Talks between North and South Korea officials on opening the Pyongyang Flight Information Region (FIR) to international flights have again collapsed over the form of a communication link between the two countries' air-traffic-control authorities.

Three days of discussions in Bangkok, Thailand, brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), failed to make any real progress. The two sides last met in November, 1996, but negotiations have been hampered by tension between Seoul and Pyongyang. "Intransigent politics is the name of the game," says an official close to the talks.

At issue is South Korea's insistence on the use of a direct land line for communications between Pyongyang and the southern Taegu FIR. The existing line crosses the demilitarised zone at the truce village of Panmunjom and is controlled by the military. It would need to be upgraded, particularly on the northern side of the zone, and made into a dedicated ATC line to meet ICAO standards.

North Korea has rejected a direct land link and is instead proposing use of satellite communications between the two FIRs, using Intersat or Asiasat. "This is an argument about something that really should not be an argument," says one international observer.

One possible compromise now being discussed (by written communications) is to establish a satellite link between Pyongyang and a terminal at Panmunjom, 250km (155 miles) to the south, which would then be linked via a fibre-optic cable to Taegu.

ICAO, in conjunction with the Chinese and Russian civil aviation authorities, has in the meantime proposed a series of new routes across the Pyongyang FIR. Two of the routes, B332 and G346, would allow Japanese and North America traffic to cross North Korean airspace via Hamun and Pyongyang. A recent US Federal Aviation Administration directive, however, would restrict US carriers to the proposed B467 route.

Source: Flight International