American Airlines has flown a Boeing 777-200ER twinjet over the North Pole from North America to Asia for the first time, demonstrating wider applications for the new route and strengthening its bid for services to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The American flight from Chicago to Hong Kong was the first to demonstrate the use of a twin-engined commercial airliner on the new transpolar route. Regular trial flights had been confined to Boeing 747-400s, operated by United Airlines and Northwest Airlines, flying from Chicago and Minneapolis to Hong Kong.

"The reason we did this now is that we had a newly delivered aircraft available for three to four days. We had technical and procedural issues we wanted to ensure were solved so that, if we decide in the near future to use the routes, we're ready," says Capt David Strand, American international/ technical pilot, flight operations.

American has equipped its 777s with satellite communications, rather than a high frequency (HF) datalink, but above 82°N they are out of range of the equatorial Inmarsat constellation. The transpolar flight relied instead on HF voice and Stockholm and Arctic Radio for a cell call watch or telephone patch over the North Pole.

Another concern highlighted by earlier 747 flights was fuel freeze. The 777's greater wing fuel mass caused the fuel to cool more slowly, reaching a minimum of -33°C.

The 6 March flight covered the 13,408km (7,250nm) in 15h 13min. It used the Polar 2 route, and remained within the 180min extended twin-engined operations rule, thanks to the availability of Siberian diversion airfields.

Source: Flight International