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Cathay flight breaks record and leads to series of polar trials

Polar flight trials conducted by four carriers between North America and Asia are scheduled to begin on 15 July following a record-breaking inaugural flight, dubbed Polar One, by Cathay Pacific Airways, non-stop from New York to Hong Kong.

The Federal Aviation Authority of Russia has given permission for a three-month trial. "The primary objective is to test the readiness of our area control centres (ACC)-and evaluate the proposals from airlines and the potential for these routes," according to the authority's first deputy director Victor Galkin.

Agreement has been given for transpolar trials by Air Canada for flights from Toronto to Osaka and Hong Kong and from Vancouver to New Delhi; Singapore Airlines to New York via Beijing; and Northwest Airlines between Detroit and Beijing.

Cathay, in addition to operating Hong Kong-New York services with a Boeing 747-400, will operate an Airbus Industrie A340 from Hong Kong to Toronto.

The trials are intended to lead to a second three-month exercise from 15 October, after which it is hoped to reach agreement to open the four polar routes to scheduled traffic by the middle of 1999.

According to Galkin, the trials will help "-define the degree to which we can use conventional air traffic control capability".

Cathay's 5-6 July flight demonstrated the use of a high-frequency datalink to make position reports to the Russian ACCs at Norilsk and Tiksi, in the absence of satellite communications coverage beyond 79íN. "Everyone had doubts about its feasibility, but we've proven it can be done," says Paul Horsting, Cathay Pacific's international operations manager and captain of the 747 flight.

Polar One set the record for the longest commercial flight ever, flying 14,103km (7,575nm) in 15h 35min, a time which shaved some 5h off the existing Hong Kong-New York service, which operates via Vancouver.

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