Nav Canada has agreed to help the Federal Aviation Authority of Russia (FAAR) secure the $33 million required to upgrade Russia's navigation infrastructure to allow the launch of regular trans-polar air services between North America and Asia.

The move coincides with the completion of a detailed feasibility study by the Canadian and Russian navigation authorities which reveals that the use of routes Polar 1, 2, 3 and 4 could save up to C$50,000 ($33,000) per flight.

Since 1998, the Russian authorities have approved limited commercial use of the polar routes for demonstration flights, which have been conducted by United Airlines, Northwest Airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Russia's Transaero. Approval for further demonstrations has been approved until the end of this month, although this may be extended, with Air Canada keen to conduct test flights, probably between Hong Kong and Vancouver.

Without additional investment, however, the polar routes have limited capacity for regular traffic, says the study, which investigated the operational, technical and commercial viability of regular use of the routes.

Nav Canada will need to invest around C$7 million in the project over 10 years, to be funded from the air navigation provider's capital expenditures budget. Russia will seek the funding it requires for the same period through capital markets with Nav Canada's assistance.

Trans-polar flights could initially be supported by the present air traffic management system, but to accommodate additional traffic over three to four years, Russian equipment will need to be upgraded to communication, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management capabilities. That will include global navigation satellite systems, automatic dependent surveillance position reporting, computer-aided flight planning and new radar systems.

Use of the polar routes would provide huge economies, with the study listing 33 likely launch routes. A polar routing would cut the 18h Vancouver-Delhi flight to 13.5h, for example, with potential fuel and operating cost savings of over C$40,000 per flight, says the study. A polar New York-Hong Kong routing would save 5h and almost C$50,000 per flight.

The study says the air navigation service providers could generate revenues of C$13-C$33 million from polar routes over the next10 years.

Source: Flight International