Delta Air Lines conducted a demonstration flight from New York to Beijing over the North Pole over the weekend using a Boeing 777-200ER twinjet.

The 6,559nm, 14.5h flight, which left New York John F Kennedy on 3 March, was intended to validate technical requirements for future polar flights and to bolster Delta's bid for US-China route authority.

Cathay Pacific Airways, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines have been operating regular flights from the USA to Hong Kong over the North Pole, using Boeing 747-400s. Continental Airlines last week began scheduled polar service from New York to Hong Kong, using 777-200ERs.

American Airlines conducted the first polar 777 flight on 6 March last year, flying from Chicago to Hong Kong, but does not have route authority to begin scheduled service in its own right. Delta, similarly, lost out in the last round of US-China route awards.

American hopes to begin polar service later this year using a 777 wet-leased to codeshare partner China Eastern Airlines, which does have route authority. Delta, meanwhile is talking to codeshare partner China Southern Airlines about a similar deal.

The soonest Delta could begin US-China service in its own right is 2004, but a wet-lease arrangement with China Southern could allow the airline to begin US-China service as early as 2002. Delta is interested in serving Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong from New York using polar routes.

Representatives of China Southern observed the polar demonstration flight because their airline is interested in serving New York from its Guangzhou hub using 777-200ERs.

Delta, which used the flight to validate the technical requirements for polar operations, could begin flying over the North Pole sooner than 2004, although not to China.

The Atlanta-based airline has asked Russia for permission to use the Polar 4 route through Siberian airspace for Boeing MD-11 service from New York to Narita, Japan. This would require leaving Polar 4 before exiting from Russian airspace – something not allowed currently.

The weekend's demonstration flight used Polar 3 because the most direct route, Polar 2, is closed at weekends.

Objectives for the 777 flight included validating a prediction model developed by Boeing to forecast fuel temperatures in flight, and an analysis method for determining the exact freeze point of the fuel uploaded for that flight.

Fuel freezing has been a concern on 747 flights over the pole, but is less of an issue on the 777 because of its thicker wing, where fuel is stored.

Source: Flight International