Updated on May 16, 2024.
Fact checked
writing Written

North Korea tightly controls who can come in and out of its borders, and that includes the airspace above it. Planes technically can fly over North Korea, but most won’t. Currently, there are only two airlines that can fly into North Korea without incident. One is Air Koryo, which is the country’s official airline, and the other is Air China. All other airlines may face difficulty if they try to fly over North Korea.

Key Takeaways

  • North Korea tightly controls its airspace, allowing only two airlines, Air Koryo and Air China, to fly into the country. All other airlines are prohibited from flying over North Korea due to safety concerns and potential risks associated with missile testing and military drills.
  • The primary reason for avoiding North Korean airspace is the frequent and unannounced missile tests conducted by the country. These tests pose a significant threat to any aircraft in the vicinity and can result in devastating consequences if an accidental collision were to occur.
  • North Korea’s missile launches serve multiple purposes, including showcasing its military capabilities to its citizens and the world, and acting as a deterrent against potential attacks. The country’s strict control over its borders and airspace is part of its broader geopolitical strategy.
  • Most countries advise against traveling to North Korea due to the risks associated with its closed borders and unpredictable political situation. Tourists caught attempting to enter the country illegally are subject to severe penalties, including imprisonment.
  • Airlines prioritize passenger safety and adhere to international regulations and recommendations that discourage flying over regions with potential risks. As a result, airlines avoid North Korean airspace to ensure the well-being of their passengers and crew.

Why Can’t Airlines Fly Over North Korea?

Most countries, including the United States, not just avoid flying over North Korea but they also prohibit it. This includes the country itself, as well as parts of the Sea of Japan. There are several reasons for this restriction, but the bottom line is that it’s not safe.

First, North Korea routinely tests missiles, and airlines have no way of knowing when these tests are happening. These unannounced rocket launches would be devastating to a plane if it accidentally collided, leaving all to surely perish in the collision.

These missile launches are happening more frequently, and they are often part of military drills. Additionally, they also are for show, both for their citizens and the world around them. Because the borders are closed to most tourists, North Korea tightly controls the image they put out into the world.

These launches demonstrate that they have missiles available for use, as well as illustrate their capabilities and serve as a deterrence to anyone who may want to attack them. To their citizens, the missiles show the strength of their military and air defense capabilities. It can also be a scare tactic if people try to leave as they aren’t done on a clear schedule.

Outside of the potential for accidents, it’s also generally not safe. If North Korea perceives the plane as a threat, it can and will shoot it down. They tightly control their borders on all ends, and it doesn’t matter if it is a passenger plane or a military jet. They do not discriminate. In the most extreme cases, this could be considered an act of work.

Can I Travel to North Korea?

Can Airplanes Fly Over North Korea?

Your country may have travel restrictions in place if you try to visit North Korea, so it’s best to check with your travel department first. Typically, North Korea’s borders are closed to all tourists except those using their official groups. If you are caught trying to sneak into the country, you will be jailed without exception.


It is possible to fly over North Korea. There is no weather or landmarks that prevent planes from doing so. However, because it is a closed country, most planes treat it as a no-fly zone. This prevents the country from accidentally shooting down planes and avoids any potential collisions with military missiles.

North Korea only has two airlines that are allowed to fly in the country, and all others would be taking a chance to do so. It is technically accessible by plane and train, but because the travel risk is high, most countries suggest avoiding traveling to North Korea.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can civilian planes accidentally enter North Korean airspace during flights?

Yes, there have been instances where civilian planes inadvertently strayed into North Korean airspace. Such incidents occur due to the proximity of North Korean airspace to international flight paths. However, airlines take extensive precautions and use advanced navigation systems to prevent such occurrences and ensure passenger safety.

  • Are there any diplomatic efforts to ease airspace restrictions over North Korea?

As of the latest available information, there have been occasional diplomatic efforts to engage with North Korea on airspace control and safety. However, the political situation and geopolitical tensions in the region have made significant progress challenging. International organizations and neighboring countries continue to monitor the situation and seek avenues for dialogue.

  • Why are Air Koryo and Air China allowed to fly over North Korea?

Air Koryo is North Korea’s national carrier, and Air China operates flights to North Korea through bilateral agreements between China and North Korea. These airlines are likely granted special permissions and follow strict guidelines to operate flights safely within North Korean airspace.

  • Is it possible to visit North Korea as a tourist using Air Koryo or Air China?

Yes, it is possible to visit North Korea as a tourist through organized tours operated by Air Koryo and Air China. However, access to North Korea remains restricted for most tourists, and travel is tightly controlled by the North Korean government. Travelers must follow specific guidelines and restrictions set by the tour operators and the North Korean authorities.

  • Do other countries’ airlines avoid North Korean airspace during flights to nearby destinations?

Yes, as a precautionary measure, most international airlines avoid flying over North Korean airspace when flying to nearby destinations. Instead, they take alternative flight routes to ensure the safety of their passengers and comply with international regulations that discourage flying over regions with potential security risks.