"Open your skies and they will come." That was the message North Korea heard when it agreed with the International Civil Aviation Organisation to allow commercial flights through its heavily guarded airspace. Yet, since that agreement took effect in April, use of North Korean airspace has been below projections.

Eight airlines applied initially to operate 43 weekly flights over North Korea. The attraction was the time and fuel savings for flights between Asia and North America. Depending on weather, North Korean overflights could shave 20-50min off flight times. One analyst estimated this would cut fuel costs by 6-8% on flights between the US West Coast and Hong Kong.

It would also generate about $4 million a year in hard currency for Pyongyang.

But instead of 200 flights a month, the monthly average between April and September was only 145. Of those, 20% were South Korean.

Overflights dropped after Pyongyang fired either a missile or a satellite launch vehicle, depending on which version of the event is correct, over Japan on 31 August. That prompted Tokyo to ban all North Korean flights.

But the longer-term obstacle to more North Korean overflights, says South Korea's transport ministry, is the high cost of passing through adjoining airspace over Russia. Russia charges airlines a royalty on top of normal air traffic control fees. US and European airlines have asked their governments to intervene with Moscow about these royalties, which they call excessive.

Source: Airline Business