Air Transportation: North Korea Gets What It Needs


September 2, 2010: North Korea has ordered another Tu-204 airliner from Russia. The first one arrived three years ago, and was the first Tu-204 to be exported. The second one may never arrive. That’s because North Korea is now in a similar situation to Iran, as in lots of embargos. The Russians want to export the Tu-204 in the worst possible way, but there are more and more laws in the way when it comes to North Korea. Yet North Korea really needs this other Tu-204, for air freight remains the more effective way to smuggle forbidden items in and out of the country. The North Koreans want to do this on aircraft they control.

But the stronger embargo rules may block it. Take the example of Iran. For the last five years, Iran has been trying to buy five Russian Tu-204 airliners to replace some of the aging American aircraft (like 1970s era C-130s) that it is still using. The Tu-204 is a two engine jet, that can carry up to 210 passengers, or 21 tons of cargo. The Iranians want a version of the 204 that can quickly be converted into all-passenger or all-freighter use. The Tu-204 weighs about 100 tons, and can fly 4,000 kilometers per hop. It is a relatively inexpensive airliner in its class, costing about $40 million each. Iran is not supposed to be able to buy military transports, but Russia is willing to pretend that the Tu-204s won't be used mainly for military purposes, just like the older American aircraft they are replacing. But even that isn’t working, because these aircraft contain U.S. components, like the engines (which are built in Russia under license.) Russia needs American permission to export the U.S. technology to nations under embargo.




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