Marking a brand new milestone, Air India operated its first flight over the North Pole on August 15, 2019, becoming the first Indian airline to fly a commercial aircraft over the polar region. By Kumar Shree
Making our Independence Day even more special, Air India’s flight AI-173 from Delhi to San Francisco flew over the polar region to become the first commercial Indian flight achieving the feat. The flight with around 250 passengers and crew members aboard took off from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi at 4:00 am and crossed Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the North Pole before reaching San Francisco International Airport.
Captain Rajneesh Sharma lead the team comprising Captain Digvijay Singh and first officers Captain Karan Aggarwal, and Captain Siddesh Dadarkar inside the cockpit for this incredible feat. While it is the first instance of an Indian commercial flight achieving the feat, this is not the first ever by Air India. The carrier achieved this milestone way back in 2007, when Captain Amitabh Singh flew a newly delivered aircraft over the region taking it from Seattle to New Delhi.
Though this was not the primary preferred path for the flight to trace, it was a secondary option keeping in mind that Pakistan airspace might have been closed on August 15 because of the hanging tension between countries. The flight was a one-of-its-kind experience for both the passengers and the crew, and the latter kept the former informed about their progress through the region.
Captain Rajneesh Sharma recounts his experience, “When we crossed Russia, we left all the air traffic behind. For close to nine hours we saw no traffic, no aircraft, just endless expanse of snow and ice. As we crossed over the North Pole and went down the other side of the planet, the navigation display swung 180 degrees to go from North to point South. It was quite a sight.”
While the new flight path is expected to save fuel and thus cut down carbon emission, it also came with a certain set of challenges like fuel freezing, solar radiation, aircraft retrieval in the worst case scenario, and no options of diverging to any nearby airports, as there are none nearby.
Marking the commencement of Air India’s commercial flights over the polar region, Air India also awarded certificates to the passengers on board who travelled via the flight.