United and Canada 3000 to use new trans-polar routes and Afghanistan airspace

United Airlines and Canada 3000 Airlines are set to launch the long-awaited first direct non-stop services between North America and India in October, taking advantage of recently reopened access to Afghanistan airspace and the anticipated expanded use of new trans-polar routes.

United plans to inaugurate a daily flight between Chicago and New Delhi on 27 October, replacing the current service via Hong Kong. The services are still subject to government approvals. Canada 3000 will start scheduled twice-weekly services from 8 October from Toronto to New Delhi, and between Vancouver and the Indian capital starting on 10 October. A Toronto-Mumbai weekly service via London will start on 4 November.

Russian permission is still needed for United to operate a daily return leg from India over the pole, which is currently restricted to five days a week. The 15h 5min return leg would pass through Afghanistan, which the US Federal Aviation Administration has reopened fully to US carriers, across China joining Polar 1 at the Gopto entry point on the Russian border.

The Boeing 747-400 flight would then cross to Polar 2A, passing on the Alaska side of the North Pole before entering Canadian airspace.

United, unlike Canada 3000's planned Airbus A340-300 service, intends to take an alternative outbound route to India across the North Atlantic, Scandinavia, western Russian, Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Gene Cameron, United's manager Pacific air services, says the 14h 15min long outbound flight is 45min faster than using Polar 1/2 because of year-round tailwinds. At 12,900km (6,970nm), the route is also 500km shorter than the polar route.

United will rely on HF voice and Canada 3000 on HF voice/data for communications above 82íN, for the 2-2.5h that the aircraft is outside satellite coverage.

"We're working with companies to improve HF predictability," says Cameron. The airline already has equipment for measuring fuel freeze point in place at Chicago to support ongoing trans-polar flights to Hong Kong.

Testing of Jet A fuel in the USA has exceeded by 1.6-3.3íC (3-6íF) the current -40íC fuel freeze limit. India employs Jet A1 fuel that can go as low -43.9íC before freezing.

Source: Flight International