North Korea opened a new terminal building at Pyongyang’s international airport on Wednesday, underscoring an effort to attract more tourists and to spruce up the country ahead of a celebration of a major anniversary of the founding of its ruling party in October.
North Korean Premier Pak Pong Ju officiated at the opening ceremony, which marks the completion of years of work at Pyongyang’s main Sunan airport.
However, the airport is likely to appear largely empty. Just a handful of international flights come and go from Pyongyang every week, although since last year the frequency has increased. Only two airlines have scheduled flights to Pyongyang — North Korea’s flag carrier, Air Koryo, and Air China.
The new international terminal building is roughly the same size as the old one which was long in service. But it is much bigger than the small, temporary terminal building that has been in use for the past few years while construction was going on.
In recent years, the regular international connections from Pyongyang have been Beijing and Shenyang in China, along with Vladivostok in Russia. Air Koryo occasionally flies further afield, for example to Malaysia and Kuwait, but those are not regular flights.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had shown a keen interest in the construction of the new airport facilities and North Korean state media reported him making inspection visits to the project four times in the past two years.
On one occasion last year, North Korean state media reported that Kim Jong Un criticized the construction of the new airport terminal building, highlighting “defects.”
It is rare for North Korean media to mention any problems in the country, but under Kim Jong Un there have been other occasions where his criticisms have been published.
Photos of his visit to the new terminal were prominently featured in the North’s media last week. Judging from his broad smile in those photos, whatever defects he had previously pointed out were fixed.