In a major achievement, Air India has flown over the North Pole becoming the first Indian airline to operate commercial flights over the polar region. The event took place on Independence Day; the Air India flight from Delhi to San Francisco usually flies over the Atlantic or the Pacific Ocean. However, on August 15, it flew over zero degrees north, reports Times Of India.
The airline had formulated two flight plans before its polar route debut. “We were asked to be prepared for a Pakistan airspace closure on August 15. Had they shut down their airspace to Indian flights, we still would have flown the polar route, though with a different routing that took the aircraft over Strait of Hormuz and then northbound for the pole,” an Air India source told TOI.
243 passengers were aboard the flight to San Francisco
Flight Al-173 took off at 4 am from New Delhi with 243 passengers aboard on its way to San Francisco. It flew over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and the North Pole by 12.27 pm. The captain on board was Capt Rajneesh Sharma. His team included Capt Digvijay Singh with first officers Capt Siddesh Dadarkar and Capt Karan Aggarwal on the flight deck.
After crossing Russia, the plane faced no traffic for 9 hours
Capt Rajneesh Sharma said in an interview: “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 degree to go from North to point South. It was quite a sight.”
Ahead of flying over the North Pole, the commander addressed the passengers saying “it’s a gift from Air India to all travelling public”. Right after the aircraft, which was a Boeing 777, crossed over the North Pole, the team got a congratulatory call from their operations department.
The flight landed in San Francisco half-an-hour before its scheduled time. On landing, passengers received a certificate that marked the beginning of Air India’s operation of commercial flights over the North Pole.