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N. Korea Reopens Inter-Korean Air Traffic Hotlines

Posted October. 19, 2010 10:19,   


Terrestrial hotlines for air traffic control between the two Koreas were reopened Monday after North Korea shut them down soon in the wake of sanctions imposed May 24 over the sinking of the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan.

In another friendly overture to Seoul by Pyongyang, the move will likely serve as an initial step toward the resumption of South Korean airliners passing through North Korean skies.

In Seoul, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said, “The North informed us Saturday of its decision to reopen direct phone hotlines for civil aviation between air traffic control centers in Pyongyang and Incheon from Monday morning. A test call was made around 9 a.m. Monday.”

If a civilian jet is to pass inter-Korean skies, one side must provide the other with related information, and the air traffic control hotlines are used in the process. The two hotlines include a supplementary satellite line for inter-Korean air traffic communication.

Pyongyang cut off the two lines May 26 after Seoul imposed sanctions two days earlier over the Cheonan sinking, effectively banning South Korean flights from passing through North Korean skies and over waters. Only the satellite line had been operated to allow foreign flights to pass the North’s skies.

Pyongyang was the first to propose reconnecting the hotlines despite being the one to shut them down. This move is in line with a string of overtures by the North along with the repatriation of a South Korean fishing boat, an offer to resume reunions of separated inter-Korean families, and a declared commitment to implement the 2005 joint statement for the North’s denuclearization.

Moreover, North Korea has apparently revived the hotline to eventually allow South Korean flights to pass through North Korean skies again. If such flights resume, Seoul must pay Pyongyang again an annual average of 5 million U.S. dollars in air traffic fees.

The Unification Ministry said the measure simply improves the safety and convenience of foreign flights (an average of 10 per day) that pass through South and North Korean skies, stressing Seoul should not give too much significance to the move. Citing two disconnections in satellite communications since May 26, the ministry only said there will no longer be such problems.

A ministry source said, “The reopening of the air traffic communication hotlines and South Korean flights being allowed to pass through North Korean skies are two completely different matters,” adding, “Pyongyang never mentioned the resumption of South Korean flights passing through North Korean skies.”

“If South Korean flights are to resume travel through North Korean skies, the North must guarantee the safety of South Korean flights. For that to happen, inter-Korean relations, which have remained stalled since the Cheonan sinking, must be eased to a certain extent but to do so now would be premature.”