United Airlines hopes to be the first international carrier to launch a non-stop scheduled commercial service between New Delhi and Chicago, via central Russia and the Polar region. The service will start from late October, provided that Moscow gives it the go-ahead.

The North American carrier wants to use the planned new Polar One route for return flights from the Indian capital to its Chicago O'Hare Airport hub. The 13,550km (7,320nm) distance is no shorter than existing routes, but would offer northbound flights a faster, 15h 15min, block time.

Flights from Chicago to New Delhi are routed over Greenland, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia, taking advantage of favourable 20-50kt (37-92km/h) year-round tailwinds. While outward flights take 14h 45min, return sectors can take as long as 16h in the summer and 17h in winter. "If we use Polar One to come back, there is, on average, zero wind," says Gene Cameron, United manager of Pacific air traffic services.

A potential hurdle is Russia agreeing to open the Avery entry point to Polar One, which is believed to be the subject of an airspace demarcation disagreement with neighbouring Norway. One possible solution is to deviate west and use the already agreed Polar Two route entry point at Devid, although this is a longer route.

The carrier plans to operate a 372-seat Boeing 747-400 on the proposed new daily service. In the meantime, it has discontinued its 767-300ER flight to New Delhi from London and the 747-400 flight from Hong Kong, which was load-restricted by local authorities.

The aircraft employed on the route will be fitted with the latest improved Phase 3 standard Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines, which deliver up to a 1,590kg (3,500lb) fuel saving and improved payload-range performance. United's 747-400s are equipped with FANS-1 navigation, but do not have HF datalink. Instead, the carrier is talking to Iridium about satellite coverage beyond 82¼N.

United and Cathay Pacific have conducted Polar trial flights from Chicago and New York to Hong Kong, but airlines are waiting for Russia to open the four new routes to scheduled traffic. Northwest hopes to operate Detroit-Hong Kong, while Air Canada wants to fly to New Delhi from Vancouver.

Source: Flight International