10 things to know about North Korea's new airport terminal

The new terminal at Pyongyang International Airport has been billed by state media as a showcase project putting North Korea's air transport on a world level.

The modern, glass-fronted building is reportedly six times larger than the old terminal, but passenger numbers are expected to remain low.

Here are 10 things to know about the new terminal:

 

1. The terminal - the cost of which is not known - has at least 12 check-in counters, a clothing shop, a gift shop, a duty-free store and several restaurants, according to photographs published by the state media. There are also a coffee bar with an espresso machine and a newsstand stocked with what look like magazines and North Korean flags. In one photograph, Mars chocolate bars, Werther's Originals caramel-flavoured candy and bottled beers are on display in one of the shops.

 

2. It is expected to be used for the country's few international scheduled flights to Pyongyang. In recent years, the regular international connections from Pyongyang have been Beijing and Shenyang in China, along with Vladivostok in Russia. The country does not publish traveller numbers, but travel agencies estimate that as many as 6,000 westerners visit the country every year, although visits decreased following a border closure over fears of the deadly Ebola virus last year.

3. Only two airlines have scheduled flights to the airport: North Korea's flag carrier Air Koryo and Air China. Air Koryo occasionally flies further afield, for example to Malaysia and Kuwait, but those are not regular flights, Japan Times reported.

4. The new terminal is also expected to receive visitors who are en route to tour North Korea's Mount Paektu, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. The 2,750m-high volcanic mountain, lying on the border with China, is considered sacred in Korean folklore and plays a central role in the propaganda glorifying the Kim family

5. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the construction of the new terminal in July 2012 because the terminal then was considered too small and shabby compared with foreign airports. He reportedly visited the construction site several times, deploying troops for its construction and issuing instructions personally. Last November, he was said to have stopped work on the terminal after inspecting the site and reproaching workers for "defects". He reportedly said there were "deviations in the interior layout including halls for check-in and departure". Parts of these facilities had to be torn down and rebuilt.

6. The terminal's head designer Ma Won Chun was said to be one of six high-level officials who disappeared last year in a government purge carried out by Mr Kim. The Diplomat reported that he was murdered in November for "corrupt practices and failure to follow orders" - namely, failing to provide a terminal that met the leader's standards.

7. The builders constructed the terminal by hand or with simple tools, with patriotic music blaring from loudspeakers, the Associated Press reported in October. Huge signs urged them to carry out their duties with "Korea Speed".

8. Even the design of the airport logo, signboards and posters were given special attention by President Kim. He reportedly called for "artistry, visual quality and cultural level in designing" these things.

9. The North Korean leader has reportedly called for the construction of a high-speed railway and a motorway linking Pyongyang and the airport, some 24km north-west of the capital.

10. The terminal is the latest of the country's "speed campaigns" - mass mobilisations of labour brigades aimed at finishing top-priority projects like ski resorts and water parks in record time. The projects are aimed at drawing more tourists and sprucing up the country ahead of a major anniversary of the founding of its ruling party in October.

SOURCE: REUTERS, AFP, LOS ANGELES TIMES, WASHINGTON POST