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Business aviation shines on freedom flight

A star-studded welcome reception this morning for two US journalists held in North Korea since March capped what had been a six-day marathon. Staffing the operation in large part were the employees of Avjet, the operator of the Boeing Business Jet that shuttled the key players back and forth across the Pacific Ocean.

According to Avjet spokesman Andrew Bradley, the epic started on Friday, July 31, when Stephen Bing, CEO of Shangri La Entertainment, notified the company that he had donated the aircraft, which Avjet manages, to former US President Bill Clinton for the humanitarian mission to seek the release of the journalists from North Korea, where they had been sentenced to 12 years in a labour camp. The two work for former vice president Al Gore’s Current TV. Pictured below are the two journalists exiting the BBJ upon arriving back in the US early this morning.

 ©Ken Seals

First, Avjet had to receive a US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) exemption and letter of authorization to conduct the flight to North Korea, which it did on Saturday morning August 1, with the help of the FAA’s Office of Rulemaking in Washington.

Next the company came up with a route, which had to be plotted in coordination with the US Department of State, FAA and the US Air Force. The plan called for departure from Burbank, California, Avjet’s home base, to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, to Misawa Air Force Base in Japan and on to Sunan Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. Total flight time for the outbound trip turned out to be more than 14h, says Bradley.

The BBJ then spent 20h in Pyongyang with the two pilots and a secret service agent remaining with the aircraft. Once Clinton and the others had returned, the twin-jet departed for Misawa Air Force Base at 0820h this morning (4 August), Japan time. 

“Since the aircraft is equipped with several sleeping areas, the pilots were able to get excellent rest before the return flight to Japan,” says Bradley, adding that flight time from Pyongyang to Misawa was 2h.

After landing at Misawa Air Force Base, the aircraft spent 2h on the ground before beginning the 9h 50min non-stop flight back to Burbank. Total flight time for the entire trip was nearly 26h.

At Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, Avjet taxied the BBJ to Hangar 25, it’s home base, where the journalists were reunited with their families.  A press presentation was made by the released journalists and former Vice President Al Gore, with President Clinton in attendance.


 ©Ken Seals

Bradley says continuous communication was maintained between the aircraft, Shangri La Entertainment, Avjet, Department of State officials and US Air Force Commanders and Operations Officers in Hawaii, Alaska, Japan and Washington throughout the journey.

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