North Korea's Trash Balloons Are Putting Planes in Danger, South Korean Aviation Official Warns

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea’s trash balloons can pose a threat to flights, an aviation official cautioned, a day after South Korea’s busiest airport temporarily halted operations when at least one balloon landed on the tarmac.

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North Korea flew another 180 balloons carrying trash into South Korea from Wednesday night. This added to more than 2,000 balloons floated toward its neighbor since May that have caused a nuisance for Seoul and surrounding areas. The balloons are part of a show of anger at South Korea for measures at the border Pyongyang has complained are a threat to its sovereignty.

Departures and landings were disrupted Wednesday at Incheon International Airport serving Seoul. The airport is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the border with North Korea and could be on the flight path for the balloons.

“These balloons are hardly detected by our radar, so we get notified about them from nearby military units,” said Shin Jisu, an assistant manager of media relations. She added the balloons not only can cause air traffic disruptions, but could get sucked into jet engines.

“Although balloons and airplanes fly at different altitudes, the balloons still could be a threat to aircraft during takeoffs and landings,” she said.

North Korea’s official media cited a vice defense minister as saying in late May the state would scatter “mounds of wastepaper and filth” on the South Korean side in response to what Kim Jong Un’s regime saw as security threats that included surveillance flights.

The balloons began flying soon after that. Many held a few kilograms of trash, including waste paper, cigarette butts and used batteries. Earlier this week, central government authorities in Seoul said parasites associated with fecal matter have been also found in the trash-laden balloons, along with clothing such as underwear, neckties and socks.

North Korea has been angry at activist groups in South Korea who have floated balloons carrying leaflets denouncing the Kim family that has ruled North Korea since its founding. The balloon campaign has been going on for decades with activist groups in recent weeks floating more balloons into North Korea.

The balloons sent north have carried US dollar bills, bags of rice and USB sticks with K-pop music to entice North Koreans to pick up the contents.

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