China will allow North Korea's national carrier, Air Koryo, to open a new route to Xi’an from July 2018, making it the fifth Chinese city with a liaison to Pyongyang. The decision comes from Xi’an tourism authority, as reported by local public newspaper Xi’an Evening News.

This new route follows after a delegation of North Korean officials led by Pak Thae-song, Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and close collaborator of Kim Jong-Un, visited Xi’an to discuss economic cooperation opportunities with local authorities.

The route will fulfill a demand from local tour agencies that see a new market in North Korean tourists. According to China Times, North Korea also expects that in return, the new route will attract tourists from Xi’an to visit Pyongyang. In May 2018, Chengdu opened its airport to Air Koryo for similar reasons. The North Korean flag carrier also operates regular flights towards Chinese cities of Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai and the neighboring Russian city of Vladivostok.

Since Kim Jong-un visit to China in late March 2018 - the first state visit of the North Korean leader since he came into power in 2011 - relations greatly improved between the two Asian countries. At the same time, officials of the ICAO were visiting Pyongyang to discuss a charter route between Pyongyang and South Korea’s main airport, Incheon International Airport (ICN). The opening of new routes is seen as an attempt from China to normalize its renewed partnership with North Korea.

However, it seems unlikely that Air Koryo will fly to any other country than China and Russia with its current fleet, as it is composed of Soviet-era airliners that the company is struggling to maintain for lack of spare parts. Most of the company’s aircraft are banned from European airspace since 2006.