Airlines cleared to use Santa's short-cut

New destinations and shorter journey times on way after North Pole route is approved for passenger jets. Simon Calder reports

Hard-pressed airlines have been handed the perfect Christmas present: permission to fly twin-jet aircraft over the North Pole, saving millions on fuel costs, opening up new destinations and reducing damage to the environment.

The easing of rules about how close twin-jets must keep to diversion airports means faster, cheaper and cleaner flights.

Until now, America's aviation regulators have insisted that the nearest suitable place to land must be no more than three hours away. That has now been extended to five-and-a-half hours – so long as the airline meets a series of criteria, from additional equipment to special training.

As a result, Boeing 777 and 787 "Dreamliner" twin jets will be able to fly almost anywhere in the world. A patch of territory in Antarctica remains inaccessible. But "Santa's short cut," as the route has been called, gives a green light to flights from Britain straight across the North Pole to Pacific islands that are currently off the route map.

For full graphic click here.

Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, told The Independent: "This new development really does open up a whole new world and will allow us to take our Dreamliners to more exciting and exotic places. Our new fleet of 787s could well be flying to Honolulu or even Fiji one day." Fiji straddles the 180-degree line of longitude, and the most direct track passes directly over the North Pole – though because of the distance, over 10,000 miles, the payload would need to be restricted. The new policy could also make no-non-stop routes to Tahiti in the South Pacific and Anchorage in Alaska viable.

Twin-jets have always faced tight rules on how far they can stray from a diversion airport, with good reason: the failure of one engine is potentially much more serious than for a three- or four-jet aircraft. The default is that twin-jets must be able to reach a suitable diversion airport within an hour's flying time on a single engine. The worst-case scenario assumes depressurisation as well as the failure of one engine, requiring the aircraft to stay low. This implies a distance of 400-450 miles. The rules oblige pilots to fly circuitous routes that waste time and fuel, and render many trans-oceanic trips impossible for twin-engined aircraft.

To venture more than 60 minutes away requires "ETOPS" certification. The term derives from "Extended Twin-jet Operations over water", though a common joke in aviation circles is that it really stands for "Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim". The aircraft and engine makers must convince regulators that it is safe to fly further away from a safe haven. Many twin-jets are certified for 120-minute ETOPS, while British Airways' entire Boeing 777 fleet is ETOPS-180 compliant – so the planes face few restrictions across the Atlantic.

But routes across the North Pole, as well as many trans-Pacific journeys, have hitherto been out-of-bounds.

Larry Loftis, general manager of Boeing's 777 programme said: "This is the logical continuation of the Boeing philosophy of point-to-point service. Passengers want to minimise their overall travel time."

The first airline to take advantage of the relaxed restrictions is Air New Zealand, which operates across the Pacific. The airline's chief pilot, Captain David Morgan, said: "Less fuel is burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. It's also good for customers."

The Boeing 787 is expected soon to be ETOPS-330 certified, with Airbus seeking the same for its big twin jet – coincidentally named the A330.

Not everyone in aviation is happy with the relaxation of restrictions. While it is generally accepted that dual engine failure is extremely unlikely, some safety experts express concern about cabin conditions during a diversion.

One safety manager, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "It's all very well being able to make a safe landing, but passengers are likely to be distraught and extremely cold after a five-hour diversion to an airstrip in the Arctic."

But a spokesman for the British Airline Pilots' Association said: "Our members are confident that the safety case for equipment redundancy, pilot training and passenger welfare will be fully satisfied."

And Sir Richard Branson looked forward to new sightseeing opportunities: "Apart from the stunning destinations on arrival, the Arctic scenery will be just amazing on the way."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicReview: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses papparrazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian
film
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sportWinger arrives from Real Madrid and could make debut on Saturday
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Hooked on classical: cellist Rachael Lander began drinking to combat panic attacks
musicThe cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow...
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis