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Air India Avoiding Afghanistan Airspace While Saving an Hour to North America
Due to Air India’s newly permitted Hindu Kush route for its 777s, passengers flying to and from North America may expect their flights to be up to an hour shorter. Airlines linking India with Europe and North America have had to take a detour to avoid restricted airspace since Afghanistan closed its airspace to non-defense aircraft in August. The new route saves Air India a lot of money and time, which is a win-win situation for both the airline and the customers.
Time to Head North
Air India’s flights to North America are among the company’s most popular and longest. Flights from India to places such as New York, Toronto, San Francisco, and Vancouver are regularly near the 777’s maximum range when fully laden. As a result, rigorous preparation is essential for these routes.
A normal west-bound aircraft from New Delhi would have flown through Pakistan and Afghanistan before proceeding north to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan before the Afghan blockade. After August 16th, the same planes flew across south Pakistan, skirting the Afghan border before crossing into Iran-Turkey.
According to the Times of India, Air India planes have been flying straight north over the Hindu Kush range since December 16th, before returning to their customary path to North America. A trip from DEL to JFK that used to take more than 16.5 hours may now be accomplished in less than 16 hours. The new route is also cost-effective for the carrier, saving roughly 7 tonnes of fuel every trip.
While Air India has just recently cleared this route for its flights heading for North America, a quick review of flight monitoring applications indicates that American and Canadian carriers on similar itineraries have already flown over the Hindu Kush range.
The Two Most Important Airspace for Indian Aviation
The importance of Pakistani and Afghan airspace for carriers traveling between India and the west is plainly evident. Any political instability in these two nations that results in airspace closure has a significant impact on airline operations.
When rising tensions between India and Pakistan resulted in the shutdown of Pakistani airspace in 2019, some airlines were forced to rethink their itineraries or cancel flights entirely. Before restarting flights from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai, United Airlines chose to wait for the airspace to reopen.
Not the first choice
Even while the Hindu Kush route saves time and fuel, it isn’t the first choice for carriers. Air India began flying its 787s over the mountain range for flights to London in October, but it took a while for its 777s to be allowed to fly the same route to North America. It was a “particularly vital and hard sector,” according to the pilot of Air India’s aircraft from Toronto to New Delhi on December 16.
Times of India quotes a senior AI official on the matter as saying, “The logistics of B777 and B787 are very different. A fully laden B787 (with passengers, cargo, and fuel) can have a maximum altitude of 35,000 feet. But a 777, due to factors like its different wing design and the fact that more fuel has to be carried for the much longer North America nonstops, can have a maximum altitude of 29,000 feet.”
These figures are especially noteworthy when you consider that certain peaks in the Hindu Kush range may reach a height of 25,000 feet. Airlines avoid the Himalayan range for the same reason, as well as many more.
When Afghan airspace reopens, Air India has announced that it would return to its old route, and other airlines are expected to follow suit.
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