Air Transport World

A limited success: the opening of routes over the polar region and across Russia offers measurable time savings to airlines, but use has not met expectations owing to higher costs. (Airports & Airways).

On Sept. 20, United Airlines made its 1,000th cross-polar flight when a 747-400, UA895 flying from Chicago to Hong Kong, used the Polar 4 route. One thousand flights doesn't seem like so many, particularly when more than half that number fly across the Atlantic each day. Nevertheless it marks not only a milestone but the beginning of a program that has taken a decade to bring to maturity.

Traffic between North America and the Far East has used the NOPAC (North Pacific) air routes for the past four decades while airlines looked longingly at the shorter routes offered by flying over the top of the world but not available due to the political realities of the time. The ending of the Cold War marked the first possibilities. As the Soviet Union closed down, US FAA began to approach Russian authorities about opening new airways to link the Americas and Southeast Asia.

While the idea was well received, the work to implement it had to cross cultural and diplomatic barriers before it could progress. East and West had differing aviation philosophies and the first task was to share an understanding of what needed to be done and how to do it.

As both sides began to understand these points, it became clear that Russia would need to redefine the airspace open to civil operations, install new ATC equipment, develop new centers and establish additional entry points into its airspace. …

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