Indian national carrier eyes first polar route to San Francisco

India’s national carrier Air India is understood to be planning to fly over North Pole for its Delhi-San Francisco direct flight, the first Indian airline which proposes to use the polar region for operations.

Aviation industry sources indicated that Air India could save about 90 minutes for its Delhi-San Francisco non-stop flight – from 17 hours to around 15.5 hours – by flying over the polar region, though the exact travel time and fuel cost saving will depend the actual flying route.

Airline sources said Air India has expressed its interest to India’s aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which issued a circular last week, seeking proposals from airlines interested in flying over the polar region.

When contacted, the Air India official spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.

Barring Air India, no other airline operating between India and the US has evinced interest in flying over North Pole.

The DGCA circular said “any operator wishing to obtain Polar authorization must submit an application with all supporting data to it, addressing all the regulatory requirements for Polar operations”.

In order for an operator to apply for approval to operate into the Polar regions, a route study must be completed to define the requirement for transpolar flight routes, which will also include designating en-route alternate airports for emergency operations, the circular said.

The new cross-polar routes connect eastern and interior regions of North America to Asian cities via the North Polar Region. These shortcuts make service to existing city pairs more efficient through reduced fuel consumption and associated emissions, the DGCA circular said.

The Air India Delhi-San Francisco flight currently flies over Bangladesh, Myanmar, China and Japan before flying over the Pacific Ocean to enter the US – the longest distance India-US flight, covering a distance of about 12,000 km.

Sources said the carrier plans to fly over Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Arctic Ocean and Canada to reach the US for its Delhi-San Francisco non-stop fight.

Aviation industry analysts said though Air India can save significant travel time and operational cost if it decides to fly over the polar region, it could be highly challenging for the airline to prepare itself and its crew for such operations.

“Additional training is required for such Extended Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards (ETOPS) flights. One also has to factor in weather – jet streams over the Poles are often turbulent and the last thing airlines want to do is needlessly expose their jets and passengers to climatic conditions that make people ill due to turbulence, etc,” Saj Ahmad, chief analyst with London-based StrategicAero Research, told Arabian Business.

Ahmad said other airlines like Emirates do take very northern tracks to the US, but do not need to trek that far towards the North Pole, given the trajectory of their route planning.

“It might make sense from Delhi since it is a good few thousand kilometers further east to Dubai, so a more northern track makes better sense (for Air India),” Ahmad said.

Ahmad, however, was skeptical about Air India’s plan (of flying over polar region) taking off. “It is likely that nothing transpires,” he said.

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