NORTHWEST Airlines has made informal contacts with Pyongyang and hopes to be the first airline to fly over North Korean airspace. Captain Robert Buley, assistant to the vice-president for operations, said a new non-stop route from Seoul to Detroit was planned and that the prime flight path was over North Korea. He said Northwest also hoped its Narita-Seoul route could fly over the north of the Korean peninsula. Captain Buley said Pyongyang recently announced it would open up its airspace to commercial flights but so far no airlines had been granted approval. 'We want to be able to fly over North Korea because it will save us about 320 miles on each flight. That adds up to a lot of savings in time and money - for us and the passengers,' he said. 'The United States still lacks official ties with North Korea, but we have made the first contacts. Fortunately, we are not as constrained as the US government representatives are when dealing with North Korea. 'But these things do take a lot of time to work out. It has to be done carefully and it has to be done very slowly. We have quite a way to go yet.' Captain Buley said it was also hoped the Seoul-Detroit run would use a new route over China that would cut about 300 miles from each flight. He said Northwest had offered to train Chinese air traffic controllers in return for permission to fly over the mainland. Classes are scheduled to begin in August. He said China had just 1,047 air traffic controllers - 250 speak English - compared with more than 18,000 in the US and 14,000 in the former Soviet Union. 'China is still far behind the rest of the world but it is trying hard,' he said. 'It wants to be helped.' In May 1992, the airline entered into an agreement with the Civil Aviation Administration of China to train 25 air traffic controllers in English and advanced radar procedures. The agreement was in exchange for the opening of restricted airspace in the South China Sea that had previously been designated for the military. 'This agreement was mutually beneficial and it has led to great savings for us,' Captain Buley said. 'We had to deviate 30 minutes out of the way on morning departures, but now things are so much better, 'That new route also generates significant revenue for China from user charges. Both sides benefit.' The airline's training division, Northwest Aerospace Training Corp (NATCO), meanwhile, is pursuing a number of contracts with Chinese airlines. NATCO officials said the airline was trying to sell China Southern a control centre to keep track of flight information, such as where aircraft were positioned and prevailing weather conditions. It was also pursuing various training contracts with China Eastern, Air China and China Northwest. NATCO is already training pilots from Air China, China Southwest, China Eastern, China Northern, Shanghai Airlines, Xiamen Airlines and China Southern.