NEW YORK – North Korea has agreed to allow International Civil Aviation Organization staff to conduct an on-site inspection to ensure the safety of international flights from the country’s missile launches, according to officials with the Montreal-based U.N. agency.
An official with North Korea’s General Administration of Civil Aviation gave the assurance when high-ranking ICAO representatives visited the country in May, ICAO officials said.
The 192-member ICAO is now planning to send its personnel next year in order to verify what measures North Korea, which is a member of the group, has taken to keep unannounced missile launches in check as it pledged, they said.
After last May’s trip, the ICAO said North Korea had promised to suspend activities that represented a danger to civil aviation, including the test-firings of long-range missiles without prior notice. Pyongyang conducted numerous unannounced missile tests last year, posing an enormous threat to airplanes flying in the region.
This danger was highlighted in July last year, when an Air France airliner flying from Tokyo to Paris flew past an area where a ballistic missile splashed into the Sea of Japan off Hokkaido just several minutes later.
North Korea’s nod to an on-site inspection is seen as an effort by the isolated country to win credibility for its pledge to halt such launches as it works to improve ties with the international community.
Inspections by the ICAO aim to ensure that member states comply with its regulations concerning the safety of international aviation. The last review of North Korea, conducted in 2008, was not related to missile launches.
The upcoming inspection is expected to include visits to the country’s aviation authorities and interviews with people in charge, according to representatives from the international body.
An ICAO official said unannounced missile launches constitute a clear violation of international rules and that the next review will aim to know why North Korea repeatedly violated the rules and what measures it has taken to prevent a recurrence.
Last October, the ICAO strongly condemned North Korea’s persistent launches of ballistic missiles near or over international air routes without prior notice, saying they seriously threatened the safety of international flights.
The Japan-led move called on the ICAO Secretariat to take measures to ensure the North complies with international standards pertaining to civil aviation safety, and resulted in the Secretariat dispatching senior officials to the country in May.
When Arun Mishra, regional director of the Asia and Pacific Office, and Stephen Creamer, director of the Air Navigation Bureau, traveled to North Korea on May 7-9, Ri Yong Son, deputy GACA director-general, expressed a readiness to allow ICAO staff into the country for a missile-related inspection, the officials said.
Ri also indicated an intention to send representatives to the agency’s headquarters to give a briefing on the country’s measures to ensure aviation safety, according to the officials.
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