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Cathay will lead US/Asia transpolar flights

Cathay Pacific Airways is planning a record breaking non-stop flight from New York to Hong Kong in early July, which is intended to lead the way to the opening up in 1999 of four new transpolar routes between the US East Coast and Asia over the Russian Far East.

The Russian authorities have given Cathay permission for a one-off trial flight from New York, arriving in Hong Kong on 6 July and timed to coincide with the opening of the new Chek Lap Kok Airport. Cathay hopes to set a record by being the first over the North Pole and setting the fastest flight time between Hong Kong and New York's Kennedy Airport.

Cathay Pacific international operations manager Paul Horsting estimates that the Boeing 747-400 will take 15h 15min to complete the 13,640km (7,370nm) sector, which will be observed by the Royal Aeronautical Society. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is planning to follow up with a two-month period of trial flights by other airlines.

Russia has agreed to the eventual opening of four transpolar routes by the end of 1999. The westernmost Polar One route is intended for non-stop flights from the US East Coast to the Indian subcontinent. Flights to Bangkok and Hong Kong will have the choice of Polar Two and Three, depending on optimum winds, while Polar Four will provide access to Beijing, Shanghai and possibly Japan.

Much of this, however, is subject to China and Russia agreeing to open new border entry points. The only gateway now available is at Intik on the China-Mongolia border, through which Polar Two and Three will pass. An additional crossing at Telok is planned for Polar Three for improved flexibility, while Polar One and Four will require new openings.

Russia has reached general agreement with IATA to open up its Far East airfields to international commercial traffic for emergency diversion use, but specific locations have still to be identified. Moscow ultimately wants automatic dependence surveillance of aircraft using its airspace, but Russia needs to modernise its Magadan and Yakutsk area control centres accordingly.

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