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Canada/Russia: Aviation Officials Considering Polar Flights

Ottawa, 28 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Canada and Russia are studying the feasibility of new polar air routes. The Canadian side says that Russian air traffic control capabilities will be critical in deciding whether the flights can work.

Sidney Koslow is vice president of engineering for NavCanada, the organization responsible for Canada's air traffic control and navigation services. Koslow says 18 months from now, he thinks it's possible to have the very first capability for limited, but regular, commercial passenger flights to the other side of the world via new polar air routes.

Koslow says that there could be as many as 20 international polar flights an hour, every day, within five years.

The polar route is attractive, Koslow says, because it would save time, fuel, maintenance and crew costs. He says ultimately that would mean lower ticket prices for passengers.

The current flight time for a Boeing 747-400 from Toronto to Delhi is nearly 16 hours. NavCan estimates the polar route would save 2 1/2 hours. It says the savings in fuel on each flight would be nearly $19,000 or almost $7 million a year.

Koslow also points out that it would be lucrative for Canada because NavCan charges airlines overflight fees for passing through Canadian airspace.

Since 1993, Russia has opened some air routes across its Far East and it has allowed foreign airlines several demonstration flights over the polar route. However, the airlines must have special permission and their governments must have a bilateral air agreement with Russia.

Koslow says the transpolar flights have to go across and spend a great deal of time in the airspace of the Russian Federation.

He says Canada is doing a feasibility study with the Federal Aviation Administration of Russia to see what it would take on both sides of the pole to allow greater use of those potential routes.