Why Planes Sometimes Fly Over the North Pole

Once upon a time, the arctic was an empty and seldom traveled place. The frozen wreckage of eighteenth-century exploration ships and the occasional military outpost were among the only sign of human visitation. This is no longer the case. Increasingly, commercial flights are plotting courses over the North Pole and the Arctic tundra. Нou may be wondering what’s prompting these excursions over the frozen north.

Even though flights like this are becoming common, there are still a number of obstacles that can get in the way. And no, violating Santa’s airspace isn’t one of them. Commercial flights have been crossing the arctic on and off for several decades, but most modern trans-polar airways didn’t come into full use until 1998.

  • Nonstop flights over long distances consume a lot of fuel. Consuming less fuel often requires carrying less weight, which translates to fewer passengers and lighter cargo.
  • A mere twenty years ago, flights across the North Pole were scarce. At that time, there were tight restrictions on how many aircraft could cross Russia’s Polar airspace.
  • Most of the satellites used for aircraft navigation orbit the Earth in geosynchronous orbit. This means that they orbit in sync with the Earth’s rotation, allowing them to always be in the same position relative to the surface of the Earth.
  • Much of infrastructure had to be built from the ground up over the last fifteen to twenty years.
  • Many of them were constructed in the 50s and 60s, and had no system to decipher the radio transponders civilian aircraft use to identify themselves.
  • Airlines had to, more or less, create an entirely new sector of Canada’s economy, and there are still restrictions on which planes can attempt the journey.
  • The scarcity of airfields and refueling stations means that only planes with a range of eight thousand miles or more are permitted to traverse the Artic airways.
  • Airliners on Arctic routes also have predetermined locations where they can make emergency landings.
  • These journeys across the Arctic Circle are much faster than you’d expect.
  • For the airlines who can afford the upfront cost, Arctic flights can be extremely profitable. Not every carrier is ready and able to begin offering trans-polar flights, but as time passes, the route will continue to become more accessible.

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