Kim Jong Un may not have an airplane capable of taking him to meet Trump — and it could get 'embarrassing'

Some experts think North Korea's aircraft may not be able to handle a transcontinental trip without refueling, which would be bad optics on the global stage.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump are poised to meet for the first time, potentially next month.
  • Though details about the time and location of the summit are unclear, an international destination could pose a problem for Kim.
  • Some experts think North Korea's aircraft may not be able to handle a transcontinental trip without refueling, suggesting that such a situation would be an unflattering wrinkle for Kim on the global stage.

As the intrigue surrounding the US-North Korea summit gains momentum, theories on where it will be held have prompted an additional question: How will North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travel to it?

While a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in is expected to be held at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border of North Korea and South Korea on April 27, the location and date for Kim's meeting with US President Donald Trump has yet to be announced, though reports indicate it could be as soon as next month.

It's possible that Trump and Kim could also meet at Panmunjom, but some analysts have questioned whether Trump may prefer a different setting, like Switzerland, Iceland, or Sweden.

But an international destination may pose a problem for Kim.

As North Korea's leader, Kim has taken only one international trip, to neighboring China, via train. Some experts told The Washington Post that Kim may not have an aircraft capable of flying nonstop over long distances.

"We used to make fun of what they have — it's old stuff," Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst, told The Post. "We would joke about their old Soviet planes."

Joseph Bermudez, an analyst at the US-based think tank 38 North, added: "They don't have an aircraft that can fly across the Pacific — most are quite old."

The analysts suggested that stopping by another country mid-journey to refuel could highlight the limitations of North Korea's aircraft — and, by extension, its struggle to keep up with technological advances.

Some aviation experts, however, think North Korea's fleet may include aircraft that can safely make international trips.

Air Koryo, North Korea's state-owned airline, has two Tupolev jets — similar to the Boeing 757 jetliner — with a 3,000-mile range, the aviation journalist Charles Kennedy told The Post, adding that they have an "excellent safety record."

Should North Korea's aircraft pose limitations, Kim would still have other options, said Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"In terms of his traveling anywhere, it would not be a problem — the South Koreans or the Swedes would give him a ride," Cha, who's also a Korea analyst for MSNBC, told The Post. "But it would be embarrassing."


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