U.N. aviation agency denies report saying it will send team to North Korea for on-site inspection

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

The International Civil Aviation Organization has denied a report that the U.N. agency was planning to send a team to North Korea to conduct “an on-site inspection” to ensure the safety of international flights from the country’s missile launches, a spokesman told The Japan Times on Monday.

Citing officials with the Montreal-based ICAO, Kyodo News reported Sunday that North Korea had agreed to allow staff from the agency to conduct the inspection. That report said an official with the North’s General Administration of Civil Aviation gave the assurance when high-ranking ICAO representatives visited the country in May.

It said the 192-member ICAO was 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.

“Our Regional Office for the Asia Pacific just confirmed there is no such activity being planned,” ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said in an email.

“Kyodo may be mistaken because earlier there had been talk of an ICAO safety oversight audit being scheduled in the DPRK for 2019 or 2020. This is a cyclical and very ordinary activity we undertake in all ICAO Member Countries,” he said, adding that the dates for the next visit to the North had yet to be decided.

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 — including two over Japan — posing an enormous threat to airplanes flying in the region.

The danger to civilian flights 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.

The threat was again on display in late November, when pilots of three commercial jets reported seeing what appeared to be the re-entry of North Korea’s most powerful ballistic missile to date.

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.

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 move, which was led by Tokyo, 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 sending senior officials to the country in May.