First commercial flight takes S. Koreans to North

SEOUL – A North Korean plane flew a group of South Korean tourists to Pyongyang Monday on the first commercial flight since the Korean peninsula was divided half a century ago, the tour operator said.

Civilian aircraft have flown the direct route between North and South Korea on several occasions in recent years, but as charters carrying official delegations or civic groups.

A spokesman for Pyongwha Air Travel Agency said by telephone a North Korean Air Koryo aircraft took the 114 tourists from the South’s main Inchon international airport to Pyongyang.

The five-day tour, which costs 2.2 million won ($1,800) per person, will take in the North Korean capital and some of the country’s mountains. There will also be a six-day package available on future flights.

The travel agency is affiliated to a car company owned by Reverend Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church, whose followers are commonly known as “Moonies” after their founder.

The agency has a contract with North Korea to fly 2,000 tourists to the North on package trips by the end of this year.

Another unlisted company, Hyundai Asan Co, runs ferry trips to scenic Mount Kumgang in the North.

Those tours have pumped millions of dollars into the destitute North and given South Koreans a rare chance to visit the northern side of a border closed since the 1950-53 Korean War, but they have not been money-spinners for the company.

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