Russia still working on transpolar routes

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Russia’s plans to expand the Polar route structure and open trans-Siberian airways for transpolar international flights remain intact despite several obstacles.

A year ago Russia opened the first two tracks transiting the Krasnoyarsk region. Leonid Scherbakov, senior official at the Federal Service for Air Transport (FSAT), tells ATI that foreign airlines have conducted 31 flights using these routes since then.

He admits Russia’s aviation authorities have been slow in agreeing with Iceland's Reykjavik Oceanic Control about the boundaries of control transfer zones. "This has hindered further progress", he says, "but solving other problems is beyond our competence".

The border conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is one of them. "Airlines seeking to fly transpolar routes from North America to New Delhi now refrain from taking this route for safety reasons. Therefore, we have to look for alternative airways bypassing the regions of combat," explains Scherbakov.

He says airlines also face challenges arising from the duration of transpolar non-stop flights. "Normally, they take about 16 hours", says Scherbakov. "If a flight lasts longer, unions may well demand that a third aircrew be taken on-board because of labour regulations [establishing an 8hr shift for aircrew]."

Earlier this year, the FSAT gave the go-ahead for two more transpolar routes through Russia’s Far East. But their extension over the adjacent territories of Mongolia and China depends on decisions over who is to provide air traffic control for those routes.

Scherbakov says British Airways remains committed to a long-standing plan to co-finance the arrangement of the London-Tokyo transpolar route which has an estimated cost of $32m. "Delay in mapping it out is due only to the lack of agreement with Norway about responsibility for providing ATC services on a stretch over the Barents Sea," he says. "Instead, we have reached a consensus with Finland, but that is at the expense of lengthening the route".