First Indian commercial flight flies over North Pole

Air India’s nonstop Delhi-San Francisco flight created history on India’s 73rd Independence Day — it became the first Indian commercial flight to fly over the Polar region.

The flight did its bit to save the environment and also ensured that the journey between the two cities becomes shorter. Air India flight 173 flew with a full complement of passengers.

“Planning for the flight was a challenge. A number of issues had to be addressed, including solar activity in the polar region and magnetic interference in communication, to name just two,” says Amitabh Singh, Director-Operations, Air India, who was involved in planning the flight.

All passengers flying on AI 173 were given a certificate that recorded the feat — that the passengers traveled on board the Boeing 777-200 Long Range aircraft marking the commencement of Air India’s commercial flights over the North Pole.

Asked why the Polar route is so important, Capt Digvijay Singh, who operated the August 15 departure, says the time saved will range from five minutes to 75 minutes. “We have taken an average of 20 minutes for every Polar flight which, on the Boeing 777, means about 2,500 kg of fuel saving and about 7,500 kg of carbon emission reduction. Passengers benefit because the flight time is shorter. The airline benefits because the fuel cost is lower and the environment benefits because carbon emissions come down,” adds Singh. Currently the flight covers the distance in 15 hours and 45 minutes.

Passengers following the flight path on their television screens could see the aircraft flying close to the North. The cabin crew also made an announcement on the public address system.

The opening of the Polar route will help Air India’s operations to all the five cities in the US that it flies to — New York, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC.

Potentially, the opening of the Polar route could lead to Air India no longer operating the ‘around the world’ flight that it currently plies to reach San Francisco. The Delhi-San Francisco route was launched in 2015.

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