3 planes used to transport Kim Jong-un & co. to S’pore obscured which plane he was on
Information regarding his presence on which flight were not known until the last minute.
Kim Jong-un arrived in Changi Airport for the historic Trump-Kim summit at around 2.35pm on June 10, 2018.
However, the plane he disembarked from may not have been what observers were expecting.
Everyone thought he would ride on private plane
In the weeks ahead of the summit, it had been widely speculated that Kim will travel on his Soviet-made Ilyushin Il-62M.
It was a Cold War-era plane that was the world’s largest jetliner when first flown in 1963.
Although the interior of the plane has been remodelled recently, the mechanical reliability of the plane has long been suspect.
The plane’s ability to fly to Singapore non-stop was not being tested, as it eventually landed to refuel in Liaocheng, China, before continuing to Singapore.
The plane was used to be known for its considerably long range, being able to travel further than other Western planes such as the Boeing 707.
Despite these problems, Kim was still expected to fly aboard the ageing plane, given his strong national pride and his desire to portray North Korea as a heavyweight in the global stage.
Defying expectations, Kim surprised the world when he stepped out of an Air China Boeing 747-400 instead.
The larger Chinese 747-400 was a considerably more impressive sight among the three aircraft that arrived in Changi Airport, along with the Il-62M and a Il-76 cargo jet.
Security and secrecy
All three aircraft took carefully planned routes that maximised time over Chinese territory, and minimised time over international waters. This is likely a move for China to both provide security for Kim and signal its support at the same time.
North Korea has been extremely tight-lipped about which plane Kim will be arriving in, with no official statements given until two hours before arrival.
Singapore government officials and Changi Airport staff had to be ready for Kim to arrive on either the Il-62M or the Air China flight, as they were given very little information.
The Il-62M was only due to land at 4pm, and the ground team was still gearing up for a 4pm Kim arrival until the morning itself.
Even after the Air China flight landed, certain news outlets were still convinced that Kim has yet to arrive.
The lack of information regarding the planes and the arrival times may have caused planning to be more difficult, but it certainly played a role in security by confusing the hell out of everyone.
Similarly, Air Force One (VC-25) also took a longer route, taking a fuel stop in Greece and avoiding Russian and Chinese airspace, although the U.S. contingent revealed their arrival time earlier than their North Korean counterparts.
Why borrow the plane from China?
Instead of relying on his ailing aircraft, Kim seems to have made the wise move of borrowing an Air China Boeing 747-400 instead.
This is no ordinary plane. The Boeing 747-400, tail number B-2447, is exclusively used by the upper echelon of the Chinese government, predominately by President Xi Jinping and entourage, when travelling overseas.
Fitted with a VIP interior and designed for secure communications, it is a fitting plane to be used as “Kim Force Un”.
It is no small matter for a head of state to offer the use of its own state aircraft, and the significance of this cannot be overlooked.
China showing support
Although the summit might seem like a David vs Goliath affair, where the US appear more powerful, China has clearly displayed its support in this affair by lending Kim its own presidential plane and the use of its airspace.
Kim Jong-un’s choice of plane might also be considered symbolic.
Trump arrived in Air Force One, a military version of the Boeing 747-200B, which is modified for enhanced security.
If Kim had arrived on his aged Il-62M aircraft, he would most likely have been overshadowed by Trump.
In a sense, perhaps the use of the borrowed plane is a political move, with Kim attempting to stay on equal terms by arriving in a plane that is on par with his American counterpart.
Safety is obviously another big factor for North Korea when it comes to the decision of not using their own aircraft.
Even though the aircraft may boast sufficient range to make the journey (at least on paper), North Korea has not operated any long-haul international flights with their planes for a long time.
As such, their own aircrew might lack the experience to fly the route, leading to unnecessary safety concerns during such an important event.
Any mechanical issues in a foreign country could potentially lead to a long delay, which would be taxing for an event that is already planned so hastily with few spare hours as buffer.
It would be detrimental to North Korea’s image as well, and the US contingent will likely not be pleased with any delays or being stood up again.
Perhaps it is for the best that Kim decided to borrow the plane for this momentous occasion.
Besides, it is a much sweeter ride.
And one that obscured his presence.
All photos via Military Aviation Photography Singapore