Is N.Korea's Air Force One in Trouble?

      November 19, 2014 13:43

      A plane carrying North Korea's second most powerful man Choe Ryong-hae had to return to Pyongyang due to mechanical problems en route to Moscow on Tuesday, raising concerns that the incident will throw a spanner in the works of leader Kim Jong-un's plan to visit Russia soon.

      According to government sources on Tuesday, the aircraft was a Russian-made Ilyushin IL-62, which North Korea purchased in the 1970s or '80s. A military source here said, "The aircraft is old and most of its instruments are analogue-based."

      The plane is believed to have returned to the airport after takeoff and there is a chance that it suffered serious problems, including possible engine malfunction. The source said Choe then boarded another IL-62 to head to Moscow.

      A plane waits for North Korean Workers Party Secretary Choe Ryong-hae at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang on Monday.

      The question is how leader Kim Jong-il will travel to Moscow for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The North has three IL-62 aircraft, one of which Kim used to visit South Pyongan Province in May. It was also used by senior officials when they made a surprise visit to Incheon for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games last month.

      Kim's personal plane is a Ukrainian-built Antonov AN-148 that was only introduced in 2009, but that is not capable of flying all the way to Moscow without refueling.

      A government official said, "Even the IL-62, which can reach Moscow, may have to refuel along the way in order to ensure safety."

      The other options are to use a newer TU-24 aircraft operated by North Korea's flag carrier Air Koryo or to hold the summit in Vladivostok, which is closer.

      Former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had a morbid fear of flying and traveled for nine days by train to Moscow for a summit with Putin in 2001. He met Dmitry Medvedev in Siberia in 2011.

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