SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- Satellite imagery indicated North Korean passenger aircraft undergoing maintenance at an "unusual" level, a U.S. website monitoring the North has said, spurring speculation about the possible resumption of air travel service suspended by COVID-19.
Several aircraft operated by Air Koryo, the North's national carrier, have been cycled through maintenance hangars at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang since the beginning of May, 38 North said Tuesday (local time) in a report, citing commercial satellite imagery.
While remaining cautious on whether these activities are a result of routine maintenance or a possible sign of air passenger service resumption in the near future, the report said that this level of movement is "notable" compared with imagery observed throughout the pandemic period.
"While Air Koryo aircraft have been in and out of the maintenance bay throughout the last twelve months, it is unusual that such a large number have been serviced in such a short period of time," it said.
The report came amid growing speculation that the North, which has suffered economic hardships due to sanctions and self-imposed COVID-19 border restrictions, may reopen its border with China as concerns over the pandemic have faded.
Last month, China's new ambassador arrived in Pyongyang to begin his official duties after his arrival was delayed for years due to the North's border restrictions, in another sign suggesting that the North may be preparing to reopen its border.