Lonely Planet Writer

Get a behind-the-scenes look at North Korea’s state-run airline

A brand new photography book has been published that features striking documentation of North Korea’s state-run airline Air Koryo, offering readers a behind the scenes glimpse at the infrastructure of one of the most fascinating and secretive countries in the world.

A North Korean Airline crew
An air Koryo crew disembarking. Image by Arthur Mebius/Dear Sky

Created by Dutch photographer and aviation enthusiast Arthur Mebius, “Dear Sky, the planes and people of North Korea’s airline” contains images that he has taken over the course of three trips to North Korea. Arthur documented a total of 24 flights with the airline during his time in the enigmatic country, travelling with a group of tourists that had a common interest in the Air Koryo fleet.

An Air Koryo crew member from North Korea's state-run airline
An Air Koryo crew member takes a photograph of Arthur on board. Image by Arthur Mebius/Dear Sky

“I have been an aviation lover my whole life and also a professional photographer. Scrolling the net I discovered that in North Korea they were still flying old Russian-made airliners and I decided to go there to see for myself, and shoot of course. After my first visit, I knew I wanted to tell the story about the people keeping these old birds in the air and thus I returned two more times to get enough material to tell this in a photo book,” Arthur told Lonely Planet Travel News.

A mural of North Korea's former leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung with an aircraft.
A mural of North Korea’s former leaders Kim Jong-il and Kim Il Sung with an aircraft. Image by Arthur Melbius/Dear Sky

The photographer said that while the group was freely allowed to take pictures of any parts of the aircraft, he had to be very discreet when documenting people. Throughout his time there Arthur saw fifteen planes, four of which are new ones used for international flights. The book shows the older models in near mint condition, with the interiors still having their original designs dating back to the Jet Age.

The interior of an Air Koryo aircraft, showing classic interior.
The interior of an Air Koryo aircraft, showing classic interior. Image by Arthur Mebius/Dear Sky

“North Korea is an unusual country that is fascinating to many people, and I think people are curious to see what an airline might look like in such a strange context. There are some eccentric touches, such as showing variety stage performances of North Korean musical bands, complete with backdrop of military manoeuvres, with the soundtrack playing through the aircraft PA. The crossing of the Yalu River into North Korean airspace is announced over the PA”.

An Air Koryo pilot looks back from the cockpit of an aircraft.
An Air Koryo pilot looks back from the cockpit of an aircraft. Image by Arthur Mebius/Dear Sky

Arthur also said that while people expect poor service from the one star airline, which only operates international flights to China and Russia, his experiences were positive, with complimentary meals being served by a polite flight crew.

A crew sing songs in full uniform.
A crew sing songs in full uniform. Image by Arthur Mebius/Dear Sky

The “Dear Sky” photography book is available now at the official website.