The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] ICAO supports opening of inter-Korean airway, but safety check comes first

UN aviation agency chief says Russia’s retaliatory airway closure to be discussed via its council soon

By Hong Yoo

Published : April 13, 2022 - 16:58

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ICAO Secretary-General Juan Carlos Salazar (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald) ICAO Secretary-General Juan Carlos Salazar (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
The United Nations aviation agency supports having direct flights between North and South Korea, on condition of Seoul’s endorsement, but a clear assessment of the safety and security of passengers and flights should be carried out, its chief said Tuesday.

“We are interested that these flights are conducted in a safe, secure, efficient manner and we stand ready to support basically if that decision is taken by the government,” said Juan Carlos Salazar, the head of the International Civil Aviation Organization, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

Salazar was referring to Pyongyang’s 2018 request to allow the establishment of air routes between the two Koreas right before the PyeongChang Winter Olympics kicked off in February that year.

Back then, the ICAO said North Korea would have to also discuss the matter with South Korea first and that the organization, which researches new air transport policy and standardization innovations, would have to visit North Korea for inspection before an approval.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration had then actively discussed opening airways between the two Koreas as such a breakthrough would cut time for South Korean flights that have had to fly around the North Korean airspace.

Establishing an air route between the two Koreas would allow flights departing from Incheon Airport to the US, for instance, to reduce at least 400-500 kilometers of traveling distance.

But since peace talks with North Korea came to a halt after the 2019 North Korea-US Hanoi Summit, there has been no further development.

“We haven’t been able to conduct a visit (to North Korea) because of the international sanctions. And so, unfortunately, ICAO as an organization does not have any information about the status of compliance with the standards and recommended practices,” said Salazar. “That would be perhaps an important step if the two governments expect to open those routes.”

One of the first two steps that the ICAO could take is to conduct an assessment on compliance that will ensure safety and security standards are as high as they are on an international level, Salazar said.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, it has to take not only bilateral relations between the two Koreas but also North Korea’s relationship with the international community when going forth with opening an Incheon-Pyongyang air route.

North Korea is one of the 193 members of ICAO and abides by the Chicago Convention, the 1944 treaty that governs international aviation.

Another ICAO member, Russia, is also a country with limited airways at the moment. The country has banned 36 Western countries from entering its airspace in retaliation to sanctions imposed on the country for its invasion of Ukraine.

Some of its member states have been raising strong concerns over the legal issues arising from the current conflict in Ukraine.

The ICAO chief stressed that those issues will be addressed urgently by the council.

“ICAO fully aligns with the United Nations and the position of the United Nations as regards to this present conflict,” Salazar said. “At the same time, we are ready to invite our member states to comply with the international provisions of the Chicago Convention, basically, and we hope for a prompt resolution of any of these conflicts that enable us to facilitate international air travel, international air navigation.”

Salazar was appointed as the ICAO secretary-general for a three-year term starting August 2021.

Prior to his appointment, he served as director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Colombia.

For the 12 years prior to joining the Colombian agency, Salazar was senior adviser to the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority.

The ICAO chief is in Seoul to take part in the 2022 ICAO Legal Seminar hosted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport that kicked off Tuesday.