to the Belagio Macau in order to greatly benefit the triumphant North Korean public whom he loves dearly.

    Tbh it’s not quite Asia’s Las Vegas. There aren’t any prostitutes, strip clubs or Elvis weddings.

  17. They got the one star rating, because it is Skytrax. Not a very reliable or realistic source in terms of giving reviews. Remember, they gave Lufthansa 5 stars even for a cabin service that is still in the future. They probably got one star, because Air Koryo did not pay their financial dues to Skytrax.

  18. @Zich

    There is no need for Chinese visas when going to DPRK.
    I just did the 6 day visa free in each direction.

    Fun fact, Air Koryo interlines luggage to your onwards Air China flight

  19. @Noah Bowie: To say there are no prostitutes in Macao is definitely wrong though… There are “sauna clubs” literally everywhere…

  20. @Noah Bowie Macau makes Las Vegas look Loki a church picnic. No Prostitutes. They are paraded around in the casino. Anyone who has been to the lower level of the Casino Lisboa would have great stories. Also there is a very prolific drug culture in Macau . Crystal meth is the reason why so many can gamble 48 hours without a break. North Korea is the worlds largest manufacturer of Crystal meth and Macau is an easy entry point to Hong Kong Zhuhai and Shenzhen . Add money laundering and loose banking and this flight makes a ton of sense .

  21. I am a Macau citizen (also lived in US for 20 years when I was young). There are bunch of people in Macau & HK whom interesting to travel to North Korea. It will be more convenient if this route come true. And anyone remeber president Kim’s brother who got killed by 2 girls? He was living in Macau for long time thro. Also about Stanley Ho… he is about to die anyway. Who care?

  22. KoreanBBQ – Perhaps you’re being sarcastic, but I don’t see a plausible way for an impoverished absolute dictatorship to merge with a wealthy democratic state… Not least when said dictator is power mad.

    The North needs to liberalise and then in the distant future, just maybe can they merge.

  23. “supposedly shuttling North Korean citizens back and forth to make their flights appear to be full”

    I would also like to know your source. I flew from Pyongyang to Vladivostok in 2016 and the flight was full of North Koreans who were working in Russia. I visited a North Korean restaurant in Vladivostok and noticed several of those who were on my flight.

    As an American I am also disappointed that the US government has taken away my freedom by no longer permitting us to travel North Korea. One can travel to South Chicago, West Baltimore, East St Louis, etc where the odds of being murdered are much higher than the odds of something happening in North Korea. And if you happen to get robbed in North Korea (I had a backpack stolen from a tour bus), they might actually even find your stolen property. In my case the backpack was located within 24 hours and the North Korean government even reimbursed the stolen cash (all of the other items were returned intact).

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