How much it has helped is questionable, but North Korea has certainly not hurt its international stature by announcing a willingness to open its airspace to foreign civil traffic.

The decision, conveyed to Icao, was not sought as part of the high profile negotiations over North Korea's nuclear programme, but it suggests that Pyongyang may be interested in ending its seclusion.

Previously, North Korea's air force controlled all the nation's airspace. But the government recently upgraded the standing of the country's civil aviation authority, renaming it the General Civil Aviation Bureau, in an apparent move to strengthen the interests of commercial aviation. According to unconfirmed news reports, North Korea has also told Icao that it hopes to negotiate scheduled air services from Beijing to Tokyo via Pyongyang.

Icao has promoted the opening of services between North Korea and its neighbours for many years - South Korea opened most of its airspace in 1973. Pyongyang's willingness to grant overflight rights is seen as a first step to bilateral negotiations over first freedoms for foreign carriers.

Typically sceptical of northern initiatives, analysts in Seoul offer four theories for North Korea's surprise offer:

1 A response to the launch of scheduled South Korea-China flights last December;

2 An effort to score points to alleviate the international pressure focused on Pyongyang's nuclear programme;

3 A move to win favour with Japan, already the principal source of hard currency and the primary beneficiary for any future air service agreements;

4 The start of a thaw in North Korea's attitude to foreign relations.

4 The start of a thaw in North Korea's attitude to foreign relations.

Source: Airline Business